From 25th to 28th November, Trócaire Kenya, in partnership with CIDSE-CARITAS members (Fastenopfer, Caritas Africa, Caritas Germany, Misereor, Catholic Relief Services, CAFOD, Caritas Italiana and Caritas Kenya) organized an Agroecology Conference in Nyahururu, Kenya. Under the theme “Food for All, Care of Our Common Home”, the conference was held with the objective of achieving a common understanding on Agroecology in the light of Laudato Si, sharing good practices and exchange of experiences on Agroecology, and prioritizing key advocacy issues on Agroecology.
In the opening remarks given by Rt. Rev. Joseph Mbatia of the Diocese of Nyahururu, who were the hosts for the conference, the Bishop gave a reflection on Laudato Si, the encyclical by Pope Francis where the Holy Father questions the current models of development. “This conference on Agroecology is timely as it gives us an opportunity to reflect on how we can promote an agricultural practice that prioritizes the needs of farmers and minimizes the negative effects of our actions on resources and the environment,” said the Bishop. He further added that concrete actions were needed to engage government and civil society in producing safe food for all.
Dimensions of Agroecology
Delegates were taken through the different dimensions of Agroecology from the CIDSE perspective (environmental, social-cultural, economic, and political) and how it maintains biodiversity, supports climate adaptation, promotes indigenous agricultural knowledge, and respects gender diversity. A key takeaway during this session was the reduced low cost inputs that agroecology promotes, compared to the high cost inputs of conventional agriculture that is being promoted by different sections of the government and private sector.
“There are several challenges at policy level that need to be addressed, especially for coming up with stand-alone agricultural policies,” observed Denis Kioko, Policy and Advocacy Adviser for Trócaire Kenya as he took participants through the essential elements for policy influencing on Agroecology. As delegates sought to identify significant issues to be addressed in terms of applying agroecological approaches from community to institutional levels, important issues for reflection arose such as documentation of indigenous knowledge in promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, gender equality at the heart of agroecology, and seed distribution. Most importantly, involvement of youth was seen as a critical area for analysis especially with high levels of unemployment for this particular demographic, and the huge potential for agroecology to provide decent work and economic gains for the youth.
Food Security as a Global Concern
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), over 820 million people suffer from hunger, corresponding to about one in every nine people in the world.
Kenya’s economy is highly dependent on the agriculture sector which contributes towards 45%, directly and indirectly, of Kenya’s GDP. Over 80% of the population, especially those living in rural areas, depend on agriculture. Yet the country continues to face severe food security problems with a high number of the population being food insecure with no access to food in terms of quantity and quality. According to the Global Hunger Index 2018, the country still has “serious levels of hunger” with a score of 23.2 and a ranking of 77 out of 119 countries. Promoting agroecology on a national scale will give Kenya an opportunity to get out of this vicious hunger cycle.
Commitment towards affirming Catholic Identity in Agroecology
The conference ended with the release of a communiqué where the delegates from CIDSE-CARITAS agencies affirmed their commitment to champion agroecology. “We hereby commit to upscale agroecology at community level through policy advocacy at national and sub-national level, work closely with actors in mainstream media to promote agroecology, collaborate with government and other actors to influence legislation on agroecology and promote policies that prioritize the needs of small-scale farmers,” read the communiqué.
In his closing remarks, the Bishop thanked the partner organizations for bringing delegates from East and Southern Africa (Caritas Uganda, Caritas South Sudan, Caritas Ethiopia, and Caritas Malawi) for such a forum with practical learning experience. “I hope the conference experience and knowledge has given everyone encouragement to implement agroecology in their dioceses and homes,” expressed Bishop Mbatia, further adding that “every diocese should strive to have demonstration farms and seek platforms in churches to speak about food security and agroecology”.