This article is the sixth in a series highlighting the work of our colleagues around the world to build agroecological practices, science and movements. Agroecology has emerged as a set of practices based on principles that guide how to produce food sustainably, as well as how to manage the social relationships that govern food production, processing, exchange and waste management in a fair manner. Previous articles have looked at community level initiatives. The Global Policy Forum (GPF) is an independent policy watchdog that monitors and reports on United Nations activities and developments in multilateral affairs. This article focuses on national policy issues in two countries that influence communities’ ability to adopt agroecological transitions.
A growing number of civil society organizations around the world have been calling for agricultural production methods that adhere to and enhance multilateral agreements on environmental sustainability and biodiversity, as well as small-scale farmers and peasants’ rights. The already precarious state of food security, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has been further jeopardized by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, especially in Africa. At the launch of the United Nations 2022 State of Food and Nutrition (SOFI) report in July, many countries, from Tanzania to Germany, joined the clamor for a food systems transformation that overhauls current methods of food production and consumption. Agroecology can be a vehicle for the kind of systemic transformation the current state of global crises demands, both as a method of agricultural production based on co-creation of knowledge that empowers local farming communities and a movement for transformational social change in the wider agricultural sector.
While many practices considered as agroecological approaches have been included in various policies and projects, funding that allows agroecology to take root in national agriculture strategies has fallen short. Research by the Catholic development network CIDSE, with support from Coventry University, found that between 2016 and 2018, none of the European funding channeled through the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and World Food Programme (WFP) went to projects that supported transformative agroecology. This preliminary look into national positions on agroecology and funding patterns in two countries in very different situations may offer some insights into the state of agricultural spending towards transformational change in agricultural production and what factors impede agroecology investment.
Switzerland is a high-income country in Europe, with the second highest per capita GDP in the world (US$86,850 as of 2020). As a high-income country with a “disproportionate number of high-ranking research institutes,” Switzerland invests a lot of money into research, encouraging research institutes to actively collaborate with developing country partners. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) provides the majority of funding for Swiss Agricultural Research for Development (AgR4D) and is therefore very influential in setting the priorities and strategies of the stakeholders in Swiss AgR4D. Switzerland has been noted by agricultural experts not only for its robust investment in agricultural research and projects in developing countries, but also for supporting projects that reach all levels of food systems transformation. The CIDSE research found that 51% of its funding for international agricultural research involved agroecology.
The Swiss constitution has adopted several addendums to address climate change challenges to food security and agriculture. Art. 104a, adopted in 2017, directly addresses food security, calling for “food production that is adapted to local conditions and which uses natural resources efficiently” and “cross-border trade relations that contribute to the sustainable development of the agriculture and food sector.” This is in addition to the original language in Art. 104 Sec. 3d, which stipulates that the Confederation has a duty of “protecting the environment against the detrimental effects of the excessive use of fertilizers, chemicals and other auxiliary agents,” and the 2005 amendment on gene technology in Art. 197 Sec. 7, “Swiss agriculture shall remain free of gene technology for a period of five years following the adoption of this constitutional provision.”
The Swiss government is also supportive of agroecology and has endorsed discussion papers promoting agroecology prepared by the Swiss National FAO Committee (CNS-FAO). In a paper in 2019, the CNS-FAO explained the concept of agroecology as defined by FAO’s 10 elements, detailing merits and rationale for implementing agroecology in national agricultural strategies to strive towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In another 2021 paper, they continued to highlight Swiss agricultural policies for “supporting sustainability and green growth is in force in Switzerland since 1992” with measures designed to protect “climate, soil, animal welfare and biodiversity.”
Yet there is still language in the constitution focused on food production efficiency, continued reliance on “market requirements” and a distinct lack of social factors related to food security or agriculture. Despite the clause in the constitution barring gene technology for five years, large shares of the Swiss AgR4D goes to institutions like Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR), whose work is “limited to crop breeding and input efficiency” in production systems and is less dedicated to a transformation of systemic sustainability than agroecology demands. According to IMF data on the country’s 2020 federal expenditure on Economic Affairs (including agriculture, communication and transportation), Switzerland spent 27.78 billion CHF in total, of which 4.812 billion CHF (17%) went to agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, compared to 17.426 billion CHF (63%) that went to transportation. Compared to total public expenditures of 173.8 billion CHF in 2021, only 4.2 billion CHF (2.4%) was spent on agriculture. Out of this 2.4% of public spending, it is unclear how much goes into agroecology. One clue may be the steady increase of organic farming, which has grown from about 5,000 farms in 2000 to around 7,500 farms in 2020 (or around a 9% increase in organic farms and agriculture area in the same period). However, exact public spending on organic farming, much less on agroecology, is not published. Crucially, while organic farming is an important step towards agroecology, the Swiss organic farming strategy is not specifically aligned with community social welfare or holistic reimagining of the food system integral to agroecology.
Further examination of spending on agriculture is needed to decisively conclude whether Switzerland is fulfilling its commitments to agroecology, but currently, the focus on efficiency and productivity, both at home and abroad, and lower levels of demand for a systemic change domestically prevents Switzerland from directing its investments more towards agroecology. And its status as a rich, developed country must be accounted for as a factor in how Switzerland can achieve lower greenhouse gas emissions or progress towards more sustainable agricultural production methods like organic farming.
Kenya is a lower-middle income country in east Sub-Saharan Africa, with an average real GDP growth of 5% over the last decade. While its GHG emissions rate was less than 0.1% as of 2018, climate change has impacted Kenya at the rate of a 3-5% loss in annual GDP, harming gains from its development efforts. As it developed, agriculture has remained an important part of its economy, making up about one-third of GDP in 2017 and providing 75% of total employment. Many economic sectors Kenya depends on remain vulnerable to climate change, such as rain-fed agriculture, water, energy, tourism, wildlife and health, and intensified climate-related risks can aggravate conflicts over natural resources. Drought and floods remain key climate hazards for Kenya, threatening both lives and livelihoods. The severity became a national security issue in 2011, when a drought caused US$11 billion in damages and a refugee crisis at the border.
Examining the 2020 Updated Nationally Determined Contributions on climate (NDC) and Second NCCAP (2021), Kenya is clearly not focusing on agroecology as its strategy for sustainable agricultural production. The NDC names Nature-based Solutions (NbS) and Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) as “priority mitigation activities.” Like agroecology, CSA lacks clearly defined practices; however, the umbrella category of CSA differs from agroecology in its wide range of agricultural practices that include genetically-engineered seeds or livestock, large-scale industrial farming or pesticides — practices that rely on a largely foreign-based corporate sector, raising issues of affordability for and accountability to the local farming communities in Kenya.
Kenya has not completely ignored agroecological practices, however. Both the Updated NDC and Second NCCAP discuss the importance of community engagement in these processes and the need for holistic assessments in the wider society. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) devised the Country Strategic Opportunities Programme (COSOP) 2020-2025 for Kenya aligned with the government's Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy 2019-2029 (ASTGS) and its six pillars: (i) increase smallholder incomes; (ii) increase output and value addition; (iii) boost household food resilience; (iv) knowledge and skills; (v) research, innovation and data; and (vi) sustainability and crisis management. Still, they lack a discussion on donor accountability, local or Indigenous knowledge, and transformation of the food system. IFAD’s COSOP highlights establishing “large-scale private farming” as a flagship project to achieving the first three goals of the ASTGS. Continued GDP growth also remains as the underlying goal, with the Updated NDC setting a target of increased per capita GDP growth above 2019 levels of 6.36%.
Furthermore, most of Kenya’s agricultural research is focused on industrial agriculture, with the “Green Revolution'' narrative — an “emphasis on efficiency and markets rather than ecological sustainability, equity and well-being” — dominating. For context, government investment in agriculture is around 4% of expenditures, 0.5% below that of Africa as a whole and 6% below the target set by the 2003 Maputo Declaration, an agreement among African heads of state for a “commitment to the allocation of at least 10% of national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development policy implementation within five years.” In the 2021-2022 Budget Statement, Kenya is planning to spend 23.1 billion KSH (approximately US$198.62 million) on its Economic Stimulus Programme to lessen the impact of the pandemic, and of this amount, 1.97 billion KSH (approximately US$16.9 million) is earmarked for improving agriculture and food security (8.5%). To complement public investment, IFAD’s performance-based allocation for 2022-2024 is projected to be similar to 2019-2021 figures, which was US$78.6 million; as Kenya has graduated to a lower-middle income country, financing is now blended, with other development partners like the German development agency or the government of Finland contributing (see table). Kenya is also home to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), whose 2020 Annual Report was found to be misleading and inconclusive by IATP, leading to heightened competition for funding, since agroecology has little recognition in Kenya and funding partners like IFAD also support AGRA.
Source: IFAD Republic of Kenya, Country Strategic Opportunities Programme 2020-2025
Dependence on external investments from international development partners constrains the government in making strategic decisions, and a low level of awareness for agroecology in Kenya’s agricultural research sector further hampers the potential for greater agroecology investment in an already limited agricultural funding environment. External influence in trade is another driver shaping Kenya’s agriculture sector. Products such as flowers, vegetables, coffee and avocados are increasing in demand from the EU; and while Kenya supports “micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in value chains,” it is also striving for “the development of standards appropriate to the product demanded in the EU,” likely complicating the situation for small farmers who comprise most of the agricultural sector. Such external interests and requirements pulling Kenya in different directions to meet market demands will likely create a harsh environment that discourages agroecology, unless there is a commitment to and coordination of agroecology policies on both sides of the investment and trading relationships.
Agroecology for Agenda 2030
Agroecology offers a holistic path towards synergistically achieving targets set by UNFCCC, U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. Yet, agroecology faces opposition from supporters of farming methods that bring quick turnarounds in terms of returns on investment but continue to have negative, social, economic or ecological externalities. Its cross-sectoral nature demands an integrated response that is challenging in the current fragmented and hierarchical approach to policy making. The overriding priority of the upcoming 2023 high-level midterm review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to recapture transformative aspirations with concrete, funded and accountable policies and programs. Agroecology should be at the center of that process