IFOAM Press release

Organic Agriculture, instead of chemicals, for food security in Africa

The third African Green Revolution Conference will take place 28 - 29 August 2008 in Oslo, Norway. High level representatives of banks and industry most of them engaged in seeds and chemical fertilizers are meeting to discuss action for an African Green Revolution. While IFOAM is welcoming the attention for the agricultural situation in Africa, it expresses its deep concern about the direction the talks in Oslo are taking: back to the past instead of looking at the future, neglecting recent scientific and societal findings.

Moses Kiggundu Muwanga, IFOAM world board member and coordinator of the National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda (NOGAMU), says that: ‘The global food crisis has inter-linkages with other man-made crises and we should search for solutions that respond to them systemically. Focusing on chemical fertilizers does not make sense: they emit considerable greenhouse gasses, both through their production and their composition of mainly nitrous oxide, and so they contribute to climate change. With energy prices going up, the cost of synthetic fertilizers will increase even more and are unaffordable for most subsistence farmers.’

Recent international reports and studies support organic agriculture as a solution for the food crisis in Africa.

The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology (IAASTD) (1) held its concluding meeting from 7-14 April in Johannesburg, South Africa, this year. Conceived in 2002 by the World Bank and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the IAASTD began to work in 2004 with the objective of improving life, health and prosperity for millions of poor farmers. The core message of the final IAASTD report is the urgent need to move away from destructive and chemical-dependent industrial agriculture and to adopt environmental modern farming methods that champion biodiversity and benefit local communities. More and better food can be produced without destroying rural livelihoods or natural resources. Local, socially and environmentally responsible methods are the solution. The IAASTD also concluded that such techniques as genetic engineering are no solution for soaring food prices, hunger and poverty. The report is definitely asking for a new agriculture paradigm, focused on the role of farmers and especially on poor farmers.

In the research paper ‘Organic Agriculture and the Global Food Supply’ (2), published in 2007, Badgley et al., from the University of Michigan focus on productivity of Organic Agriculture through a scenario study, comparing yields of organic versus conventional or low-intensive food production. The resulting estimates indicate that Organic Agriculture has the potential to produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the human population without increasing the agricultural land base. Organic yields are mostly much higher than conventional yields in tropical countries, like those in Africa. In addition, estimates of nitrogen fixation from leguminous cover are sufficient to replace the amount of synthetic fertilizer currently in use. These results indicate that Organic Agriculture could contribute quite substantially to the global food supply, thereby reducing the detrimental environmental impacts of conventional agriculture.

The FAO conference on Organic Agriculture and food security, May 2007 (3), aimed to identify organic agriculture's potential and limits in addressing the food security challenge. In conclusion, organic agriculture is presented as a “neo-traditional food system” as it merges science and traditional farming practices. It has the potential to contribute to sustainable food security through reducing input costs dramatically, improved household nutrient intake, contributing to transitional food emergency situations and to healthy diets. It also serves as a national employer through employment generation in rural areas, and can provide global environmental services, while being challenged to help mitigate climate change.

The Tigray project (4) in Northern Ethiopia has succeeded in reversing the negative agricultural developments, in an area once severely affected by problems such as soil erosion and hunger. Here, poor subsistence farmers, researchers, local advisors, agricultural experts, and the Institute for Sustainable Development have together devised a cropping system. This system is based on local inputs, biological diversity, and other ecosystem services. The project has produced a range of positive results such as higher yields, higher groundwater levels, better soil fertility, decreased susceptibility to drought, increased income, and better livelihoods.

Angela Caudle de Freitas, IFOAM’s Executive Director says that: ‘This is not the time to look for short-term solutions through chemical agriculture. It never has been and the world today more than ever needs to be investing in solid, sustainable solutions that benefit people and the environment.’
IFOAM Press Release, Responsible: Angela B. Caudle de Freitas

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