EXPANDING Africa's shift towards organic farming will be good for the continent's nutritional needs, the environment, farmers' incomes, African markets and employment.
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Deputy Secretary-General Petko Draganov said this recently at the 2nd African Organic Conference in Lusaka Zambia.
The conference, attended by more than 300 participants from 40 countries, had the theme "Main-streaming organic agriculture into the African development agenda."
No doubt, organic agriculture can offer an impressive array of food security, economic, environmental, and health benefits for developing countries, especially in Africa.
It has been clear for some years that organic farming "fits" Africa. Organic agriculture does not use artificial fertiliser and other chemicals, which are expensive for the continent's farmers, as 90 per cent of these inputs are imported.
It preserves and enhances the soil in a region where land degradation and expanding deserts are a serious concern.
It relies primarily on locally available renewable resources, which shields farmers from price shocks associated with external farming inputs; it frequently increases farm yields by 100 per cent or more; and it brings higher prices to farmers, since organic produce sells at a premium.
In addition, it helps create jobs in rural regions - as organic inputs are usually produced locally - and helps to stem the tide of migrants from rural areas to African cities.
The UNCTAD strongly supports the growing use of organic farming practices on the continent.
Africa already has more certified organic farms than any other continent - and noted that this form of agriculture comprehensively illustrates the central topic of UNCTAD's just concluded quadrennial conference in Doha, Qatar: 'Development-centred globalisation: Towards inclusive and sustainable growth and development.'
Zambia's first Republican President Kenneth Kaunda, patron of Organic Producers and Processers Association of Zambia (OPPAZ) said "Organic agriculture is extremely important in human life".
The former head of State who is passionate about organic foods, encouraged the country to engage in organic agriculture.
The conference emphasised the importance of food security, sustainable agriculture, and a transition towards a 'green' economy.
It had among its objectives the development of an African Organic Action Plan intended to spur expansion of the organic farming sector, streamline certification and "organic equivalency" systems that allow more vigorous trade in organic goods, and add to the continent's markets for organic produce.
Organic agriculture in Africa is growing rapidly. More than one million hectares of arable land and at least 530,000 farmers are certified according to organic standards in Africa.
Uganda and Ethiopia have each more than 100,000 certified organic farms and Tanzania has some 85,000. Most of the certified organic production is sold for exports, but there are good organic markets in South Africa and Egypt and emerging markets in countries such as Senegal and Kenya. Many more farmers, from Morocco to Madagascar, from Cairo to Cape Town, practice organic farming.
OPPAZ chief executive officer Munshimbwe Chitalu who spoke on Ubuntu vis-à-vis organic agriculture, said Ubuntu under-pinned organic agriculture which is farming in harmony with nature for social justice and economic development in a sustained environment.
"Organic agriculture sustains the fertility of soils, ecosystems and the health of the people. It also relies on locally adapted improved ecological processes and cycles, and natural biodiversity. It is therefore important that farmers are encouraged to practice organic farming," said Zambia's Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Emmanuel Chenda when he officiated at the conference.
The three-day Lusaka meeting was organised by UNCTAD, Organic Producers and Processors Association of Zambia (OPPAZ), the African Union, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and Zambian Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.
Yemi Akinbamijo, head of Agriculture and Food Security from African Union Commission said, "Africa is food deficient, which is why organic farming provides another way of improving food security on the continent."
Manjo Smith of International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) said one of the achievements of the conference was the establishment of the Southern African regional network that would continue focus on organics in the region adding that there is a lot of research being done on soil fertilisation which is very important for farmers.
She said governments should realise that this is important to get into policies, my hope is for policy makers and governments to understand that GMOs and chemical fertilisers is not an answer, we have seen that organic agriculture is the answer for us because it increases organic production and production of crops so much more in Africa. We can use the materials that we have available.
And FAO representative in Zambia on behalf of the UN Development System in Zambia said sustainable development has been a major issue on the agenda of the UN system.
"In view of the urgency that climate change is imposing on our communities and economies, we need to move into action beyond our good intentions, policies and conferences to stop resources degradation, wasteful consumption, negative habits and customs so that the future generations are not disadvantaged," said Ad Spijkers.
He said organic agriculture needs to be embraced in an integrated manner with climate change initiatives so that positive synergies are built, harnessed, sustained and improved for the good of our world and a better future.
Spijkers also stated that the UN Development System in Zambia is engaging the Zambian Government in pursuing a green economy through environmentally friendly farming practices and management of natural resources as "our agriculture system is getting into Climate Smart Agriculture with a focus on sustained and resilient production farming systems that have minimum environmental effect to produce food and create jobs."
At the end of the conference participants called on the European Union (EU) and other actors of the global trade partners to take all possible steps to facilitate the participation of Africa in global organic markets.
This includes a request to recognise as equivalent the East African Organic Products Standard (EAOPS), which was developed through a consultative regional public-private partnership and adopted as the official East African Community organic standard in 2007.
In what they called the Lusaka Declaration on Mainstreaming Organic Agriculture into the African Development Agenda, they also applauded efforts made by the growing number of member States that have embraced the concept of Organic Agriculture.
They urged African governments to include organic agriculture in their policies and programmes, in consultation with the organic/ecological agriculture stakeholders in their countries. The UNCTAD-UNEP "Best Practices for Organic Policy" (UNCTAD/DITC/TED/2007/3) can provide useful guidance.
They also came up with a six pillars of the African Organic Action Plan which are:
1. Research, training and extension: To conduct participatory, interdisciplinary, multi-cultural research that informs stakeholder training and offers appropriate knowledge and skills and innovative solutions to the community.
2. Information and communication: To develop information and communication strategies to sensitise the stakeholders and the general public on the value and practices of ecological organic agriculture.
3. Value chain and market development: To increase trade in ecological/organic products from Africa at domestic, regional and export markets.
4. Networking and partnership: To strengthen synergies among stakeholders and beneficiaries to support ecological organic agriculture through networks and partnerships.
5. Supportive policies and programmes: To support the development and implementation of enabling policies and programmes.
6. Institutional capacity development: To establish, develop and support ecological/organic agriculture institutions in Africa.