Organic farming trends in Africa

Posted on November 6, 2016 12:21 am

Millions of Africans go without food for days despite more than 50% of the Africa’s land being ideal for farming.With use of old agriculture methods, the content always import food.One wonders why would a country like Nigeria import rice?And would Uganda import french beans?The consequences of Africa’s agricultural food system from polluted air and water, dead zones in coastal seas, soil erosion have profound implications for human health and the environment. So more sustainable agricultural practices are needed as soon as possible.In parts of Africa, farmers have turned to less chemically intensive techniques to reduce the negative impact of agriculture, such as organic farming, which has been shown to outperform conventional farming by many standards of environmental sustainability. The question is whether Africa can meet these environmental standards and still meet the demand for food, which is predicted to rise substantially in the next 15 years.Studies have found that organic farming systems, when done right, come close to matching the productivity of conventional systems.Designing a single experiment that could possibly represent the huge variation in crops, weather and soil necessary to get a complete answer is impossible. Many past studies found organic yields were 25% lower than conventional systems. A recent study found that organic farming outperformed conventional in Africa. The study found that although organic crop yields are about 19% lower than conventional yields in Africa, certain management practises appear to significantly reduce this gap. In fact, planting multiple different crops at the same time in what is known as polyculture and planting a sequence of crops in what is refereed to as crop rotation on an organic farm cut the difference in yield in half. Interestingly, both these practices are based on techniques that mimic natural systems, and have been practised for thousands of years.

The study strongly suggests that Africa can develop highly productive organic farming methods if African countries mimic nature by creating ecologically diverse farms that draw strength from natural interactions between species.Crop rotation and polycultures are known to improve soil health and reduce pest pressure. Because these practices add diversity to the landscape they also support biodiversity, so they may improve yields while also protecting the environment.Study also found that for some crops such as oats, tomatoes and apples there were no differences in yield between organic and industrial farming at all. The largest yield gaps were found in two cereal crops, wheat and barley. Generally, improving the yields of cereals grown using conventional, industrial agriculture has received a huge amount of research and funding in Africa far more than organic agriculture. Little wonder, then, that Africa see a large difference in yields.Some seeds are specifically bred to work well in the nutrient-rich, pest-free conditions found in conventional farms due to the heavy use of fertilisers and pesticides, so they may underperform in organic farms. But if we invested in organic agricultural research and development we’d no doubt see a large increase in the yield too.Study also found evidence that the yield gap estimate is likely an overestimate. For Africa, it’s important to remember that simply growing more food is not enough to address the twin crises of hunger and obesity. Current Africa food production capacity already greatly exceeds what is needed to feed the 1 billion plus population, yet social, political, and economic factors prevent many people from living well-fed, healthy lives and even dying of hunger with Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan’s Darfur region, Central Africa Republic and Burundi being among the current prime examples. A focus solely on increased yields will not solve the problem of Africa hunger.To put the yield gap into context, the Africa’s food waste alone is 45% of food production per year with Nigeria being the worst affected. If food waste were cut by half, this would more than compensate for the difference in yield from converting to organic agriculture, as well as greatly reducing the environmental impact of agriculture in Africa.

Contador Harrison