ABOVE: IFOAM President Andre Leu, second from left, with conference delegates at the ‘Mainstreaming Organic Agriculture into the African Development Agenda’. Photo Courtesy of UNCTARD

AFRICA’S organic agricultural future was under the spotlight at the 2nd African Organic Conference in Lusaka, Zambia last year, with attendees lobbying for greater government support of the industry and the facilitation of stronger international trade ties.

More than 300 participants at the conference called on the European Union (EU) and other global trade partners to take all possible steps to facilitate the participation of Africa in global organic markets. In particular, the conference supported 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.

The conference, titled Mainstreaming organic agriculture into the African development agenda had representatives from 40 countries with almost 100 papers presented. In what was termed The Lusaka Declaration on Mainstreaming Organic Agriculture into the African Development Agenda, conference delegates urged African governments to include organic agriculture in their policies and programs in consultation with the organic and ecological agriculture stakeholders in respective countries.

The conference heard that international research results confirmed that the adoption of organic agriculture practices significantly increases yields and improves livelihoods and food security in Africa. The conference also heard that Africa must tap into the huge potential of the global organic market, especially that of Europe and North America.

In his opening address, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Deputy Secretary-General Petko Draganov said that expanding Africa’s shift towards organic farming would not only be good for the continent’s nutritional needs, but also beneficial to the environment, farmers’ incomes, and by extension, for African markets and employment.

“Organic agriculture can offer an impressive array of food security, economic, environmental, and health benefits for developing countries, especially in Africa,” Mr Draganov said, adding that the UNCTAD-UNEP Best Practices for Organic Policy (Development-centred globalisation: Towards inclusive and sustainable growth and development) could provide useful guidance for African governments. The UNCTAD strongly supports the growing use of organic farming practices on the continent citing the fact that Africa already has more certified organic farms than any other continent.

Efforts made by all national, regional and international organisations to support the development of organic agriculture in Africa were applauded at the conference. Discussions included the institutionalisation of AfroNet (African Organic Network) – the umbrella organisation uniting and representing African ecological and organic stakeholders, and the strengthened networking within African sub-regions including the Network for Organic Agriculture Research in Africa (NOARA).

The conference also agreed that all possible steps should be taken to ensure that equivalency agreements among regulators of major organic markets directly improve the market access of organic products from Africa and other developing countries. Another major topic at the conference was “sustainable agriculture in regards to food security and a transition towards a ‘green’ economy”.

The conference 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.

While stressing the need to encourage farmers to practice organic agriculture, the speakers were all in agreement on the much-needed institutional and governmental support of the same. “Farmers ought to be encouraged and supported in order to practise organic agriculture,” Zambia’s Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Emmanuel Chenda said. He was of the opinion that organic agriculture not only sustains the fertility of soils, ecosystems and promotes health, but also has a major role to play in the fight against hunger in Africa.

Africa has more than one million hectares of arable land currently being used for organic farming, and 530,000 certified organic farmers. Ethiopia and Uganda each have more than 100,000 certified farms while Tanzania has about 85,000.

“Organic farming helps promote the independence of farmers to grow a variety of farm produce and reduce dependency on costly inputs,” Zambia’s First Republican President Kenneth Kaunda, patron of Organic Producers and Processers Association of Zambia (OPPAZ), said.

Placing great value on the African traditional way of farming and communal spirit of togetherness, commonly known as “Ubuntu”, OPPAZ chief executive officer Munshimbwe Chitalu said “organic agriculture was in harmony with nature and had its genesis in Africa”.

Likewise, touching on the food crisis in Africa, the head of Agriculture and Food Security from the African Union Commission Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, said: “Africa is food deficient, which is why organic farming provides another way of improving food security on the continent.”

According to Manjo Smith of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), one of the accomplishments of the conference was the establishment of the Southern African regional network. He added that research was underway on soil fertilisation which would benefit farmers.

The three-day Lusaka meeting was organised by the country’s leading organic association Organic Producers and Processors Association of Zambia (OPPAZ ), UNCTAD, the African Union, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Zambian Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. 

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