Embracing Agroecological Farming Practices Enables Agrobiodiversity and Soil Health to Thrive

The food crisis and climate change burden

The food crisis is growing cancer in the world. Without a doubt, our food systems are utterly broken. The global food system drives and is impacted by climate change. Climate change can disrupt food availability, reduce access, and affect the overall quality. The activities could be a result of projected increases in temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, changes in extreme weather events, and a reduction in water availability. Additionally, pests and disease pressure are also direct effects of climate change. Consequently, these shifts may all result in reduced agricultural productivity. A similar contribution to reduced food productivity is the degradation of soil through industrial farming defined by agricultural practices relying on synthetic fertilizers, chemical-based pest or disease control products, and unsustainable land management technologies or approaches. These combinations often contribute to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions. According to FAO, land use conversion and cultivation are responsible for about a third of greenhouse gases

With the drastic climatic change and its devastating impacts on food systems and food security, can agroecology be the solution?

Are there alternatives to the present production system?

In reversing these adverse climate change effects, including the food crisis, we may need to adopt new transformative farming practices. Various organizations realize the existing knowledge gaps in attaining sustainable production systems that are responsive to climate change shocks. Some of the steps taken include collaboration with like-minded partners to champion the cause of sustainable production and food systems. One such collaboration is between NutriProduce Limited, the Inter-Sectoral Forum for Agroecology and Agrobiodiversity (ISFAA), and the University of Nairobi. These organizations have teamed up with the objective of training students and farmers, encouraging a conscious transition from conventional farming practices to those ones embracing agroecology – a feasible solution to the food crisis and climate change.

One of the recent transdisciplinary training is the Agroecology and Agrobiodiversity Training Course (AATC), with an inaugural course in 2021 and championed by NutriProduce Limited, ISFAA, and the University of Nairobi. A precedent of the AATC is the International Training Course on Organic Agriculture (ITCOA), which has had about 10 successful editions, training over 300 change agents. The AATC focuses on training students in various agroecological farming methods such as organic agriculture, permaculture, and bio-intensive agriculture with an aim of establishing sustainable agricultural systems.

The forms of sustainable agricultural systems learned.

  1. Organic agriculture

From my training, organic agriculture is a type of farming that doesn’t incorporate the use of synthetic fertilizers and chemicals. It is based on four key principles of care, ecology, health, and fairness. In its setup, organic agriculture considers the medium and long-term effects of agricultural interventions on the agroecosystem.

It aims to produce food optimally while establishing an ecological balance and maintaining soil health. For soil fertility and amendments, organic agriculture employs the use of biofertilizers such as Bokashi, Supermagro, and Vermicompost.

Pest management is mainly by using organic fungicides such as ash brew and Sulphur lime. These practices and products are embraced in view of integrated pest management (IPM) strategies and biological pest control. Some of the IPM biological pest control approaches include the use of companion plants i.e., onions, Napier grass, rosemary, and Mexican marigold.

The advantage of using biofertilizers and organic fungicides is that most of the products needed are readily available.

I was able to see why organic agriculture advocates a reduction in the use of external inputs such as water, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers. This display of a strategy in achieving sustainability, reduction of negative environmental impact, and a circular economy model.

There is ample scientific proof that organic farming can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and is a more resilient approach in a changing climate.

Organic farming also enhances food security by improving pest and disease resistance. Further, it helps to combat the glaring challenge of desertification by reducing soil erosion and protecting water resources. It also maintains and improves environmental services, hence contributing to food security, and mitigation against and adaptation to climate change.

 2. Permaculture

In land management, permaculture scores highly as an approach (and settlement design) that adopt arrangements observed in natural ecosystems. Permaculture aims to create stable productive systems that provide for human needs, harmoniously integrating the land with people. It borrows from the traditional ways of farming and incorporates those technologies with science.

Similarly, several principles define operations in a permaculture system. These principles often relate to each other and include:

  • Embracing biodiversity ie Monoculture is death
  • Recycling and reusing – encourage the circular economy
  • Small beginnings and gradual intensification
  • Working with nature and not against it
  • Having more than one use; planting something that is multipurpose
  • Cooperation more than the competition
  • The problem is the solution
  • Embrace even the least change for the greatest impact
  • Everything works in two ways
  • Element of Agroecology

This form of agriculture draws inspiration from nature to develop synergetic farming systems based on crop diversity, resilience, natural productivity, and sustainability. Permaculture mimics the natural forest ecosystem through the food forest mechanism. The food forest contains seven layers i.e. Canopy/Tall Tree Layer, Sub-Canopy/Large Shrub Layer, Shrub Layer, Herbaceous Layer, Ground-cover/Creeper Layer, Underground Layer, and Vertical/Climber Layer. Food forests use mainly perennial plants that don’t require the ground to get tilled or disturbed every year. Plants naturally die back in the winter and their leaves return nutrients back to the soil. It’s much more of a closed-loop system than a modern garden.

Since food forests include layers of trees and shrubs, they also provide a home to a diverse array of animals and beneficial insects. There’s much more life than what you would find in an annual vegetable garden. In terms of sustainability, with its focus on nature and its community-led applications, permaculture addresses environmental and social objectives well. In terms of economic sustainability, while teaching self-sufficiency is a useful objective in its own right, the approach is considered impossible to scale by many and as such, it is incompatible with respect to contributing to substantial and reliable food production.

3. Bio-intensive Agriculture

Bio-intensive agriculture is an organic agricultural system that focuses on achieving maximum yields from a minimum area of land, while simultaneously increasing biodiversity and sustaining the fertility of the soil. It works on several principles: double-dug, raised beds, composting, intensive /close planting, companion planting, calorie farming, the use of open-pollinated seeds, and a whole system farming method. This makes it possible to grow using lesser water, fewer amounts of biofertilizers, and less energy. It also results in the use of lesser land, more food production, and the building up of the soil faster than nature if properly practiced.

In summary, bio-intensive agriculture is a low-cost and environmentally friendly agricultural technology that uses locally available resources in farming communities focusing on resource productivity for food security, income generation, soil productivity improvement, soil conservation, and environmental conservation.

Agroecology helps to protect, restore and improve agriculture and food systems in the face of climate shocks and stressors.

Diverse, well-integrated agroecological systems can promote greater carbon sequestration, increase the resilience of livelihoods and provide climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions.


  1. Agroecology employs safer and eco-friendly methods in pest and disease management. Low-cost solutions accessible to most smallholder farmers practicing agroecology should be embraced. More awareness of their production and use is recommended. In their adoption as better practices lies the chance to mitigate against and adapt to climate change while averting a food crisis. For more on the details, see our dedicated pages on training leaders in agriculture.
  2. Recycling is encouraged in Agroecology as it enables agricultural production with lower economic and environmental costs. Waste is a human concept – it does not exist in natural ecosystems. By imitating natural ecosystems, agroecological practices can and will support biological processes that drive nutrient recycling, biomass, and water stability within production systems and thus an increased resource-use efficiency.
  3. Multiple practices and approaches could help drive the adoption of the agroecology concept. These approaches as listed earlier encourage diversity – dietary, agriculturally, and in ecosystems. Recent global research shows that countries with higher crop diversity generally support more agricultural employment. More diversification at the farm level is encouraged as it also contributes in multiple ways to soil health, income, and human nutrition. For more on the details, see our dedicated pages on training leaders in agriculture.

Farming practices based on the agroecological approach aid in rejuvenating and building of the soil in terms of fertility and structure. The design of diverse agroecological systems rooted in local ecological knowledge and based on system diversity and ecological synergies is encouraged. Its capacity to significantly improve soil quality and reverse soil degradation while increasing the production of nutritious food is documented. For more on the details, see our dedicated pages on training leaders in agriculture.

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