Africa must adopt climate-friendly farming methods to revamp its struggling agriculture and feed its 1.2 billion people.
Scientists and representatives from the civil society told delegates attending a three-day conference in Addis Ababa this past week that conventional agriculture is no longer sustainable as it has ruined the environment and failed to produce enough food.
"The fastest and cheapest way of reversing climate change is through the soil and the strategy is agroecology," said Dr Million Belay, the coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA).
Agroecology stresses the relationship between plants, animals, humans and the environment within the agricultural system.
It uses cultivation techniques and breeding programmes that do not rely on chemical fertilisers, pesticides or artificial genetic modifications.
Sub-saharan Africa produces less food per person today than it did three decades ago, according to Food and Agricultural Organisation, and bears the greatest brunt of the effects of climate change including frequent and prolonged droughts as well as destructive rains.
"If something is not done by 2050, adverse effects of climate could eat away 10 per cent of our GDP. This is why we planted 4.6 billion trees this year," Ethiopia's Agriculture minister Kaba Urgessa said, noting that the new government welcomes dialogue with the civil society to reform its agriculture and scale up agroecology.
While conventional agricultural practice has urged more use of inorganic fertilisers to reach the levels that fired the Asian green revolution, agroecology proponents argue that these inputs only worsen the condition they intended to remedy by acidifying soil which makes it hard for plants to absorb nutrients, and contributes to greenhouse-gas emission.
Instead, agroecologists promote natural soil-building practices such as intercropping, composted crop residue and manure as well as biological pest-control.
Speakers at the conference co-hosted by AFSA and the Movement for Ecological Learning and Community Action said input-intensive programmes and government subsidies for commercial seeds and synthetic fertiliser had failed to increase yields.
Timothy A. Wise, the director of the Land and Food Rights Programme at the US-based Small Planet Institute, said input-intensive practices had made agriculture one of the greatest contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions.