Agricultural practices that protect soil fertility could help millions of Muslim farmers, many of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa’s arid regions
NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa, who farm some of the least fertile land on the continent, have developed a training manual to encourage more sustainable farming practices among millions of African Muslims facing a threat to their food security from climate change.
The manual explains the practical aspects of conservation agriculture, which aims to achieve profits for farmers and sustained levels of production while conserving the environment.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s 248 million Muslims are particularly badly affected by climate change because most are farmers or rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, and the majority live in arid and semi-arid areas vulnerable to droughts and floods.
“We have millions of people going without food because forests have gone, animals disappeared, soils destroyed and a huge loss of biodiversity,” said Abdulghafur El-Busaidy, a professor and the national chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims, SUPKEM.
The manual, entitled “Islamic farming: A tool for conservation agriculture”, integrates Koranic scriptures and Islamic teachings about caring for the Earth with practical training in conservation farming.
It is a collaboration between the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), a secular British charity that works with faith groups to help them develop environmental programmes, SUPKEM and the Muslim-led international organisation Global One 2015.
ARC’s Susie Weldon said the idea for a farming manual for Muslims originated at a faith group meeting in Kenya in 2012. Muslims attending the meeting were inspired by a Christian publication, “Farming God’s Way”.
This and other similar publications, which draw on the Bible’s book of Genesis, were “very powerful among Christian farmers because they speak to them as Christians,” Weldon said.
According to Husna Ahmad, the chief executive of Global One 2015, the new manual, or toolkit, draws on the Islamic concept of “Rizq”, meaning livelihood, and outlines six “Ps” reflecting Islamic teachings: plan, prepare, plant, provide, protect and produce.
Weldon said the new publications were just the start of a multi-faith movement working towards sustainable farming practices in Africa.
“We believe this would be the beginning of a faith-based movement to help our farmers grow more food while also protecting the environment and conserving their soils,” she said.
For a few years now, Hajji Ahmed Muguluma from Uganda has been trying to practice conservation agriculture on his 15-acre plot but had no guidance to draw upon.
“The (manual) is a God-sent kit. So many farmers and even us when we started agriculture we did not know when to do it and how to do it,” he said.
Muguluma, also chairman of the Uganda Faith Network on Environment Action, says his organization has established about 50 acres of what he calls “green top” farms in different communities in Uganda to help farmers learn how to carry out conservation agriculture, which involves practices such as doing minimal tilling of soil, planting crops in small pits to trap and conserve water, or planting trees that help fertilise crops in fields.
The population of Uganda has quadrupled since independence in 1962, and many youths have migrated to the cities. Feeding the whole country without conservation agriculture is a challenge, Muguluma said. Most of the forest cover has disappeared and soil erosion is a common problem.
But Husna Ahmad of Global One 2015 said ancient farming methods used by Muslim farmers could be effective in protecting the land.
“The toolkit is to remind Muslims that in order to ensure food security, they must get closer to Allah’s teachings. Trust in Allah and try to be better farmers is what the tool kit reminds Muslims,” she said.
Jane Oyuke, from Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, agreed that conservation agriculture was not new in Africa.
She said the concept was formally adopted in 2008 by the African Union to mitigate the consequences of climate change, and that regional bodies such as COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa), SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) and the East African Community were implementing it.
She said changing the attitude of farmers was the biggest challenge. Switching cropping methods can “look like a nightmare” to some farmers but conservation agriculture ultimately “reduces the time and energy spent on the farm,” said Oyuke, from the soil and water management department of the ministry.
“It builds up organic matter and soil fertility which can save a farmer from buying fertilisers,” she said.
The new manual, piloted in Kenya and Ethiopia, has been translated to Kiswahili, the national language of Kenya and one spoken and understood by most farmers.
Pius Sawa is a freelance science journalist based in Nairobi.
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