O is for Organic

O is for Organic

Date: 3 October 2014

Organic farming uses crop rotations, manure and compost to improve soil fertility and avoids using pesticides and chemical fertilisers to improve crop yields. Organic farming is a way of farming which includes many agroecological techniques such as water-harvesting, agroforestry, green manures, etc. It is also a term used to denote organic certification.

According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), the worldwide umbrella organization, there were around 1.1 million hectares of organic land in Africa – 1% of the total agricultural area. But there are many more hectares of land where farmers basically practice organic agriculture without being certified. Let alone the millions of hectares of forests which communities across Africa use to collect wild foods and medicines (which are also organic!).

Organic certification has its advantages. For example among smallholders in two counties in Kenya, organic vegetable production helped to increase people’s incomes by almost 90%. The down side of certified organic agriculture is that in many parts of Africa it is export driven, with smallholder farmers often producing organic food for the organic market in Europe and USA. The most widely grown organic crops in Uganda are cotton, sesame and coffee. These provide a valuable source of income for farmers, but do little to address the problem of food security and food sovereignty in Uganda. Still, for many African farmers, getting access to a high-value market through organic certification can make a huge difference to their livelihoods.

Photo: Farmers making their own organic manure  in Lower Nyando, Kenya. Credit: K. Trautmann

The A-Z of Food Sovereignty in Africa shows the positive alternatives to corporate-led agriculture. A new letter was posted each day in the lead up to World Food Day arrived on 16 October 2014.

Africa’s small-scale food producers already know how to produce enough food sustainably to feed themselves but the political and economic rules which govern the food system are set against them. These rules are written by and for multinational companies and political elites, in support of a global food system that benefits them rather than the millions of smallholders and family farmers who produce the food and get little in return.