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Kenya: Regenerative agriculture as a pathway to a sustainable food system

Worries about infertile soil and loss of biodiversity—along with the loss of native seeds—are becoming only more common. Many agricultural experts and soil scientists warn that, at current rates of soil destruction, global food supply will be less nutritious within the next 50 years. Experts predict that this will lead to serious damage to public health and warn that many farmers could find themselves in a situation without enough arable topsoil for even subsistence agriculture.

According to an organization called Regeneration International, unless we protect and regenerate the soil on cultivated farmland, pastureland, and forested land, it will be impossible to feed the world, keep global warming below a two-degree Celsius increase, or halt the loss of biodiversity.

This is why major efforts are underway to find farming methods that can reduce soil erosion and degradation. Regenerative farming is one solution that experts say farmers can implement regardless of their region or crop type. And it’s being put into practice in Kenya.

Alice Mwangi is a regenerative farmer in Kenya and an activist for ecological and regenerative agriculture. She says that, before turning to regenerative practices, her land was eroded, degraded, and it was difficult to produce crops, despite use of chemical fertilizers.

Speaking at the Global Landscape Forum, she says that ever since learning about regenerative methods, her farm produces better crops and provides a steady supply of vegetables and other crops throughout the year.

She currently farms a quarter-acre home garden on the outskirts of Nairobi, and is the founder of Hillside Organic Garden Kabete.

Regenerative agriculture includes farming and grazing practices that rebuild soil organic matter and restore soil biodiversity. This approach has many proponents around the world, and some key practices include the use of cover crops, using “no till” strategies when preparing farmland, planting field buffers or “living fences” to prevent soil runoff, and integrating crops and livestock on the same farmland.

Arohi Sharma is the Water and Agriculture Policy Analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council in the US. She says: “The regenerative agriculture movement is the dawning realization among more people that an indigenous approach to agriculture can help restore ecologies, fight climate change, rebuild relationships, spark economic development, and bring joy.”

Ms. Sharma is part of the team from the Natural Resources Defence Council, known as NRDC, that interviewed more than 100 regenerative farmers across the United States to inform recommendations on creating a food system that can help fight the climate crisis.

Nicodemus Omundo, a chef and farmer from Kenya, also spoke at the Global Landscape Forum. Mr. Omundo noted that the population of Africa is growing and becoming more urban. Nonetheless, many people will continue to need access to productive land to grow food. Mr. Omundo says that soil regeneration can be a key for urban agriculture to ensure that healthy, organic crops can be grown even in small city spaces.

Kenya is one of many countries on a trajectory to increase the use of regenerative farming practices. This could be key to addressing food shortages and the global impacts of climate change on agriculture. And yet some of these practices are little known.

Ronnie Cummins is a member of the steering committee for Regeneration International. He says: “If you’ve never heard about the amazing potential of regenerative agriculture and land use practices to naturally sequester a critical mass of carbon dioxide in the soil and forests, you’re not alone.”

He continues: “One of the best-kept secrets in the world today is that the solution to global warming and the climate crisis (as well as poverty and deteriorating public health) lies right under our feet, and at the end of our knives and forks.”

He says that regenerative agriculture is a solution because it “does no harm” to the land but instead, improves it, using technologies that help to revitalize the soil and the surrounding environment.

This article is based on discussions that took place during the Global Landscape Forum Africa 2022 Digital Conference held online in September. For more information on the Forum, or to watch some of the recorded presentations, go to: https://conference.globallandscapesforum.org/africa-2022/sessions [1]

Photo: Alice Mwangi speaking from her garden where she practices regenerative agriculture. Credit: Global Landscape Forum Africa 2022 Digital Conference.