A Practical Approach to Agroecology

A Practical Approach to Agroecology

April 3, 2018

Dr. Esther Kioko (far right in jean jacket) discussing vegetables in Mbiuni Market.

The principles of agroecology help us understand the interaction between agriculture and the environment. With agroecological knowledge, scientists, farmers, and researchers can select appropriate technologies and systems to create a sustainable food system.

Dr. Esther Kioko, a senior research scientist with the National Museums of Kenya, is using her background in entomology to study the relationship between pollinators and vegetable viability in the arid regions of Kenya. Pollinators are an important part of agroecology in that they serve as a natural middle-man between agriculture and the environment. Thirty five percent of the food crop produced worldwide depends on pollinators, and with more than 25,000 species of bees in the world, understanding them is essential.

“The main objective of our project was to address some of the major gaps that we see in the understanding of insect pollinators,” Dr. Kioko says.

One such gap was the understanding of pest management strategies and how they affect the pollinators. To encourage better pest management choices, Dr. Kioko and her team advocate for integrated pest management—selecting the correct pest management products to use when necessary, applying them at the right time, and in the correct way. They are also making information on pollinators available through the Museum, and are training young plant scientists in these areas about how to maintain pollinator health with support from the Bayer Bee Care Centre.

“We also saw a gap in how people see the relationship between pollinators and the vegetables that are grown,” Dr. Kioko says. “How the pollinators affect vegetable use, vegetable quality, and vegetable quantity in the arid regions.”

A large portion of the population in the area are growing indigenous African vegetables—such as amaranth, pumpkin, and cowpeas—as well as more wide-spread varieties like sweet peppers, tomatoes, cucumber and squash.  She says the crops are suffering from the effects of climate change which can negatively impact food sources for pollinators.

“We are addressing the issues of climate change and lack of pollinator knowledge through agroecology because as we think of vegetable production, those elements come into play,” Dr. Kioko says.

The smaller, indigenous systems in Africa and the large-scale systems in other parts of the world equally rely on pollinators as an element of agroecology.

Dr. Kioko says that even though research is being done and projects are being undertaken, there is still a need for even greater capacity building and incorporation of agroecology within agricultural production systems. She says that although the ecosystems are facing challenges,  there are ways to help—for example, providing alternative floral resources for pollinators when crops are not flowering.

“We need to be innovative in finding management practices that increase the farmers understanding of the various ecological processes and at the same time, boost production,” Dr. Kioko says. “With climate change, there are challenges we can’t just ignore, we have to go the extra mile to make sure sustainable agriculture is enhanced for everyone.”