Organic farming can feed Africa, says UN

Posted: 6 November 2008

New evidence that organic farming offers Africa the best chance of breaking the continent's cycle of poverty and malnutrition has come from a major UN study.

The report published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provides evidence that organic farming "could feed Africa".

Organic farmer, India
Organic farmer, India
Organic farmer in India ploughing green manure into his fields. Photo © Organic India
New evidence in the report suggests that organic practices - though often derided - can deliver sharp increases in yields, improve the soil and boost the desperately low income of Africa's small farmers.

The study demonstrates that organic agriculture can be equal or better for food security than most conventional systems and is more likely to be sustainable in the longer term, as it builds up levels of natural, human, social, financial and physical capital in farming communities.

Entitled Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa, the joint UNCTAD-UNEP study, backs up last year's report by the UN Food and Agriculatural Progamme (FAO), which said that organic farming fights hunger, tackles climate change and is good for farmers, consumers and the environment.[See link below].

Increased productivity

Among the many findings of the report, an important one is that all the case studies that focused on food production have shown increases in per hectare productivity of food crops, challenging the myth that organic agriculture cannot increase agricultural productivity.

The report concludes, "Organic agriculture can increase agricultural productivity and can raise incomes with low-cost, locally available and appropriate technologies, without causing environmental damage. Furthermore, evidence shows that organic agriculture can build up natural resources, strengthen communities and improve human capacity, thus improving food security by addressing many different causal factors simultaneously."

The authors point to the need for enabling policy and institutional support in order to scale-up organic agriculture and its associated positive side-effects.

The report by Rachel Hine and Jules Pretty, University of Essex and Sophia Twarog (UNCTAD), can be downloaded here.

Related links

UN backs organic farming

Organic farming 'improving Ethiopian yields'

Indian women take the lead in organic farming

Organic farming 'can feed the world'