AfrONet Editorial Note January – June 2020

Covid-19 is threatening Africa’s long walk to prosperity

The Covid-19 pandemic has introduced unprecedented challenges across the globe, especially for nonprofits and social enterprises striving to continue their work while also responding to the crisis. 

As the novel virus continues to spread, health systems and the day-to-day livelihoods of ordinary people remain under grave threat.

As a continental network, AfrONet and its partners shares with the global community a profound apprehension of Covid-19’s adverse effects on Africa’s society and economy.

We have in recent years witnessed signs of improvement in the living standards of many people of the vast continent, offering physical evidence of its development. But it is now obvious that Covid-19 is threatening Africa’s systems down to the core.    

While we continue to fight this horrendous pandemic, we should remind ourselves of the words once uttered by Noble Prize winning surgeon and biologist Dr. Alexis Carred, a French national: “There is no light without darkness, and that applies to all of us and to life itself”.

The current situation makes it ever more urgent to prioritize inclusive agricultural transformation and push for the promotion of food sovereignty and food security through sustainable food systems across the continent.

Our key massage to all our stakeholders is that we all need to continue adhering to the guidelines provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) as efforts to find a lasting solution to this pandemic continue.

France partners with AfrONet for greener agriculture in Africa

By Constantine Akitanda, Zanzibar 

On February 28 this year, the Zanzibar Minister of Trade and Industries, Ambassador Amina Salum Ali, inaugurated the Innovative Institutions for Ecological Organic Agriculture in Africa (IIABA) project in the presence of French ambassador to Tanzania H.E Frédéric Clavier.

Other representatives were from Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Tanzania, French Development Agency (AFD), Small Industries Development Organization (SIDO), Small and Medium Industries Development Agency (SMIDA), Zanzibar State Trade Cooperation (ZSTC), Zanzibar’s Ministry of Agriculture, Legislator from the Union Parliament (Agriculture, Livestock and Water Committee) and the Zanzibar House of Representatives.

The IIABA project is financed by AFD and coordinated by the Tanzania-based African Organic Network (AfrONet). AFD has allocated 1.498 million euros grant to AfrONet and its partners for the purpose of scaling up ecological and organic agriculture in Tanzania, Uganda and Morocco. The project aims to implement institutional innovations for the purpose and consolidate the capacities of AfrONet and its members. 

Main areas of action under the project will involve building innovative markets, Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) and public policy analysis.

Building innovative markets aims at establishing conducive and accommodative opportunities for farmers of all levels to have platforms to sell their produce to willing buyers through formal and informal markets.

Innovations for PGS will study existing PGS processes and operations and devise mechanisms to improve on PGS operations in each country. The Moroccan PGS experience is of higher level and thus a tool will be developed and shared for trials and will be adopted by the IIABA project.

Public policy analysis and support aims at studying existing agricultural policies in each country, developing position papers and sharing to stakeholders for their input, and lobbying legislators to influence policy formulation to support ecological organic agriculture.

The project partners are: Moroccan Interprofessional Federation for Organic Agriculture (FIMABio), National Organic Agriculture Movement of Uganda (NOGAMU), Moroccan Network of Agroecology Initiatives (RIAM), Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (TOAM), French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment (INRAE).

“The general support given by France to such initiatives is to foster global approaches to tackling major economic and environmental challenges. It is now becoming urgent to develop a family agriculture linked to other food producers, and to exercise a responsible agriculture that respects natural production cycles and soils conservation,” stated French ambassador to Tanzania. 

According to AfrONet director of programs Moses Aisu, IIABA project interventions will build institutional capacities to manage organic agriculture systems and stakeholders for effective management of organic and agro-ecological agriculture in project areas and Africa in general.

AfrONet is committed to ensuring the IIABA project is implemented to achieve the set objectives and goals through ensuring the identified activities are implemented and the best, most convenient and affordable technologies are used by stakeholders.

AfrONet is a non- profit, non-governmental umbrella organization uniting and representing African organic farming stakeholders across the African continent. 

Its mission is to scale up ecologically and organically sound strategies and practices through institutional capacity development, scientific innovations, market participation, public policies and programs, outreach and communication, efficient coordination, networking and partnerships in Africa.

Agence Française de Développement (AFD) funds, supports and accelerates transitions to a fairer and more sustainable world. It focuses on climate, biodiversity, peace, education, urban development, health and governance. AFD teams carry out more than 4,000 projects in France’s overseas departments and territories and other 115 countries. 

Ambassador of France to Tanzania H.E. Frederic Clavier shaking hands with AfrONet President Mr. Jordan Gama during the launch of IIABA project in Zanzibar.

AfrONet board endorses IIABA project

Our Staff Writer, Zanzibar

The African Organic Network (AfrONet) board has endorsed the newly launched Innovative Institution for Organic Agriculture (IIABA) project to be financed by the French Development Agency (AFD).

AfrONet board members were among invited guests at the project’s inaugural ceremony officiated by Hon. Ambassador Amina Salum Ali, Minister for Trade in the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar. 

A day after the ceremony, the board held a one-day meeting to deliberate the IIABA project, and was happy to learn that it was in line with the current AfrONet strategic plan which includes strengthening of National Organic Agriculture Movements (NOAMs).

The board applauded the AfrONet secretariat for securing the ILABA project and pledged to continue supports shown by secretariat to ensure that the project achieves its goals and objectives to become a success.

The struggle of smallholder farmers to maintain a living through EOA in Africa

By Professor Charles Ssekyewa (cssekyewa@gmail.com), Uganda

As the continent continues to embrace Ecological Organic Agriculture (EOA), a reflection on the current practices that smallholder farmers’ engage to ensure sustainable production is crucial since organic can help mitigate climate change – as well as helping farmers to adopt to changing climatic conditions.

EOA limits use of external inputs and so farmers have to ensure that there is enough recycling of nutrients on their farms.

This is often done through tree planting and management of waste materials. However, some farmers still rotate their fields from depleted to virgin forested areas to benefit from the already existing naturally built soil fertility. This scenario has far reaching consequences.

Thus, when farmers manage farm waste, they either throw it on the surface as mulch or compost it. Organic material or debris simply deposited onto the soil surface loses nitrogen which would be essential for formation of nitrates that are needed by crops. The lost nitrogen would be a good substitute for synthetic NPK fertilizers. As such, an organic agriculture farmer misses expected high yields.

Compositing biodegradable waste material would be the best alternative to throwing it onto the soil surface. In the past compositing has been detested for its labor intensity. Probably because after all the effort, farmers did not receive the best output one would expect. Thus, organic farming through compositing often lacks key measures to ensure a nutrient rich and diseases free compost.

The practice of compositing would minimize carbon emissions while conserving nutrients. So it would have to be practiced in such way that loss of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide is minimized. At the same time, temperature rise would have to be moderated and high enough to sterilize compost from an aerobic pathogen, while enriching the population of aerobic effective micro-organisms. 

Therefore, unless smallholder organic agriculture farmers optimize right conditions during compositing, ensuring a healthy and living soil shall not be possible.

The negative feedback from bad actions in the agroecosystem is the increased emissions which contribute to global warming, and so loss of nutrients, loss of time and resources, loss of effective micro-organisms which cause decay and formation of humus, and hence death of soils in an organic agroecosystem.

Furthermore, the thick debris generated by the forest is broken down by effective micro-organisms adopted to the forest ecosystem, such that when the forest is cut the micro-climate and edaphic conditions such as temperature, humidity and pH change. 

Consequently, some micro-organisms are lost and so the nutrient cycle and perpetuation of soil fertility in the forest goes with it. 

Thus, farms established where forests have been may never sustain soil life as was the case before with the forests in place. 

One would wonder why smallholder organic agriculture farmers would not practice permaculture by introducing forest adopted crops such as vanilla and black pepper, among others.

In conclusion, soil life must be assured if organic farmers are to benefit the continent in ensuring food security and their livelihoods. This calls for such farmers to use the best practices and not simply practice organic agriculture anyhow. Sustain a living soil to ensure a sustainable agroecosystem for sustainable development in Africa.

Prof. Charles Ssekyewa taking carbon dioxide and temperature measurements of a compost pile at the Center for Ecosystems Research and Development Compost site in Uganda. 

The future of food in Africa

By Humuod S. Kindi

Hunger and malnutrition are serious problems in most African countries in the continent; problems without a quick fix. The threats to food security are so complex and interrelated that there can be no silver bullet to solve them. 

Consider for a moment how unemployment impacts a person’s ability to purchase nutritious food or how decreased government support for agriculture impacts the country’s ability to produce food. 

The food system is complex, but it’s too important to ignore. In order to secure the system and grant Africans their constitutional right to adequate food, we need to have a more coherent conversation, one which results in political courage, private sector initiative and strong advocacy and support from civil society. 

We believe that the ‘Transformative Scenarios Report: The future of food in Africa’ is just the start.

FAO’s vision is of a ‘world free from hunger and malnutrition, where food and agriculture contribute to improving the living standards of all, especially the poorest, in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner’. 

Much progress has been made in reducing hunger and poverty and improving food security and nutrition. Gains in productivity and technological advances have contributed to more efficient resource use and improved food safety. However, some issues still need to be addressed. 

Some 795 million people in the world still suffer from hunger, and more than two billion from micronutrient deficiencies or forms of over-nourishment. 

In addition, global food security could be in jeopardy due to mounting pressures on natural resources and to climate change, both of which threaten the sustainability of food systems at large. 

Planetary boundaries may well be surpassed if current trends continue. FAO’s assessment of prevailing trends suggests, therefore, that in order to realize FAO’s vision, transformative change in agriculture and food systems is required worldwide. In FAO’s view, there are ten key challenges that need to be addressed if we are to succeed in eradicating hunger and poverty while making agriculture and food systems sustainable. 

Those challenges include the uneven demographic expansion that will take place in the coming decades; the threats posed by climate change; the intensification of natural disasters and upsurges in transboundary pests and diseases; and the need to adjust to major changes taking place in global food systems.

TRENDS

A number of global trends are influencing food security, poverty and the overall sustainability of food and agricultural systems. 

The world’s population is expected to grow to almost 10 billion by 2050, boosting agricultural demand – in a scenario of modest economic growth – by some 50 percent compared to 2013. Income growth in low- and middle-income countries would hasten a dietary transition towards higher consumption of meat, fruits and vegetables, relative to that of cereals, requiring commensurate shifts in output and adding pressure on natural resources. 

Economic growth and population dynamics are driving the structural change of economies. 

The decline in the share of agriculture in total production and employment is taking place at different speeds and poses different challenges across regions.  However, the needed acceleration in productivity growth is hampered by the degradation of natural resources, the loss of biodiversity, and the spread of transboundary pests and diseases of plants and animals, some of which are becoming resistant to antimicrobials.

Climate change affects disproportionately food-insecure regions, jeopardizing crop and livestock production, fish stocks and fisheries.

Satisfying increased demands on agriculture with existing farming practices is likely to lead to more intense competition for natural resources, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and further deforestation and land degradation. 

Hunger and extreme poverty have been reduced globally since the 1990s.

Millions of people, most of them living in rural areas in Africa, are still extremely poor today about 35% of the global poor (ref. WFP Hunger Map 2019).

In addition, despite undeniable progress in reducing rates of undernourishment and improving levels of nutrition and health, millions of people in Africa are chronically hungry and millions suffer micronutrient deficiencies. 

Under a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario, without additional efforts to promote pro-poor development, some millions of people would still be undernourished in 2030. 

Even where poverty has been reduced, pervasive inequalities remain, hindering poverty eradication.

Critical parts of food systems are becoming more capital-intensive, vertically integrated and concentrated in fewer hands. 

This is happening from input provisioning to food distribution. Small-scale producers and landless households are the first to lose out and increasingly seek employment opportunities outside of agriculture. This is driving increased migratory flows, especially of male members of rural households, which is leading, in turn, to the ‘feminization’ of farming in many parts of the world including Africa.

The National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) is a Public Institution established as Executive Agency under the Ministry of Agriculture in Tanzania for the purpose of guaranteeing national food security during food shortage. Photo by NFRA courtecy

Conflicts, crises and natural disasters are increasing in number and intensity.

They reduce food availability, disrupt access to food and health care, and undermine social protection systems, pushing many affected people back into poverty and hunger, fueling distress migration and increasing the need for humanitarian aid. Violent conflict also frequently characterizes protracted crises. 

On average, the proportion of undernourished people living in low-income countries with a protracted crisis is between 2.5 and 3 times higher than in other low-income countries.

Our Future Dry Out

Drylands are among the most conflict-prone regions in the world. Not tackling desertification and land degradation means accepting humanitarian disasters. 

By reversing desertification, we can help build peace, food security and a safe future for millions of people.

African countries need to combat desertification and celebrate laws and policies that successfully tackle land degradation, and contribute to the protection of life and livelihoods in the arid regions and drylands.

Introduce policies that score highly in the evaluation, not only by advancing the sustainable use of resources but also by addressing equity, eradication of poverty, community participation, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Development strategies should focus on food self-sufficiency and economic growth by conserving land and promoting sustainable agriculture. To have a unique combination of collective action, voluntary labour and the involvement of youth, the people of Africa should embark on restoring land on a massive scale.

Regenerative Agriculture

Food security, agriculture and climate resilience are intrinsically intertwined. In the face of the depletion of natural resources such as clean water and fertile soils, a growing population and the challenges connected to climate change, we have to quickly transform our food and agriculture systems in order to protect biodiversity and regenerate our natural resources, reduce poverty and become resilient against weather extremes. 

In particular, small scale farmers in Africa that produce the biggest share of food for the population of the countries, suffer disproportionately from hunger and poverty, and are generally the most affected by the negative effects of global warming and land conflicts.

Politics

Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere had a slogan that said “Siasa ni Kilimo” meaning “Politics is Agriculture”. 

The future of food and agriculture in Africa cannot be claimed to have been adequately addressed without a holistic examination of the political and governance interplay impacts and outcomes, determinants of eventual socio-economic dynamics as witnessed since self-rule to date.

The African land mass still retains appropriate and supportive agriculture production factors e.g. big and small lakes, rivers and water spring sources. But these are yet to be optimally exploited.

With a sobered and a collectively more democratic leadership in place, THE FUTURE OF FOOD IN AFRICA CAN BE SECURED WITHIN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE.

Humuod Saleh Al Kindi is an independent agro industrialist, agroecology activist and horticultural hobbyist.

Q&A interview with DR OLUGBENGA ADEOLUWA, Coordinator for the Network of Organic Agriculture Research in Africa (NOARA)

By Constantine Akitanda 

Question: Dr. AdeOluwa, your name has become very prominent in the organic agriculture sector across the continent. Tell us briefly how you got to where you are now? 

Answer: Firstly, I give the glory to God Almighty who works in me and to do of His good pleasure through faith in the Lord Jesus. My journey in the organic agriculture sector is not by human reasoning but God’s leading. It started in 1997 when I was required to decide the areas of focus for my then proposed M.Sc. study. I perceived a strong leading by God to focus on organic agriculture, although I knew almost nothing about it then.  As God would confirm His word, I was allocated to a project supervisor who is also an advocate of organic agriculture.  So, my M.Sc. (1998 – 1999) and Ph.D. studies (2005) at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria focused on soil fertility aspects of organic agriculture. 

In 2007, I was privileged to be the Country Contact Point in Nigeria for IFOAM Organics International. This gave me the opportunity to attend the launch of the East Africa Organic Products Standard in Dar es Salaam and for the first time, I saw the difference between organic agriculture as an academic and as a practitioner. Moreover, I saw my country and other parts of West Africa as being far behind East Africa in the development of organic agriculture and I desired within me to contribute to the development of the sector in my country, West Africa and Africa as a whole. Together with two colleagues from West Africa that attended the launch of the EAC Organic Standards in Dar es Salaam in 2007, we muted the idea that led to the formation of the West Africa Organic Network (WAfrONet) which had its first conference in 2008. Since then, God has been giving me opportunities to serve at different levels in the organic agriculture sector in my country, West Africa, within and outside Africa.

Dr. Olugbenga AdeOluwa

Q: You are the current Coordinator for the Network of Organic Agriculture Research in Africa (NOARA). What is this network and why was it formed?

A: The Network of Organic Agriculture Researchers in Africa (NOARA) was established to unite and coordinate African organic and ecological agriculture scientific and technical researchers within and outside Africa. The network currently has members from over 22 countries of Africa and some Africans in the diaspora. The idea of NOARA was muted by African organic researchers that met at Modena, Italy in 2005 and later launched in 2009, during the 1st African Organic Conference in Kampala. 

During the 2nd African Organic Conference (2nd AOC) held in Lusaka, Zambia in May 2012, NOARA elected the first chairperson to lead its operations. It was in the 4th AOC in 2018 in Saly, Senegal the General Assembly recommended AfrONet to revive NOARA and probably re-organize the network for effectiveness in its expected roles. 

I was appointed by AfrONet in March 2019 to build and coordinate the network and ensure its proper functionality. Since my appointment, some remarkable achievements have been made. NOARA now has its constitution in place, and is officially registered in Nigeria as a not-for-profit NGO with five members of the Board of Trustees.  

Q: Which among the many agricultural universities in Africa are NOARA members linked to?

A: NOARA members are drawn from several different academic and research institutions within and outside Africa who carry out research activities in their various institutions.  The headquarters of the network is based in the Department of Agronomy, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. The network is in the process of collaborating with other strategic research institutions within and outside Africa in order to properly discharge its mandate.

Q: Resilient and vibrant Ecological Organic Agriculture systems for enhanced food and nutritional security, and their sustainable development in Africa, mostly require political will from our leaders in the continent. In your view, what’s the state of this agenda so far?

A: NOARA is currently developing a demand-driven African Organic Agriculture Research Agenda (AOARA) 2030. It is expected that the document when completed will be of great help in addressing research needs of the organic and ecological sector of Africa in order to positively contribute to food security in the continent. The AOARA 2030 document will also help policy makers to make informed decisions regarding national, regional and continental investment in the organic sector as part of agricultural development plans. 

Q: One of the most significant aspects in scaling up ecologically and organically sound agricultural strategies and practices in the continent include scientific innovations. To what extend is NOARA ready to handle this aspect?

A: NOARA launched the African Journal of Organic and Ecological Agriculture during the 5th West African Organic Conference in Accra in November 2019 to regularly provide African-based research with empirical data to drive organic and ecological agriculture activities in the continent. The network is also in the process of rolling out its biannual bulletin for reporting technical research innovations, success stories and indigenous knowledge applications in organic and ecological agriculture.

Q: EOA Pillar 1 is research, training and extension with the objective of carrying out holistic, demand-driven, multi-disciplinary, gender sensitive and participatory research, training and extension in support of EOA by 2025. How is this being implemented?

A: NOARA is open to participation in EOA Pillar 1 activities in Africa by giving appropriate direction and encouraging the implementers to adopt best practices in organic agriculture research by including the expected African Organic Agriculture Research Agenda in their plans. We also give them the opportunity to publish good research outcomes in NOARA publications. 

Q: EOA Pillar 1 is information and communication; under this pillar information on research findings and other relevant matters should be collected, packaged and disseminated to various stakeholders using various approaches and channels of communication. Do you have any current significant EOA research findings or ongoing researches to comply with this pillar?

A: Now that NOARA is functioning, the proper role of this network in the EOA and similar continental and regional projects in Africa shall be sought. In the meantime, members of NOARA who are spread over more than 20 countries in Africa have a lot of research findings which they already publish in many reputable journals and conference proceedings.

Q: How does NOARA collaborate with the African Organic Network (AfrONet)?   

A: A roadmap for collaboration was presented during the 4th African Organic Conference with the suggestion of a joint committee of the AfrONet Research Working Group and NOARA Board to promote synergy. It is expected that AfrONet generates organic agriculture research concerns from NOAMs (National Organic Agriculture Movements) and passes these on to NOARA for dissemination to its members as issues to address. NOARA members shall then produce organic agriculture research results for AfrONet to share with members of NOAMs. In order to assist NOARA services to organic agriculture stakeholders in Africa, AfrONet and NOAMs should help in raising funds to support members of NOARA to conduct cutting-edge, demand-driven research activities in support of the organic agriculture sector of Africa.

Growing business opportunities in the organic agriculture value chain

By Martin Njoroge Kimani of Kenya Organic Agriculture Network

Organic agriculture has the potential to generate significant incomes for smallholder-farming households, thus potentially uplifting them from poverty cycles and food/nutrition insecurity. Through various interventions, the number of farms under organic cultivation has been constantly growing in Kenya. Thanks to an increase from 4,894 hectares in 2016 to 172, 225 hectares in 2019, the writing on the wall is clear; organic is the future of sustainable farming. 

With the commercial appeal of organic farming leading to a rising number of entrepreneurs’ eager to rake in the money, caution should be exercised. Organic farming should not be viewed as a purely commercial interest. In fact, most successful organic farmers started off as subsistence farmers growing only for their own consumption. Through initial struggles to get their processes and practices right, they eventually saw the business opportunity in supplying others with such products. They were able to persevere through the initial disappointments and changes in mind-set required to transition to organic. They were able to understand their own farms and create harmonious balances. Any seasoned organic farmer will tell you that no two farms are alike; each has its own set of challenges and character, much like human beings. 

For the few out of many farmers who successfully convert to organic production systems, commercialisation of their agribusiness endeavours poses considerable challenges. Without formal organic crops market access, most famers are resigned to selling their produce to undifferentiated conventional markets, where premiums for organic produce are lost. Many organic farmers actually regress back to conventional farming habits due to lack of market access. 

This is a paradox. Many retailers would like to have organic produce as part of their grocery portfolio, but find it hard to source. The needs are there, but there is a mismatch in capacity to fulfil those needs. On closer observation of the problem, the following is clear:

A) Retailers looking for organic produce to sell usually demand that the produce has to be of specific quality standards, and not just anything will go. The visual appeal has to be of equal or greater quality than conventional produce. They will be competing for the consumers’ attention and nobody wants to pay a premium for poor quality products. Yes, consumers can be fickle, even organic consumers. 

B) Consistent supply capacity has to be proven before a retailer takes the risk of opening up a new line of organic products. For retailers, especially big supermarkets, a new product line is a big investment. It involves the physical set-up, the capacity building of staff who all need to be sensitized on what is organic (nothing puts off a consumer faster than retail staff who don’t know what they are talking about), the branding and the marketing. Going organic is as much a strategic choice for retailers as is the physical positioning of beverages and snack items. They are always looking for crowd pullers and with the increasing focus on healthy foods and lifestyles, organic food is high on the consumer and health totem pole. 

C) Farmers may not necessarily have the requisite skill sets to meet retailers’ demands. Quantities of particular produce may be available during certain seasons and then disappear when the product is out of season. Same with quality; it is easy to have high quality produce at the beginning of the season, but maintaining such standards consistently may prove too much for unseasoned farmers. 

An organic grocery section in a Kenyan supermarket

Therefore, a stalemate of sorts persists: The farmers have the produce in plenty, but the retailers cannot take it or will not take it. Nobody gains anything and the masses are denied access to safe food.  

The Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) has been working on the problem for a number of years. Attempting to bridge this market-supply gap through trial and error has allowed for the drawing of several lessons (but not limited to):

1) It is not enough to introduce farmers to retailers and vice versa. There has to be some added capacity for the farmers to be able to reach the quality standards of the retailers. Here issues of marketing and branding emerge. Gone are the days when just saying something is organic will sell. Consumers are looking for branded merchandise, something they can trace back to the source. 

2) Retailers need assurance of regular and consistent supply. Farmers cannot operate as individuals; marketing collectives need to be established, and farmers need to take control of the process. 

3) Apart from a marketing collective, a planting calendar also needs to be established. To ensure consistency and reduce internal competition, a system for growing what and when needs to be developed. This system needs to take into consideration what the market wants and in what volumes. 

4) The prevailing agroecological conditions need to be observed; what can be grown with least effort should be grown, and farmers need to avoid problem crops (pests and diseases, access to quality seed, etc.). Farming is an enterprise, and if the costs of growing particular crops outweigh the market prices and leave little margins for profit, then they cease to be viable and should be abandoned until prevailing conditions change. 

KOAN’s attempts to streamline the organic supply chain in Kenya currently involves farmers from Machakos and Murang’a counties. Murang’a supplies most of the vegetables while Machakos supplies the fruits, creating a healthy balance. The project supported by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) started in 2018 with 90 farmers, 45 from each county, with three retailers interested. This number has since grown to 200 farmers and six retailers.

With the experience gained from previous attempts, KOAN first selected entrepreneurial and market-ready farmers. The farmers were taken through the usual capacity building sessions with particular emphasis on managing expectations as well as conveying the importance of professional conduct in approaching business. Retailers were also involved in order to eliminate any casualness, as the gravity of the whole system needed to be appreciated. This was not business-as-usual and everybody on board got the message. Initial meetings were organized between farmers and retailers. These were mainly to get the farmers to grow exactly what the market required. KOAN engaged field coordinators to assist the famers in aggregating their products. The coordinators served as the nodes between farmers and retailers. The farmer marketing collectives would eventually absorb them. 

Farmers from Machakos in discussions on formalizing their cooperative

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Sales began in the month of November 2019. By December the volumes had considerably increased, and February 2020 saw the highest volumes traded so far. By this time two farmer cooperatives had been formally registered; the Murang’a Organic Growers Cooperatives Society and Machakos Organic Cooperative Society. With increasing confidence, retailers also started demanding for more, and the current volumes became inadequate. This warranted an expansion of the farmer supply base. More farmers were recruited into the cooperatives, and supply volumes ramped up. Projected volume for supply had the situation remained constant would have been northwards of 10 tonnes monthly, since the volumes had been growing by 30% monthly.

Tuskys Supermarket Karen: Organic activation.

As with any worthwhile endeavour, fresh challenges are usually inevitable, and for this particular initiative the Covid-19 pandemic struck hard. With limited movements and reduced consumption, most households are now keeping a firm grip on their expenditures. Hotels and restaurants closed their doors to clients, retailers reported significant dips in consumer spending. These were by far the biggest buyers, and thus demand was sharply reduced. 

The situation might seem bleak but it has also revealed opportunities:

1) Nairobi cannot be the only market for organic produce; with increased sensitization more viable markets can be cultivated closer to home. This will also lead to increased profits for the farmers with transport costs reduced substantially. 

2) Third party traders and retailers need not be the only outlets; the cooperatives can develop their own outlets and market their produce as organic. This has worked in other sectors. For example, FreshaMilk – a popular brand in Kenya – is owned by Murang’a Dairy Cooperative Society. 

3) Post-harvest preparation and value addition need to be part of the system. Today there might not be a market, but the situation might change overnight. 

The story has not ended yet. With the support of KOAN, the cooperatives are exploring the afore-mentioned options. Although demand from Nairobi still exists, the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed how fragile the system is. A pivot is needed; to where and what? Only time will tell. Watch this space for updates. 

Roundup cancer plaintiffs eagerly await settlement news

By Carey Gillam 

Thousands of cancer patients and their families around the United States were notified this week that a comprehensive settlement of their claims against the former Monsanto Co. should be announced before the end of the month.

Though specific settlement amounts for specific plaintiffs are still to be determined, groups of plaintiffs have been told to expect details of a sweeping financial deal to be publicly announced before a June 30 deadline set for completing the year-long negotiations. All allege they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup. They additionally allege that the company knew of scientific evidence showing cancer risks associated with its products, but worked to suppress the information to protect its profits.

Lawyers for Monsanto owner Bayer AG and lawyers representing more than 50,000 of the plaintiffs have been engaged in contentious, start-and-stop discussions about a settlement for several months, frustrating families who are struggling financially and emotionally with the strains of fighting cancer.

Many plaintiffs have lost jobs and homes as they deal with costly cancer treatments and some have died while waiting for their cases to be resolved, court records show. Notification of the death of one such plaintiff was made to the federal court in San Francisco on June 1.

Many of the lead law firms with large caseloads have agreed to the terms of a deal that calls for $8 billion-$10 billion to be paid by Bayer in exchange for an agreement that those firms will not file new cancer claims against the company, according to sources close to the litigation.

The amount of money each plaintiff gets will depend upon several factors. The settlements are expected to be structured so they will be tax-free for the plaintiffs.

Some law firms with Roundup plaintiffs have yet to finalize a deal, and settlement meetings were still being held last week, including with the Louisiana-based firm of Pendley, Baudin & Coffin, according to sources close to the litigation.

Bayer spokesman Chris Loder would not confirm the timing or terms of any announcement, saying only that the company had made progress in the negotiations but would “not speculate about settlement outcomes or timing.”

He said any resolution has to be “financially reasonable” and provide “a process to resolve potential future litigation.”

Bayer, which bought Monsanto in June of 2018, has been seeking to put an end to the mass litigation that has driven down the company’s stock, spurred investor unrest, and thrust questionable corporate conduct into a public spotlight. 

 The first three trials led to three losses for Monsanto and jury awards of more than $2 billion, though trial judges later sharply reduced the awards. Monsanto appealed each of the three losses and is now awaiting an appellate ruling on the first case – Johnson v. Monsanto – after a June 2 oral argument. 

Despite the settlement talks, court proceedings have been continuing on multiple cases. A flurry of lawsuits were recently transferred from state courts into the federal multidistrict Roundup litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. And lawyers for Bayer have been busily filing their answers to the lawsuits.

In the city of St. Louis, Mo., Monsanto’s longtime home-town, the case of Timothy Kane v. Monsanto has a status hearing set for June 15 and a jury trial set to start June 29.  

And though it appears very unlikely the case will proceed, on Wednesday lawyers for the chemical giant filed a motion seeking to exclude testimony of one of the witnesses for the plaintiffs.

Is organic agriculture in Africa in danger of falling prey to Covid-19 dictates?

By Our Staff Writer

Over the years, organic farming has provided lucrative export opportunities for African countries despite problems like access to financing to support further expansion and poor technologies that continue to be applied by many farmers.

An example of the kind of opportunities on offer is an East African Community programme which saw the region’s export earnings from organic farm produce grow from $4.6 million in 2002/03 to $35 million in 2009/10, according to the IFOAMS – Organics International. 

That programme led to a common regional standard for organic crops and significantly increased crop yields in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, as well as the United Republic of Tanzania.

But despite such success stories, almost a quarter (23%) of organic crop farmers, exporters, and experts from 16 African countries said they felt that access to financing had become more restrictive in the last five years.

According to a recently released World Food Program (WFP) report, the number of people facing acute food insecurity could nearly double this year from 135 million to 265 million due to the economic fallout of Covid-19.

The question thus arises: How to ensure everybody remains properly fed in the current situation? The major challenges for Africa in this regard already include unpredictable weather patterns, climate change issues and a growing locusts invasion threat across the continent.

The WFP report cites new challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, such as the impact of lost tourism revenues, falling remittances and travel and other restrictions on African countries.

“Covid-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions of people who are already hanging by a thread,” said Arif Husain, chief economist and director of research, assessment and monitoring at the WFP.

“We all need to come together to deal with this because if we don’t, the global cost will be too high,” he told reporters at a virtual briefing in Geneva.

If, for example, farmers were to start selling their ploughs or oxen, it could have serious knock-on effects for future food production in the short and long term.

Recently, locusts have swarmed through parts of East Africa and South Asia in the worst such infestation for a quarter of a century, threatening crops and livelihoods. The insects, which eat their own body weight in food every day, are breeding so fast numbers could grow four hundredfold by June.

To make matters worse, floods have washed away crops in countries like Mozambique, Zambia and Kenya, just to mention a few, leaving farmers in a dilemma over how to go about starting to cultivate for the next planting season.

Husain told the Geneva briefing that he was “really worried” about people living in countries with little or no government safety nets to deal with the pandemic.

The WFP expects to need $10-$12 billion to fund its assistance programmes this year compared to a record $8.3bn raised last year, Husain said. It plans to pre-position food stocks over the coming months in anticipation of growing needs.

The Global Report on Food Crises released recently by the WFP and other partners found that food insecurity was already on the rise last year before the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis.

It found that 135 million people in 55 countries were living in situations of acute food crises or outright humanitarian emergencies last year, and the numbers have continued to increase due to conflicts, economic shocks and weather-related events such as drought and now the coronavirus pandemic.

In Yemen and South Sudan, scarred by years of conflict, more than half of the population face acute food shortages.

Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from the Sudanese capital Khartoum, said in neighboring South Sudan even prior to Covid-19 “there were over five million people who were facing starvation, many of them relying on food aid to survive – 1.7 million women and children acutely malnourished”.

“So with coronavirus in the picture, access to delivery of aid services is severely impaired due to travel restrictions. We’re likely to see the numbers of those who are suffering from malnutrition and food insecurity rise in the coming months,” Morgan added.

‘Acute food and livelihood crisis’ is category 3 of five WFP phases, meaning a ‘critical lack of food access and above usual malnutrition’.

Category 5 means mass starvation. WFP officials did not give a geographical breakdown of the growing needs but said that Africa was likely to be hardest hit.

A mixed cropping into an organic farm in Kerwa District North West of Tanzania bordering Uganda and Rwanda 

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