The agriculture sector of the 21st century represents one of the most important achievements of human civilizations in terms of producing large amounts of relatively affordable food that is theoretically more than sufficient to feed the world’s growing population. Yet the food system as a whole also faces some major challenges, both in terms of environmental sustainability and human well-being.
The negative impact of the current food system on aspects of well-being, such as health or the environment, have been underestimated as the sector has been mainly steered by income, markets and productivity goals. The current food system puts pressures on the very resources (water, soil quality) and ecosystems on which it depends, threatening its own sustainability. Many of these pressures are linked to the intensification of farming practices to meet growing global food demand (e.g. excessive use of fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics, industrial livestock systems, unsustainable grazing), specialization and uniformity of landscapes, and land conversion for agriculture.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2018, Agricultural production is responsible for around 10-12% of global greenhouse gases (GHGs). The combined agriculture, forestry and land-use sectors are responsible for around one-quarter of global GHG emissions. Most of the direct emissions from agriculture are due to methane from enteric fermentation of ruminants (39% of the global GHG emissions from agriculture in 2016, in CO2eq, manure applied to pasture (16%) and rice cultivation (10%). Synthetic fertilizers, which emit nitrous oxide (N2O) into the atmosphere, account for 13% of GHG emissions from the agricultural sector world-wide. The net carbon sink caused by environmental changes due to human activity, including the increased fertilization due to more carbon in the atmosphere, is the equivalent of 29% of total human-caused CO2 emissions.
The current food system also does not entirely succeed in meeting the objective of providing a healthy diet for everyone, even though it has the necessary capacity and produces sufficient total calories. The World Health Organization (WHO, 2018) estimates that 452 million adults world-wide are underweight, and 159 million children under the age of five suffer from stunted growth mainly in Africa; meanwhile, 1.9 billion adults are overweight or suffer from obesity.
Based on Seeding Africa 2019 Baseline study in eight African Countries (Uganda, Zimbabwe, Liberia Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Morocco, Madagascar and Ghana, together with available data from African Renewal research, Hunger already affects about 240 million Africans daily yet Africa’s population is projected to reach 2 billion in less than 37 years!, in 86 years three out of every four people added to the planet will be African. Yet as of now tens of millions of people in rural Africa are experiencing harder times as relying on erratic rains, exhausted soils and underinvestment are sinking them deeper into poverty as agriculture- the mainstay of their livelihoods continues to face challenges.
Seeding Africa has launched a “revolution” in African agriculture through much greater use of organic manure to reduce the potential environmental risks to African soils and water sources from too much imported chemical fertilizer being applied to farms, urge farmers to use more animal manure, compost and other organic fertilizers. If farmers better integrate stock-raising with crop cultivation, cattle and other livestock could provide them with not only more manure but also with animal traction for ploughing fields and hauling crops after they are harvested. One way to make organic fertilizers more available and affordable is to increase local production. This can reduce costs, ease the pressure on foreign currency reserves and shorten the supply chain to farmers.