By Constantine Akitanda, recently in Saly Portudal, Senegal
Ecological Organic Agriculture (EOA) is a major component of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 with regard to enhancement of food security and sustainable development.
The first ten-year strategic plan, which was adopted by the African Union Summit in June 2015 as part of the 50-year horizon, embodies the Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative (EOA-I) which is geared towards people-driven development relying on the potential of organic agricultural systems.
EOA-I is a response to the landmark decision by African leaders to renew interest and commitment to support agriculture generally and organic farming in particular. The pilot stage of implementation of the initiative started in 2012/2013 and covers Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania in Eastern Africa and Mali, Nigeria, Benin and Senegal in West Africa under different funding arrangements.
The intention is to roll out EOA practices in more African countries during this five-year Action Plan. EOA practices are well grounded and have global recognition. For example, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD, 2001) recognizes the importance of traditional knowledge in the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity.
The UN Environmental Program (UNEP) also recognizes the vital role of biocultural diversity in sustainable development. Ecological agriculture fosters biodiversity and is in itself resilient to impacts of climate change (Ensor, 2009).
It depends on and sustains ecosystem services as well as the knowledge, practices and innovation of local communities, leading to more reliable and increased food security and incomes.
However, while it is true that the organic agriculture initiative has achieved tremendous growth over the past few years, there are challenges that need to be addressed in order to realize the full potential of EOA. The obvious absence of enabling national policies is the most pressing challenge that the initiative should address in its overall goal.
The lack of enabling policy is identified as the biggest obstacle hindering African governments to develop sustainable, resilient, and productive farming systems.
Other challenges include inadequate institutional capacity, insufficient coordination and networking among stakeholders, inadequate awareness and information on EOA practices, limited research that focuses on organic agriculture, poor linkages between industry and research institutions, and insufficient financial resources to execute EOA strategies.
Ecological Organic Agriculture is a holistic system that sustains the health of ecosystems and relies on functional cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of synthetic inputs which have adverse effects on human, animal, plant and environmental health.
As Africa continues to face the challenge of feeding its rapidly growing population in a contaminated and quickly deteriorating biodiversity and worsening effects of climate change, agroecology brings in dimensions of agricultural practices that guarantee sustainability.
This continental initiative, which holds a significant promise for increasing the productivity of Africa’s smallholder farmers, with consequent positive impact on food security, was discussed at the fourth African Organic Conference (4AOC) held in Saly Portudal, Senegal, recently.
Jonathan Nyarko Ocran, policy officer with the African Union Commission, said the conference theme ‘Ecological and Organic Strategies for viable Continental and National Development in the Context of the African Union’s Agenda 2063’ was consistent with the AU’s aspirations.
“This framework is the blueprint for Africa’s development over the next 50 years. Currently, the first 10-year plan (2013–2023) of this development agenda is being implemented to create the Africa we want,” he said.
He pointed out that Africa’s immense potential in organic agriculture needs to be effectively harnessed so that it can help curb poverty, improve food and nutrition security, enhance biodiversity and mitigate environmental degradation.
It is estimated that there are over 1.7 million hectares of certified organic agricultural land in Africa (Willer and Lernoud, 2017). This constitutes about three per cent of the world’s organic agricultural land.
Ocran said it was in recognition of the great potential for organic agriculture that African leaders called for the establishment of an African organic farming steering committee.
African Organic Agriculture Network (AfrONet) president Jordan Gama told the conference that the EOA initiative values are grounded in the reality of sustainable agricultural practices.
“We do not support at all agricultural practices that promote the use of genetically modified and engineered inputs,” he said.
AOC is an initiative of the African Organic Network (AfrONet). It is convened every three years as a stakeholders’ platform for sharing knowledge, experience and views on various issues of concern in organic and ecological agriculture.