Spend local, eat healthy! By Rolf Shenton Co-founder of Grassroots Trust Sunday, 30th July 2023
Spend local, eat healthy!
By Rolf Shenton Co-founder of Grassroots Trust Sunday, 30th July 2023
In previous articles I have discussed why we need to change the way we make decisions and the principles we need to follow to achieve regeneration of our environment, our economy and our communities. This week I shall suggest how we can practically exploit these principles to develop agriculture that improves the environment, produces far more food, fibre and energy without the need for expensive chemical inputs, loss of biodiversity or the need for Zambians to give up their land and sovereignty.
As discussed before life starts with soil, rain, carbon dioxide CO2 and that miraculous process, photosynthesis. Without photosynthesis we would have nothing, just a desert planet. Without enough photosynthesis, our common home is turning back into a desert. How can we ensure more growth and secure a future for our descendants?
Directly or indirectly, we are all responsible for managing some land, whether it’s our plot in the city, a farm or the communal land in the family village. Even the decisions we make at the supermarket determines or influences the decisions farmers, land managers and policy-makers make. The continuous shift away from indigenous foods, fibre and energy products towards global commodities has forced our producers to clear away Zambia’s incredible biodiversity where much of our needs were gathered, herded or hunted and replace traditional agriculture with exotic crops and livestock that we consumers prefer. From over 400 natural products, our diets have reduced to a handful of exotic foods such as chicken, tomato, onion and various cabbages.
More and more farmers are developing agroecology, following the principles of natural growth, mixing compatible crops in the same field in among agroforestry trees and using composts and animal manure instead of chemical fertiliser. Their costs of production drop immediately, their plants grow better and the quality of produce is higher. Pests are easier to manage with the help of natural predators that return to ‘jungle’ fields and soil improves year by year. Healthy soil accepts and holds rainwater more readily so farmers experience less flooding and droughts. With careful placement of crop mixes, weeds can be reduced by shading and the rest removed by cultivation, saving money and avoiding poisoning the ecosystem.
There is much talk of Farmer Input Support Programs FISP right now with the new government desperate to stem the ever-growing dependence on subsidies which has ultimately put millions of farmers out of business and caused many to migrate to cities or north in search of better soil.
How do we break this cycle? Farmers need to build organic matter back in their soils which liberates free nutrients and abundant moisture. For this they need knowledge of agroecology, knowledge of how nature works, understanding of how natural forests grow without the need of expensive chemicals and development of management that ensures soils are constantly improving.
FISP must be phased out and replaced with a massive re-education program to help farmers rebuild their soils through holistic management of plants and animals. Is there any evidence of such a program? Its hard to tell, there is much noise about private sector playing a bigger role in production and the value addition chain, but so far, very little focus on the root cause of the problem: management by the existing 2 million+ farming families in Zambia who want to continue living on the land. Consumers must also play their part; we need to understand the linkages between industrially grown food and health, the wisdom in supporting local agriculture and the risks to the nation at large of losing sovereignty of the food system to foreign corporate interests.
Spend local, eat healthy!