After the Africa-France Summit, investing together in agroecology

By Alioune Fall

Chair of the CIRAD Scientific Council and Board Chair of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa

By Elisabeth Claverie de Saint Martin



Africa and France would benefit from working together towards the transition of agri-food systems in the face of the growing challenges of climate change.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of the importance of the work of farmers to human life everywhere in the world. Yet in Europe, fewer and fewer people work in agriculture. On the contrary, in Sub-Saharan Africa almost two thirds of the jobs are directly linked to agriculture. By 2050, 60% of the global workforce will be located in Africa with half of the active population in rural areas. The training of Africa’s next generation therefore seems to be a key issue. But training in what kind of agriculture and in which food production system?

African expertise

Agriculture contributes to the many challenges our planet faces.  It produces greenhouse gases, is responsible for deforestation, uses pesticides and fertilizers that cause pollution and biodiversity loss. Processed food has also its flaws: too much sugar, salt and preservatives that could increase the prevalence of obesity and diabetes, two scourges that make populations more susceptible to infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

While European agriculture has gone a long way in simplifying farming systems and habitat artificialization, African agriculture has upheld some traditions and some expertise that could be a source of inspiration for the rest of the world.  However, Africa needs to increase crop yields to feed a growing population and provide farmers with a decent living. For our agronomists, this will include the use of fertilizer (nitrogen) even if the quantities required are limited.  This is one of the many components and one of the challenges resulting from agro-ecological intensification on the continent.

Innovating and becoming more resilient

It is indeed time to recognize and validate solutions that build on ecological process within agroecological systems. The principle of agroecology is to take ecosystems, in order words, the nature, as models for agriculture.  Many scientific and farmer inputs and insights are required to enhance the ecological processes. This will entail research, training, a lot of discussions and sharing to innovate and become more resilient. There is therefore also a need to make financial investments and for researchers, technicians, farmers, the African Union, and the European Union to work together.

We discussed the issue of agroecological transitions with our African partners during the  Montpellier Global Days Africa 2021, just before  the new Africa-France Summit.  During these days dedicated to science, education and innovation and led by the Montpellier University of Excellence, other flagship topics were discussed: sustainability and diversity of food systems, health management – using a One Health approach– cultivated and uncultivated biodiversity; water and inequality in land ownership, attractiveness of rural jobs with the development of digital agriculture as well as the need to properly fund African agricultural research systems. Together, let us invest in research, innovation and training to ensure the transition of our agri-food systems!



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