How Agroecology can feed Africa

A new report from Global Justice Now,  From the roots up‘ shows how Agroecology can feed Africa, this article is an excerpt from the report. fromtherootsupcover


Small-scale farmers around the world are at the frontline of the impacts of climate change, and also could hold the key to one of the most effective means of addressing greenhouse gases. In the run up to the next round of climate talks in Paris, we need to start thinking of ways in which sustainable models of food production can be put in the centre stage alongside renewable energy production. In a similar way that fossil fuel companies like BP and Shell are becoming stigmatized for their role in preventing meaningful action on green energy, we need to be scaling up popular resistance against Monsanto and other big agribusiness companies who are trying to impose industrial food models on people who have been practicing climate-friendly agriculture for generations.

 Global farming and climate change

The global food system, which includes agricultural production, fertiliser production and food storage, is responsible for around a third of all greenhouse gases emitted globally. Agriculture, and the food sector as a whole, is, therefore, one of the main drivers of climate change.

Production, processing, transporting and consuming food accounts for 30% of global energy consumption and industrial agriculture in particular, is totally dependent on fossil fuels, both as fuel for machinery, transport and fertiliser production, as well as petroleum-based pesticides and herbicides. Africa’s farming systems are extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. 98% of sub-Saharan agriculture is rainfed and, therefore, exposed to the impacts of climate variability, droughts and floods.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report states that

agroecological practices, such as agroforestry, organic farming and conservation agriculture, are practices that can “strengthen resilience of the land base to extreme events and broaden sources of livelihoods, both of which have strongly positive implications for climate risk management and adaptation”.

Agroecology can reduce climate change impacts

Agroecology refers to the science of sustainable farming as well as a social and political movement that aims to improve the food system.Agroecological practices can help to reduce the impacts of climate change. Crop rotation, improved grazing, cropland and manure management, maintaining and restoring the fertility of soils, conserving energy and water use and year-round crop cover can all help to sequester carbon dioxide and reduce agriculture’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and its impact on the environment.

Organic farming systems can sequester more carbon dioxide than industrial farms, and sustainable farming in general tends to require fewer carbon intensive external inputs (such as chemical fertilisers). It has also been shown that soils managed using organic methods can hold water better and produce more yields than conventional farming systems in conditions of drought or heavy rainfall.

The FAO report on ‘Low Greenhouse Gas Agriculture’ outlines two scenarios based on a certain proportion of conventional farms converting to organic farming. This conversion could potentially mitigate between 40 and 65% of the world’s GHG emissions from agriculture.

Agroforestry has been shown to help reduce farmers’ exposure to climate-related risks. Planting ‘fertiliser trees’ can help the soil retain moisture during droughts, as well as providing additional income through firewood and offering a less risky investment than chemical fertilisers in the event of crop failure. In western Kenya, agroforestry has benefited women in particular who have access to a stable source of cooking fuel and income from firewood which has been shown to help reduce their vulnerability to climate change.

Small-scale farmers and agroecological practices also play a central role in conserving crop diversity, and developing varieties of plants which are adapted to a range of weather conditions including droughts.


In 2010, a drought in Guangxi, in south-west China, destroyed many of the modern crop varieties (hybrids) while the better adapted traditional varieties (improved landraces and open pollen varieties), such as drought and wind resistant maize, were able to survive. Furthermore, villages involved in Participatory Plant Breeding programmes were able to recover better after the drought because they had more of their own seed varieties, whereas other villages, which had in the past grown hybrid seeds, struggled due to a shortage of hybrid seeds on the commercial market. When the 2009 hurricane in West Bengal turned large amounts of farm land into salty ponds, only a handful of farmers were still preserving salt-tolerant varieties of rice on their farms. Even the most high-yielding modern varieties of rice were useless on salty soil; it was the traditional rice varieties that were needed.

In Kenya, the Mijikenda people adopted many improved crop varieties during the Green Revolution while continuing to plant traditional variants of important crops like maize, millet and cassava. Due to the impact of climate change, many farmers have returned to their traditional varieties and are planting different varieties together to reduce the risk of crop failure. Instead of planting a modern hybrid variety, they now mix maize varieties like mingawa (which matures with extended rainfall), mzihana (matures with medium rains) and kastoo (more drought-resistant). By doing this farmers have made themselves more resilient to the impact of climate change, more independent of commercial seed breeders, and can avoid using expensive chemical inputs which are required with modern hybrid seeds.

In South Africa, research has shown that farmers have already started noticing seasonal temperature changes, which predict drought, and begun adapting pre-emptively by planting short-season and faster growing crops, as well as planting more drought-resistant crop varieties, increasing irrigation and planting trees to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Locally developed varieties of rice in West Africa, in countries such as Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone and Togo, have been shown to be extremely adaptable and ‘robust’ because they have been bred over generations specifically to cope with difficult ecological and social conditions. These ‘farmer rice varieties’ are often more productive than imported varieties of rice, can grow with less inputs than modern varieties and require less maintenance.

Further afield, researchers have shown how farms based on agroecological principles can be more resilient to the impacts of natural disasters like hurricanes. A survey carried out in 360 communities across Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, showed that farms that had used sustainable agriculture methods had suffered considerably less damage than conventional farms.

Sustainable farms had up to 40% more topsoil and had suffered less economic loss than neighbouring conventional farms. In Chiapas, Mexico, coffee-based farms which had more plant diversity had also suffered less damage from Hurricane Stan in 2005 than more conventional plantations. In Cuba in 2008, monoculture farms suffered greater losses (95%) from the impact of Hurricane Ike than highly diverse agroecologically managed farms (50% losses). Agroecological farms were also able to recover faster after the hurricane.

Agroecology in action

These examples show that agroecology is not a marginal practice carried out by a handful of farmers. It is already widely practised by farmers across the world and helps to feed millions of people. In many cases the techniques are inexpensive, simple and effective, which means there has been little commercial interest in researching, developing and distributing them. But the evidence is unequivocal. Agroecology can increase food yields, income, employment, agricultural biodiversity, and health and nutrition, and help to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Ian Fitzpatrick is a researcher with Global Justice Now.

This article
is an excerpt of ‘From the roots up‘, a report about how agroecology can feed Africa.


Machynlleth: Sustainable Capital of the UK

CAT is based in the buzzing Dyfi Valley awash with active environmental and sustainability  projects- according to a Guardian article:  “if any place in Britain could be called its sustainable capital, it’s Mach.” We have counted up the projects and gathered them here under relevant subheadings below – although many themes are interlinked.  We don’t have everything so if you think you should be on the list, write to us and tell us 



Ecodyfi is a regeneration organisation that supports local projects including; Mentro Allan (Venture Out); Dyfi Footprint Project; Dyfi Biosphere; Communities First and Lifelong learning amongst others about Sustainability; Transport; Tourism; Energy; Waste and Fair Trade:

The Dyfi Footprint Project aims to estimate, monitor and reduce the carbon impact of the Dyfi Valley.

Communities First (Welsh Assembly Government programme) provides local people with opportunities to play an active role in their community.

Community Action Machynlleth and District Local Volunteer Bureau, (CAMAD) is a scheme to connect people wanting to volunteer with sustainable organisations in the Dyfi Valley.


Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth Rail Passengers Association (SARPA) is a local rail users group campaigning for enhanced and improved rail services in Mid Wales.

Sustrans, is a sustainable transport charity developing the National Cycle Network, Safe Routes to Schools and other projects to encourage walking and cycling in the UK. It also includes trails in the local area.


Swap Shop, Machynlleth is an online community that enables you to swap unwanted items for items that you need for free.

CRAFT (Ceredigion Recycling And Furniture Team) collects and accepts donations of unwanted goods and furniture to sell or recycle in Aberystwyth.


Dyfi Vally Seed Savers is a not-for-profit organisation based in Machynlleth that promotes saving and swapping seeds with the aim of preserving old or unusual vegetables; nurturing local knowledge and plant heritage; and promoting sustainable gardening. Current Seed Saver Projects Include; The Welsh vegetable Project; The Powys Orchard project; and The Apple Mach Register.

The Mid Wales Food & Land Trust
has recently launched an associated website for all local food and drink producers, retailers and restaurateurs in providing online promotion and exposure, whilst also acting as a comprehensive business database available to the public and the media.

Cwm Harry Land Trust are a social enterprise picking up food waste around Newtown, Llani and now Welshpool, and processing it into compost. They also work with socially disadvantaged and children’s groups on their allotment, and are working with local small-scale growers with a veggie bag scheme.

This is Rubbish is a food waste campaign that set up in Machynlleth to raise awareness and tackle concerns about food waste within the UK supply chain.

The Dyfi Valley was also awarded with Fair Trade Valley status in 2004 by achieving over one thousand signatures during the Fair Trade Fortnight that year.

Dyfi Land Share is working to match up people who want to grow food with available land in the Dyfi Valley, they work to promote local food production and better enable people to grow food in the Dyfi Valley.

Woodlands and Biodiversity:

Dyfi Biosphere is a global network where knowledge and experience of local heritage, culture and economy can co-exist in the natural environment.

Aberystwyth Forest Education Initiative
educate School groups in Mid Wales about woodlands and woodland crafts.

Coed Lleol provides information and contacts in Wales whether a woodland manager, forest school tutors or individual nature enthusiast.

Coed Cymru, based in Newtown, is an all Wales initiative to promote the management of broadleaf woodlands and the use of locally grown hardwood timber.

Wales Wild Land Foundation (WWLF) is a group that has just set up to create an area of native woodland near Machynlleth. As part of the same group: The Cambrian Wild Woods Project, are planning for a beaver enclosure near the Artists Valley.


Bro Dyfi Community Renewables is a community energy co-operative for community-owned renewable energy projects including two community wind turbines near Machynlleth.

Mid Wales Car Share  is an online networking site and has a function to allow you to search by specific journeys in Mid Wales.

Anemos Renewables a Machynellth based wind energy company offering consultancy, design and installation services for small to medium sized wind energy schemes.

Dulas Engineering are a renewable energy company based in Machynlleth that provide expertise and consultancy in biomass, wind, solar, and hydro power.

clock tower

John Cantor Heat Pumps is a website of useful basic information about heating-only applications with heat pumps. It covers environmental issues, and supports the appropriate use of this technology in high-efficiency eco-friendly applications.

Mid Wales Community Energy Trust links income from renewable energy with rural regeneration through sustainable energy projects in Mid Wales.

Llanidloes Energy Solutions, a voluntary community group based in Llanidloes.

Open Energy Monitor  is a project to develop open-source energy monitoring tools to help us relate to our use of energy, our energy systems and the challenge of sustainable energy.

Clear Solar solar PV and heat pump systems


Dyfi Architecture  is a registered, award winning architectural practice based in the Dyfi Valley, they aim to bring added value to the built environment through designs that can be constructed and operated sustainably and have the potential to be adapted to suit future needs.


Free range designs uses recycled and sustainable sourced wood to create bespoke pieces of outstanding furniture, from story telling chairs to enchanted beds.

Green Holidays

Green Holidays Wales  Comprehensive website with links to green accommodation providers and activities in Mid-Wales


PIRC (Public Interest Research Centre), based in Machynlleth, is an independent charity that integrates technical research on climate change, energy and economics, and translates this into a range of social mediums and materials.

Eco Centre Wales provides sustainable energy education for West Wales run mainly by volunteers.

Cyberium is a design and content company that specialises in working with ethical, socially constructive and environmentally positive clients or projects.


Mach housing co-op

If you are involved in a local project related to Sustainability and the Environment, or know about something we should include here, please send a web link or brief description to the CAT Media department; , or include in the blog comments.

What’s on this October half term at CAT?

Childrens summer holiday activities mid wales

Half-term highlights with an autumn theme

Throughout the October half term CAT will be running seasonally themed kids activities in the straw bale theatre ( 11am-3pm Monday to Friday). From celebrating the harvest and the coming winter to story telling, crazy inventing and our specially designed educational tours for children. For adults we will be running zero carbon Britain workshops and specialised tours of CAT. Check out the website for specific timings.

The restaurant will be serving warming, delicious and nutritious food, we hope you will come and join us

With over 7 acres of hands-on displays and gardens and with 40 years of experience in sustainability practice, the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) inspires thousands of visitors every year. Based in beautiful Mid Wales, the Centre overlooks the Snowdonia National Park, renowned for its stunning scenery and outdoor activities. Join us with your family, friends or come alone and explore what you can do!

This summer there are loads of special activities going on throughout the half term school holidays. There is bound to be something you love, perhaps you want to:Childrens summer holiday activities mid wales

  • Ride on our water powered cliff railway
  • Explore our 7 acre exhibition site (map)
  • Enjoy the scenic beauty and nature of Mid-Wales
  • Play our Eco games
  • Become a Crazy Inventor
  • Learn about CAT on a Guided Tour
  • Participate in Specialist Tours about renewable energy systems
  • Take part in a workshop and learn something new
  • Get to Zero on our Zero Carbon Discovery trail
  • Be part of our Living Laboratory and woodland crafts and sustainable building in action
  • Get answers to your questions with our free information service
  • Nourish yourself with mouthwateringly good food from our renowned restaurant
  • Take something home from our onsite Eco store



Only £7.65 to attend all these events!

If you buy your ticket in advance online and choose to gift aid your donation. £8.50 at the gate.

  • Free to local residents (SY20/SY19), CAT members, carers and children under 3
  • Reductions for concessions and children
  • Reductions for groups of 10+


|Click here for full ticket details and to buy your ticket|

Opening Times

Open 10am to 5pm 7 days a week.


CAT gardens: from spring into summer

This blog is by Dan, on of the volunteers in the CAT gardens this summer.

Spring has come, the sun has arrived and it is an exciting time for a CAT volunteer gardener! The short daylight and relentless rain has not deterred us from our spring time preparations and the hard work is now paying off.

Roger with the hotbeds last month

With a combination of our own well balanced soil mixes and Roger’s home built ‘hotbeds’ (alternating layers of straw and decomposing food waste in special mice proof cages) we successfully germinated thousands of flower, herb and vegetable seeds. In the past months these have rigorously grown into mighty seedlings meaning we have had to keep on top of transplanting and finding space to put them all!

Seedlings a few weeks ago, waiting to be planted out
Planting seedlings out in April

Despite all this excitement, we have not forgotten to provide our on-site vegetarian restaurant with crate after crate of organic salads, roots and brassicas! We usually provide between 1 and 8 crates daily for the restaurant and Anna and I work hard hand picking the best variety and combinations. For the salads we pick Winter Purslane (Miner’s Lettuce) with a mix of greens such as rocket, tatsoi, mizuna, red giant mustard and red Russian kale. We then enhance its beauty with a combination of edible flowers, our favourite being viola tricolor, a highly nutritious and medicinal plant which has a long history of use in herbalism and even love potions!

Dan and Anna with produce for the restaurant

The 4 Crop Rotation display and the ‘Suburban Garden’ have been clawed and sown with this seasons spuds, roots, legumes and brassicas and our flower seedlings are big enough for planting out for display. The more we plant out the more we sow, so be sure to expect baby 5 Colour Chard, Calabrese and Cucumbers to name but a few very soon!

See more about the CAT gardens or attend a course in gardening or ecology.

Anna planting out in April, WISE in the background


The same view today

Could you be our next Media and Marketing Volunteer?

We have a position available to join CAT’s vibrant media and marketing department. It is a chance to develop a broad range of skills including writing, film making, photography, social media, interviewing, research and marketing skills. Robyn is just coming to the end of her placement, so what has her experience been like?  Scroll down for more details and to apply. 

I’ve been working in the media and marketing department for 5 months and the time has unfortunately come to pass the baton and invite someone new to the team.I started working here around the first of November and its been non-stop go!

View from the hill in January

I’m from a planning background interested in urban communities and sustainable retrofits with little knowledge of the marketing world, its acronyms and online databases. But after a couple of weeks, there’s no question about it, you become quite addicted into finding out the ‘click-throughs’ and the analytics of the work you’ve posted. At CAT theres never a dull moment, ”a TV crew tomorrow”, ”a conference today”, ”a crazy big storm on the way”, the opportunities are endless and you can work in any medium you like, be it videos, blogs, interviews or photography. Once a week volunteers can help out in another department or work on a personal project (although this isnt strictly monitored). During this time I either jumped in the gardens learning organic gardening from ‘gardening guru’ Roger, or ventured into the woods sawing, carving and weaving with woodland manager Rob.

Me out and about
Me out and about

With Spring pushing through (fingers crossed last year wont repeat) and the smell of summer on its way, CAT is bursting into life, the daffodils are blooming and the visitors centre will soon be reopening. The summer position to work in this department will no doubt be demanding but the pay offs with the in depth knowledge and skills you’ll learn are truly unimaginable.

The biggest benefit to volunteering at CAT is the opportunity get experience working somewhere with 40 years experience at the cutting edge of the environmental movement. Volunteers can also get a free lunch in the CAT restaurant, can claim for travel expenses, can attend two CAT courses (subject to availability) and get a year’s CAT membership for free.

Start Date: April 2014 (Exact start date is flexible)

Deadline for applications: 28th March 2014

To download the Media and Marketing Volunteer job description please click here

To download the application form click here

Send completed applications to: 


New Skills in 2014: Build a Compost Toilet

We have a host of exciting short courses taking place at CAT in 2014, and up until the end of January there’s 10% off!  From the 4th to the 6th of July discover the power of poo during our ‘Build a Compost Toilet’ short course.

Although the vast majority of the UK’s houses are connected to the mains, there are some that must find alternatives to local sewage treatment works. Compost toilets can be efficient and practical, resulting in nutrient-rich soil to be used in the garden. They don’t use any water, although most types of toilet need a fair bit of room to allow composting to occur at a steady pace.

During this three day course the essentials for building your own compost toilet will be covered. With Grace Grabb, CAT’s water and natural resources specialist, course participants will learn about the changes human waste undergoes during the composting process. CAT’s resident carpenter Carwyn Jones will then demonstrate some of the techniques needed to build your own compost toilet.

Students sorting the nutrient rich compost
Grace sorting the nutrient rich compost

Composting your waste is a relatively easy and cheap way to reduce your waste and constructing your own toilet can be great fun. The soil produced after a year or two is pleasant to remove, and can be put straight on the garden (although preferably on non-food plants). Compost toilets are increasingly being built in allotments, back gardens and even indoors. Addition of the right amount of ‘soak’ gives good decomposition. A ‘soak’ is a source of carbon – typical materials include sawdust, straw and earth. The four main components to make your compost a nutrient-rich success are: heat, moisture, oxygen and a little dedication!

Carwyn constructing a timber frame compost toilet at Grand Designs Live in 2012.

From DIY to ‘off the shelf’ designs, this course can help you decide whether or not a composting toilet is right for you. The course invites anyone and everyone to join in, from urban gardeners to off-grid enthusiasts. Pupils will learn more about construction and cladding methods, as well as the biological processes that happen deep within the soil on a molecular level.

To discover a more holistic approach to waste management, sign up for the course now.

For those more interested in the theory behind compost toilets, rather than the construction methods, we offer a one day course: Introduction to Compost Toilets. This forms the first day of the Build a Compost Toilet course, and can be taken independently.

Remember, we are offering a 10% on courses booked before the end of January. For terms and conditions please visit our website.

New Skills in 2014: Grow your own Food

We have a host of exciting new short courses taking place at CAT in the new year – if you fancy learning something new in 2014, then how about techniques for growing your own food? This is a day course that starts in the morning of the 5th of April.  So why is it important to grow your own vegetables and what can we learn?

Freshly picked lettuce

This course is suitable for both beginners and experienced gardeners, to learn about organic gardening techniques. You will visit the various gardens and polytunnels on site, with orchards boasting over 30 types of apples. Students learn how to sow seeds and prepare the land for cultivation on diverse plots, such as in the forest garden and Myfanwy’s garden, an example of urban farming. You will learn from one of our longest running staff members, head gardener and ‘gardening guru’ Roger, who has worked for CAT for 35 years. He teaches about when and how to sow many different vegetables, as well as herbs and flowers. Some wise words he’s shared with us: ‘If you want to be happy for a day, get drunk. If you want to be happy for a year, get married. If you want to be happy for life, get a garden.’

Unusual urban planters

Find out more about this course on our website. Until 31/01/2014 we are offering 10% off this short course. 

If you would like to support the on-going research done here at CAT donate to our Gardens campaign.

CAT alumni launch School Farm Community Supported Agriculture

CAT alumni, Jenny Gellatly and Melissa Harvey, form half of the all woman team launching a crowd funding campaign to grow the UK’s only organically certified, no-dig community farm based in Totnes.

School Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which is based on the Dartington Estate, operates as a not-for-profit social enterprise providing fresh, organic vegetables, grown using low-carbon methods. Jenny and Melissa, who had both worked at CAT at different times, but became friends through the extended CAT family, ended up at the farm following the horticulture training at Schumacher College.

The CSA completed a pilot this year and has been overwhelmed by support and demand for both its local grown produce and educational activities. At present the CSA supplies 20 local families and has this year held over 50 volunteer days, a subsidised beginners gardening course and several open days for the wider community, one of which drew a crowd of over 600. They also deliver the practical elements of the horticulture training through Schumacher and Bicton college.

The CSA team Jenny, Melissa, Laura and Zoë
The CSA team Jenny, Melissa, Laura and Zoë

The CSA model works with members of the farm investing at the beginning of the season, and then receiving a weekly vegetable box and becoming involved in the growing through contact with the farmers, volunteer and open day activities.Some additional financial support is needed in these early stages as the farm builds up land, resources and membership. The growers have chosen to raise funds through crowdfunding website Buzzbnk, where people can go online to pledge their support and money.

The four woman team, Jenny, Melissa, Laura and Zoë, who coordinate the farm and grow the vegetables all met through the networks of CAT, Schumacher College and the Soil Association.

Jenny says: “My experiences at CAT never feel far away, even though it is ten years since I was a volunteer there in the Site Maintenance Team.  No doubt the days on site – fixing and mending, building and creating – provided me with a lot of the practical skill that I can now use when it comes to running the CSA farm.  More than anything though, it is the spirit of CAT that stays with me, of trying new things, new possibilities and of co-creating the kind of world we want to live in.  That ‘get stuck in and make it happen’ approach really helps when it comes to co-creating something like the CSA we are establishing here in Devon.”

Melissa says: “The story of CAT has been an inspiration and demonstration of what it is possible to achieve when people come together, share skills and ideas and work towards a shared vision. When working in the Information department I used to give guided tours. My favourite part was stopping by an enlarged photo of CAT in the 1970’s. Asking the difference between then and now people would note that there were both more trees and plants, and more buildings. This simple observation really embedded my realisation that, when working sensitively, people can have a positive impact for both themselves and nature. This is very much how we work at School Farm, growing vegetables with and for people, developing a social and training space, and also working with nature to provide a nurturing habitat”.

Background information:

School Farm has been a thriving market garden and centre of education since 2007 when the neglected site was brought back to life by horticulturalist Nick Gooderham. This year, 2013, was its first year operating as a community supported agriculture scheme. Under this model the farm supplies local families and businesses with fresh organic vegetables and also provides a service to the community in the form of educational and social events.


Crowdfunding is a way of putting your money straight into projects which you consider most important and useful. On the Buzzbnk website School Farm CSA is offering donor rewards such a gardening course or packs to get you started on your own local projects but really the biggest kick comes from being involved and helping a worthwhile project get off the ground or expand.

What we will do with the funding:

  •  Increase our CSA membership availability to meet our membership waiting list.
  •  Expand our 1 acre growing area into a 2 acre field above our current site.
  •  Put in necessary infrastructure in the 2 acre field including edible windbreaks, protected growing space, sheds for crop storage and covered space for further educational activities.
  •  Create one full-time grower role.
  • Offer more educational opportunities including apprenticeships in partnership with local colleges, more gardening courses and more volunteer opportunities.
  • Continue to bring new entrants into farming by providing space where students can put into practice their learning and trial their own business ideas.
  •  Reach out to the wider community, particularly those most affected by the economic downturn, we will investigate offering CSA membership on a sliding scale.
  •  Continue building the involvement of the local community through membership, volunteer opportunities, educational experiences and our events program.
  • Develop further networks and partnerships across the UK.
  • Trial more ecological ways of growing food, utilising perennial crops, green manures and, in the long term, horse power.

To support the School Farm crowdfunding campaign you can donate or become a supporter (for free), where you can also see a short video about the farm.  You can also visit the website and join us on Facebook.