Ecological principles and the future of food security viewed through the lens of small-holder, West African farmers
West African, small-scale irrigated agriculture is subject to severe and widespread pesticide impacts, with consequences for human health, environmental integrity and the sustainability of agricultural production. As is the case in the USA, progress in risk reduction and sustainability depend upon effective education and support for farmers, backed up by compliance with regulations that acknowledge the risks that broad spectrum pesticides pose.
We report a large-scale research and education program in West Africa that has quantified pesticide risks within the Niger and Senegal River Basins, and which now engages with farmers to communicate risks and reduce them.
We employ an outcomes-based model for education, built upon the principles of constructivism which actively engages learners in problem solving. This approach is compatible with participatory models for farmer education that address ecological literacy. We argue that new approaches to enhance risk-based decision making among farmers are required as a precursor to the establishment of more sustainable production systems. We will summarize the risk assessments that we have undertaken, and outline how these data have been adaoted for use in education partnerships with resource-poor farmers. Farmers have elected to eliminate risks by substituting alternative pesticides into their fields, and we summarize how this program is being scales up from a pilot investigation to the national and regional scales. Ecological research in agriuculture, supported by theory, tells us a great deal about the vulnerabilities that farmers will face in the transition away from decades of pesticide dependency, and we will also discuss approaches to integrated pest management (IPM) education that address ecological uncertainties.
Adaptive education partnerships are required, that respond to indirect and delayed ecological effects over decades, if the goals of greater sustainabilty and food security are to be reached. Ecological insight has an enormous role to play in structuring new models for agricultural extension, but the challanges of articulating these programs in real time, while preserving production are very significant, and new approaches are required. We will end by returning to the USA to demonstrate how approaches that we have developed in West Africa are also effective in the Columbia River Basin, where farmers also face challenges of transitioning away from pesticide dependency.