Five ways to make farming more sustainable

A recent workshop in Mozambique identified five ways to sustainably intensify agriculture.

Laura Silici's picture
Insight by 
Laura Silici
20 May 2015
Workshop participants in Mozambique discuss results from group work on how to make farming more sustainable (Photo: Lynn Boyd, ADRA Mozambique)

Workshop participants in Mozambique discuss results from group work on how to make farming more sustainable (Photo: Lynn Boyd, ADRA Mozambique)

In food insecure countries, large-scale investments are often considered a major driver of agricultural growth, but these can promote monocultures and intensive approaches that damage the environment and progressively decrease soil fertility.

In addition, there is a great deal of uncertainty about their impact on smallholders' access to markets, land and employment. Low external input, sustainable agricultural practices such as agroecology and organic farming can contribute to food security by increasing productivity while at the same time being more climate-resilient, environmentally sustainable, and ensuring healthy and productive soils into the future.

Promoting sustainable agriculture in Mozambique

A scoping study on sustainable agriculture in Mozambique shows that approaches such as agroforestry and conservation agriculture have been increasingly promoted throughout the country. Research trials and anecdotal evidence suggest that these practices increase yields, are climate-resilient and economically accessible. Despite this, uptake among smallholders remains low.

A one-day workshop organised by IIED, the Mozambique Institute of Agricultural Research (IIAM), CARE International and University Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo gathered representatives from key agricultural institutions to discuss the constraints to scaling-up sustainable practices and the type of incentives needed to overcome them.

Five ways to increase sustainable approaches

Following wide-ranging discussions, participants at the workshop agreed on five ways in which sustainable agriculture could be enhanced:

  1. By ensuring immediate benefits:

    While environmental soundness and resilience are paramount, farmers must experience an immediate benefit if they are going to change their practice. Only then can it be sustainable in the long term. Getting benefits from sustainable agriculture is not always quick though, as it takes time for new approaches to be adapted to different agroecological and socio-economic conditions and to show their impacts: rebuilding organic matter dramatically improves soil fertility and moisture, but it can take two or more years for this to happen.

    In Mozambique, CARE has promoted an improved variety of cassava that performs even better if grown using conservation practices. This has provided an incentive for cassava producers to adopt conservation agriculture. Improved access to market can also trigger farmers’ motivation to invest in agriculture.
  2. By providing intermediate, appropriate technology:

    In order to be attractive, sustainable practices need to be technically as well as economically efficient. Intermediate technological solutions such as light machinery and affordable tools can encourage small-scale farmers to test them. New tools and practices can be better tested to the local conditions through participatory research.

    CARE, the Ministry of Agriculture, and local partners such as AENA and Mahlahle use Farmer Field Schools (FFS) – or Escolas na Machamba de Camponês. Through FFS, farmers have identified combinations of local crops that, beyond being tolerant to drought and providing more food, build up soil fertility and organic matter – all with minimal cost and labour. 
  3. By carrying out research and technical assistance:

    Farmers know a lot, but they may not know about alternative options if they have not been introduced to them. Research and technical extension staff need additional resources to reach more farmers, and they need more training on 'non-conventional' farming methods and on innovative ways to share their knowledge. Farmer Field Schools, again, allow organisations such as FAO to transfer knowledge, for instance on integrated pest management, while ensuring that farmers' interests and learning skills are prioritised.
  4. Increased coordination and planning:

    The workshop provided a rare occasion for government, academia, civil society and technical agencies such as FAO and the CGIAR to engage in an open and honest conversation on sustainable agriculture. Although many of these actors already work on sustainable practices, they agreed that their impact could be amplified by fostering synergies, making interventions more consistent and avoiding duplication of efforts. 
  5. Increased policy support and leadership:

    Addressing technical and financial constraints is important, but policy coherence is essential for scaling-up. One way to reinforce policy advocacy for sustainable agriculture is by producing and consolidating evidence of its benefits, in contrast with the negative impacts of high-input intensive monocultures. A better shared understanding of these issues would provide common ground for local actors to pursue the changes that are needed in agricultural policy and practice.

Eunice Cavane, professor at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, facilitates a session on incentives for scaling up sustainable agriculture (Photo: Lynn Boyd, ADRA Mozambique)

What's next?

At the workshop, we all benefited from working in groups to share ideas and learn from each other. Many participants called for a learning group or platform to help disseminate and exchange information and reinforce policy advocacy. They also wanted to learn more about specific techniques, such as biological pest control and organic fertilisers, and how can they be adopted in the local context.

IIED, CARE and Eduardo Mondlane University are exploring ways to produce more evidence on sustainable agriculture in Mozambique.

This will be shared in open forums such as the national conservation agriculture working group and provincial conservation agriculture platforms, and used to stimulate learning across various organisations. 

Laura Silici ([email protected]) is an agroecology researcher at IIED.


Growing sustainable agriculture in Mozambique (April 2015), Laura Silici and Lila Buckley, IIED Backgrounder | English Portuguese

Sustainable agriculture for small-scale farmers in Mozambique: a scoping report (March 2015), Laura Silici, Calisto Bias and Eunice Cavane, IIED Country report