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State urged to implement agroecology programme ‘as a guiding framework for SA’s food system’

State urged to implement agroecology programme ‘as a guiding framework for SA’s food system’
Agroecology has the potential to uplift South Africa’s food system. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo)

Agroecology has the potential to uplift South Africa’s food system, yet there is no government programme for it, according to those who work in the sector.

A call for an agroecology strategy and programme in the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development was recently made by the African Centre for Biodiversity and 47 co-signatory organisations in an open letter claimed to have been sent to Minister Thoko Didiza on 2 December. 

The letter followed the announcement of the underexpenditure of R1.3-billion for the 2021/22 financial year by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. 

The underexpenditure “is appalling in light of the lack of support smallholder farms receive, despite the vital role they play, and can play in an expanded way to strengthen the social and economic justice aspects of agroecology, so that agroecology is not only about farming practices, but it is also about food sovereignty and social and economically just transformation,” said the communications coordinator for the African Centre for Biodiversity, Deidre May. 

Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza. (Photo: Gallo Images)

A united call 

Various civil society organisations (CSOs) have been making concerted efforts to work with household and smallholder farms to bring them together in one movement, thereby consolidating the often-disjointed agroecology sector. 

This merge was realised in 2019 after Biowatch, a non-governmental organisation, pulled agroecology actors together, forming the Agroecology South Africa platform, which currently has 277 participants, according to a former senior researcher for the African Centre for Biodiversity, Stephen Greenberg, who continues to do contract work in the sector. 

“The broad aim of the agroecology platform is to share information and mobilise joint actions for a transition to agroecology in South Africa,” said Biowatch’s advocacy and research coordinator, Vanessa Black. 

The platform is a think-tank, according to Black, and the open letter is an example of how those brought together by the platform took on issues facing the agroecology sector. 

“The Agroecology South Africa platform comprises a diverse range of individual and organisational stakeholders working to bring about both ecological and social justice in South Africa. While we have different viewpoints and priorities, we are united in this common goal,” she said. 

“It also supports networking among its participants and provides the space for collaboration around topics, programmes or areas of interest, aligned to embedding agroecology as a guiding framework for South Africa’s food system.” 


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Uplifting South Africa’s food system 

Agroecology could be used to meet a host of government objectives, ranging from food and nutrition security to land distribution, spatial planning and local economic development, among many others. 

“We strongly believe that agroecology is an integrated and appropriate response to the multiple challenges facing both smallholder production in the era of climate change and global disruptions and facing the country as a whole in ongoing efforts to secure an effective transformation of the country towards democracy, social justice and redress of past injustices, and an inclusive economy,” read the letter. 

Transitioning towards an agroecological food system was supported in a recent assessment by the Department of Science and Innovation and the National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Food Security, according to the letter. 

A plea for policy 

“Despite the potential of agroecology to respond to numerous objectives of the government and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development in particular, there is currently not one single government programme or even pilot on agroecology,” claimed the letter. 

The letter calls for the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development and the government to implement the following: 

  1. “Establish an Agroecology Coordinator with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to initiate and champion the process to convene relevant actors.
  2. “Work with homestead and smallholder farms, CSOs and other relevant actors to develop an integrated agroecology strategy and programme.
  3. “Implement selected pilot projects in specific locations based on multiactor discussion, planning and implementation.
  4. “Include agroecology as a key framing and response in the agriculture sector Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Plan.
  5. “The Agricultural Research Council and agricultural research institutes to work with farmer networks and CSOs to develop and implement participatory longitudinal studies comparing conventional and agroecological practices across a range of environmental, social and economic indicators.” DM/MC
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