Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

Traditional agriculture can support planetary health

Experts highlight the importance of the traditions of sustainable resource use efficiency in smallholder farming, and identify areas for innovation.

Traditional agricultural practices in sub-Saharan African could play a valuable role in influencing modern-day sustainable farming, according to a recent perspective piece.

The concept of a circular economy, a system designed to minimise waste and boost the sustainable use of resources, is increasingly applied to agriculture by restructuring agricultural systems to minimise waste.

This approach could help reduce resource consumption, and promote sustainability through appropriate policy measures.

Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems researchers reviewed examples of circular economy principles in sub-Saharan agriculture.

Their research findings underline the benefits these sustainable practices bring to smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa, for example increased soil fertility and crop yield, and decreased waste.

Although circular practices are often ingrained in traditional agriculture in parts of Africa, this movement is growing in popularity in upper-income countries in the ongoing quest for sustainable agricultural development.

The team also identified novel methods that could be incorporated to traditional practices to promote sustainability.

Tradition and innovation

Findings highlight the benefits of some of the most popular circular economy practices in traditional African agriculture.

These include keeping cereal straw on the soil, which reduces erosion, increasing soil fertility. Using manure as fertiliser significantly increases crop yield, and feeding livestock with straw can support livestock nutrition during the dry season while reducing waste, their review found.

Novel practices that could be incorporated with existing traditional agriculture, include transforming cereal and cassava crop leftovers into high-quality livestock feed, and exploring the use of insects as an alternative, sustainable source of food for livestock.

This research underscores the potential of integrating circular principles into the evolution of food systems in sub-Saharan Africa and other Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMIC) around the globe.

Local governments could support these changes through policy interventions to provide incentives for farmers, the team suggests.

This research was published in Outlook on Agriculture, in collaboration with colleagues from Wageningen University and the International Livestock Research Institute. The project was supported by CGIAR Trust Fund through the Sustainable Animal Productivity for Livelihoods, Nutrition and Gender inclusion Initiative.

There has been a separation between livestock production and crop production in the Global North, and as a result there are lots of waste problems. Recently, there’s been an effort to reconnect these systems and reduce waste at the same time, which often happens in African smallholder systems.

“These practices not only enhance agricultural sustainability but also offer a pathway to improve rural livelihoods, aligning with global efforts to promote a healthier planet.

Professor Alan DuncanProfessor of Livestock & Development, Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

Related links

Research publication

Image credit: Annie Spratt (Unsplash)