I is for innovation


27 September 2014

Innovation is one of the keys to increasing food yields and improving the long term sustainability of our food system. Top-down, technology-driven innovation has contributed to large increases in crop yields in the past, but these increases  have slowed, and often only serve the interests of corporate profit-making rather than small-scale farmers. Farmer-led innovation, which makes use of farmers’ local knowledge can have a significant impact on food yields and food sovereignty.

For example farmers are often best suited to identifying and developing plant varieties adapted to deal with the impacts of climate change and plant diseases. It is also important that farmers and scientists collaborate on research work.

An Ethiopian innovator case study:

“Mawcha is a 40-year-old head of a household with two children and has a farm of about one hectare in Adua District of Central Tigray. Mawcha suffered frequent flooding and deposition of silt and stones on her fields. In 1986, without outside assistance and using her own labour, she started to build terraces on the hillside to control the runoff. She then enclosed the hillside to allow natural regeneration of the vegetation; she was the first woman farmer in the area to do this. The hillside is now forested, and the terrace edges have a grass cover. She harvests fuelwood for home use and sale from the enclosed hillside, where she practises controlled grazing and cut-and-carry feeding.

She was motivated to innovate by adverse circumstances. When her husband was resettled in southern Ethiopia, she remained behind. She did not get on well with her husband's relatives, who questioned her right to retain the land and house. Because of this conflict, she decided to be independent and to plough on her own. She is now ploughing the land of some male farmers in return for straw for her animals. She is proud that these men regard her as a better farmer than men in the same community who own oxen, and therefore prefer to sharecrop with her.

Mawcha is eager to share information with other farmers in her area. She formed a group of female heads of household and encouraged them to plough their own land. The impacts of Mawcha’s innovations are highly visible. She used to be regarded as poor because she had to buy grain from the market. Now she produces enough food for the entire year. She exchanges branches of trees from her enclosed hillside for straw to use as animal feed.


About the A-Z of food sovereignty project

The A-Z of Food Sovereignty in Africa shows the positive alternatives to corporate-led agriculture. A new letter was posted each day in the lead up to World Food Day arrived on 16 October 2014.

Africa’s small-scale food producers already know how to produce enough food sustainably to feed themselves but the political and economic rules which govern the food system are set against them. These rules are written by and for multinational companies and political elites, in support of a global food system that benefits them rather than the millions of smallholders and family farmers who produce the food and get little in return.

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