A recent International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) report noted that the decline in price of seed-cotton is ‘likely to have a direct impact on the household incomes and food security of cotton producers in Africa.’ Looking ahead, ICAC suggest that the likelihood of food crisis will put greater value on food crops, particularly for smallholder farmers. Cotton farmers have asked PAN for training on vegetable crops to help mitigate disruption to the cotton trade. The Government of Ethiopia is also eager to protect local food supplies in anticipation of widespread food insecurity caused by the economic downturn.
The pesticide industry lobby is likely to respond to the crisis by pushing donors and governments to provide farmers with subsidies in the form of pesticides and other inputs. This is not the answer. Year after year, PAN’s trials and surveys show that, with effective training, farmers adopt low cost, sustainable approaches that substantially reduce their costs while achieving at least as good yields as local conventional farming practice. Given that the supplies of pesticides are also disrupted by the pandemic, the importance of low cost, local solutions is greater than ever.
Improving food security
The average Ethiopian eats just 29% WHO recommended quantity of vegetables, which is linked to rising incidence of non-communicable diseases. Even before the current crisis, there was a need to increase supplies of healthy, fresh vegetables to local communities. For the last two years, with the support of The JJ Charitable Trust and IDH, PAN has been testing sustainable, low-cost methods of vegetable production in the Ziway area in Ethiopia. Vegetable producers in this area use hazardous pesticides very intensively. In 2015, 65% of farmers in Ziway reported pesticide poisoning. Intensive practices put consumers at risk and are also linked to declines in fish stocks, soil quality and pollinators.
Ziway field team coordinator, Gemeda Kebero, assessing the balance between pest and predatory insects in tomato food spray trials. Credit: PAN Ethiopia
Sustainable farming practices address these problems. PAN’s vegetable field trials show that biological pest control plus good cultural practices reduce pesticide use by 60-80% and provide significant improvements in net income. Sharing sustainable methods of vegetable production with the cotton producers PAN works with will help these rural families to cope with the current crisis and emerge with skills and diverse farming systems that build resilience to future threats, whether from climate change, pandemics or other disasters. PAN is preparing to share locally tested methods of vegetable production with the 3000+ cotton farmers it supports in southern Ethiopia.
Most of the cotton farmers already grow vegetables, Kitchen gardens can be an important source of nutrition and income and they are more accessible to poorer families and women. Hard pressed rural families were already looking for ways to improve vegetable production and the COVID crisis has increased the urgency to do so. PAN is well placed to respond and, thanks to TRAID’s support, has experienced teams in place and is ready to take up the challenge.