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Murang’a University rolls out agroecology courses

Murang’a University of Technology (MUT) has launched a curriculum in agroecology to foster knowledge transfer that will enable residents to embrace sustainable agricultural practices like organic farming for environmental management.

The curriculum recognises the pivotal role of academia and research institutions in transforming the food systems and agroecological practices in the country.

The short course curriculum for extension service providers has been developed by MUT with support from Murang’a County Government in partnership with the Institute of Culture and Ecology (ICE) and Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Kenya.

Agroecology focuses on building resilient organic farming systems that adapt to local conditions and climate change effects to attain food security in the country.

Data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reveals that the rate of food insecurity in Kenya jumped from 15 per cent between 2014 and 2016 to 28 per cent between 2020-22.

The 13 per cent increase pushed Kenya’s level of food insecurity to the second highest in the region after South Sudan, which stood at 63.2 per cent.

Agroecology has been proven to increase the yields of small-scale farmers, enhance their soils, and improve their health because they can eat a variety of healthy (no chemical) foods from their farms.

Speaking during the launch on Wednesday at Murang’a University, Director for Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Mariira Campus, Prof. Benson Mwangi, said the proposed training course in Applied Agroecology will develop an in-depth understanding of the challenges of current food production systems and the application of the principles and practices of agroecology.

“We want to change the mentality of agricultural extension service providers and farmers that they can only use conventional ways of farming,” said Mwangi, adding that this transformative learning is at the heart of this programme as it reshapes students’ perceptions, raises awareness, and influences their future farming practices.

Mwangi said that the programme came into fruition in response to challenges that exist in the agrifood systems, and organically produced food is critical in addressing this issue.

“One of the challenges is that increased lifestyle diseases have become more common in the country,” he said, adding that the programme will bring understanding to agroecology principles and practices so that farmers can use indigenous knowledge in the production of agricultural products.

He said the learners will be trained on the use of organic manure and biological pest controls to reduce the use of toxic chemicals that have been in rampant use in the country.

Further, he said, the trainees will learn how to secure and enhance soil health and functioning for improved plant growth, particularly by managing organic matter and enhancing soil biological activity to drive changes towards agro-ecologically sustainable agrifood systems.

“Adaption of agroecology would ensure there is enough safe food, thus ensuring food security,” he said, adding that they will also train appropriate agroecological practices to be carried out in arid and semi-arid areas of the country to boost food production and produce.

The director said the training course in Applied Agroecology has five modules, each taking one week, totaling 150 hours.

“The programme shall be offered through ce-to-face l lectures, practicals and demonstrations, field farm studies, and online lectures, among other modes,” he stated.

Murang’a CECM Member in Charge of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Livestock, Kiringai Kamau, said the curriculum will help extension service providers and farmers identify the right seeds, soils, and agroecological practices for sustainable organic farming.

Kamau noted that the county and the country at large spend a lot of money on curing diseases that can be prevented with proper food practices.

“We have been promoting an act and a policy that was formulated by Murang’a County Government to try and look at how to ensure our people are producing and eating the right food,” he said.

“We have the agenda of integrating agriculture and health, and the number of people falling sick will be less if people are eating right,” Kamau added.

The CECM observed that the curriculum can be adopted across the country to train extension service providers who will equip farmers with agroecological farming practices that produce food that is safe for human consumption.

He also noted that there is a high rate of lifestyle diseases that can be attributed to a sedentary lifestyle, and a poor diet and organically grown foods can help remedy that.

County Director of Agriculture Daniel Gitahi said the launch of the curriculum is a pathway towards sustainable food systems in the county and called for more stakeholder partners to support the programme to continue production of organic foods.

ICE Program Officer Dr. Elijah Kamau, speaking during the same event, said that this educational approach has the potential to drive changes towards socially just and ecologically sustainable agrifood systems.

“The teachings on agroecology, if adopted widely and properly executed, will help the country achieve food security while at the same time ensuring we maintain a healthy environment,” said Dr. Kamau.

Once farmers transition from harmful agrochemicals, the food produced through healthy agroecology will be safe for human consumption, and it will protect the environment from harmful pesticides and fertilisers.

“We have been working together with PELUM Kenya to support Murang’a County to drive the agro-ecology agenda in terms of delivering on policy, and now we are in the process of implementing what we agreed,” he said.

Through the proposed agroecology course, the university hopes to align with the global need for sustainable agriculture and food systems education.

By Anita Omwenga

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