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Aligns with articles 1 and 5 in the Terra Carta mandate

Responding to the Southern African Food Crisis

An agroecological approach to addressing the Southern African Food Crisis.

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    Southern African Food Crisis Image

    Taking an Agroecological Approach

    ActionAid talked to us about how agroecology has a key role to play in the future of farming and fighting the low-income country food crisis.

    In 2020 it was estimated that 45 million people were facing severe food shortages in Southern Africa after the worst drought the region had seen in 35 years . The scale of the crisis was unprecedented in this region, driven by multiple climate-related factors.

    Agroecological approaches are sustainable, integrated and adapted to their context. They do not offer a set of prescribed practices, but key elements include encouraging crop diversity; planting in ways that encourage moisture retention; water harvesting; and production of manure.

    Agroecology has huge environmental benefit, helping to mitigate climate change by using low-emission techniques and recycling resources. It is proven to increase yield and income for farmers, as well as helping them face the changes brought by climate change. It is also often cheaper than mainstream farming methods (which involve purchasing large quantities of fertiliser and pesticides).

    Agroecological Approach to Southern Food Crisis

    Elizabeth Mpofu (one of the women farmers trained in agroecology in Zimbabwe) is plucking groundnuts from a home-made ‘A’ frame. This traditional technique for curing groundnuts is effective in reducing aflatoxins in the nuts and protecting the yield from bad weather and livestock.

    To respond to this crisis and be prepared for the future, countries, businesses and individuals need to adapt. This involves not just responding to the immediate impacts but changing behaviour and methodologies in food production.

    Supporting Adaptation

    Not only does agroecology promote climate-resilient food production, but it can also improve gender equality, and help reduce poverty.  This is why agroecological methods were central to ActionAid’s response in Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe when the Southern African Food Crisis  hit.

    Across Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, a core part of ActionAid’s crisis response involved training smallholder farmers in agroecological farming methods. These included soil and water harvesting to retain moisture in soil, producing fertiliser from manure, integrated pest management, crop diversity and creation of water reservoirs. Enabling farmers to develop sustainable practices and farm a wider variety of climate resilient crops helped increase yields – saving lives and strengthening livelihoods.

    ActionAid worked with farmers to improve their access to markets in all four countries. Stronger yields and more sustainable farming methodologies meant they could increase sales of produce. Not only did this improve their own financial stability, it ensured more readily available food sources for the wider community.

    Working with women-led organisations was also vital to ensuring that activities met ActionAid’s standards of agroecology, which involve tackling gender inequality and poverty whilst embedding more resilient farming methods.

    Elizabeth Mpofu, a smallholder farmer in Zimbabwe shares that “Looking at the climate, it has really changed, so we saw that these small grains we are growing give us sufficient food even if we get very little rain with the ways that we have been teaching each other

    ActionAid’s success working cross-region and collaboratively with partners in all four countries demonstrates the power of combining deeply rooted local level responses – agroecology in particular – with input into national or district level policy and advocacy work. Women’s leadership helps to shift the power, moving from industrial large scale farming practices to locally led and owned approaches.

    Many global stakeholders are already engaging with these techniques. The Southern African Food Crisis response within ActionAid allowed them to trial these solutions to respond to this particular crisis, gather evidence on their success and use this to influence higher level policy discussions, as well as expanding these techniques to other communities.

    Where Can We Help?

    The Terra Carta  calls for projects to have strong feasibility. There is a great deal of knowledge already within the field of agroecology – what is needed now is to apply this at local, regional and national levels. This approach can be rolled out through training smallholder farmers, as in these projects. They can then be supported through policy work and advocacy.

    Come next year, you will no longer hear us complain about agriculture hazards because we now know them and how to live with them


    ActionAid is calling on the private sector, governments and investors to:

    1. Work with experts in agroecology to learn how this method builds stronger and more sustainable positive impact.

    2. Commit to embedding agroecology into company operations with a long-term view that promotes sustainability and safeguards the health of people and planet.


    In Malawi, 10 Farmer Field Schools  were established to facilitate these agroecology trainings – a  Farmer Field School is where groups of small holder farmers are trained and equipped with practical skills and knowledge to lead a shift towards sustainable farming practices. Members were supported to implement approaches tailored to their context, geography and the specific challenges they were facing.

    In Mozambique, farmers’ areas of cultivation increased, on average, from one hectare to two or three hectares as a result of the new technologies and techniques learned.

    For Mozambique and Malawi, supporting and re-establishing irrigation systems was vital to improving water supply and increasing crop yields. Farmers in Mozambique saw benefits of these agroecology techniques, including reduced irrigation needs; early identification of pests and disease; and use of organic and natural pesticides.

    In Zambia, 250 women smallholder farmers were given drought-tolerant seeds, with community seed banks created for the wider community – supporting people to be more resilient to future climate impacts. Distributing drought-tolerant seeds and establishing seed banks was crucial in addressing the crisis and ensuring sustainable and equitable supplies of seeds for future seasons.

    In Zimbabwe, ActionAid worked with Rural Women’s Assemblies (RWA), which are self-organised grassroots movements born out of a shared need to create conditions for rural women to become more visible, collaborate and have a stronger voice in local government. Working with their local partner Fambidzanai Permacultrue Centre (FPC), a policy brief was developed and shared with decision makers at national government level on the benefits of agroecology. This has fed into the ongoing development of a national agroecology policy in Zimbabwe.

    This case study was prepared by ActionAid and aligns with articles 1 and 5 in the Terra Carta mandate.