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article imageOrganic farming proves viable for Africa

By Stephanie Dearing     Apr 21, 2010 in Food
Nairobi - The 'green' revolution is underway in Africa, meeting widespread support from farmers and consumers. Unlike the biotech green revolution envisioned by many, this one is environmentally friendly.
This green revolution is a return to more natural methods of cultivation, with a preference for organic techniques. A recent Food and Climate Change workshop hosted by Media21 in Nairobi brought renewed attention to Africa's organic movement. The theme of the workshop, held April 12th to 16th, was How will Africa feed her Children? Convened just for journalists, the workshop aimed to train journalists on sustainable food systems and nutrition. Research presented at the workshop stressed the importance of small-hold farmers in filling Africa's food needs.
Some African nations see organic agriculture as a method that will open up new global markets. The United Nations sees organic food production as a way for Africa to feed itself while creating more valuable agricultural products, saying it is "... a sustainable and environmentally friendly production system that offers African and other developing countries a wide range of economic, environmental, social and cultural benefits."
Most African farmers are subsistence farmers, barely able to produce enough food for their own needs. To be successful, agricultural production in Africa has make it past a large number of hurdles, such as pests, soil health, lack of access to good seed, and climate change.
Biotech crops have been touted as the next green revolution for Africa, but the fact that the first green revolution failed Africa for more than a few years demonstrates the major weakness of relying on biotech to provide the solutions to Africa's hunger problems.
Still, some people, like Bill Gates insist that biotech can enhance food security in Africa. “We have to develop crops that can grow in a drought; that can survive in a flood; that can resist pests and disease. We need higher yields on the same land in harsher weather. And we will never get it without a continuous and urgent science-based search to increase productivity.”
Mozambique was one of the first countries to take up idea of implementing the biotech green revolution. Although the country implemented a plan to use biotech to reduce the need for imported food, supporters have cautioned “This is a program that will take 10 years, 20 years to bear fruit.”
Proponents of the biotech green revolution say the new agriculture can save Africans from hunger and provide income for farmers through increased productivity. However, world grain production is higher than ever, thanks largely to biotechnology, but there are still massive numbers of people experiencing hunger in Africa.
The difficulties facing successful agricultural production in Africa are multiple, and the answers will never be simple. that said, organic production techniques, combined with traditional growing methods are resulting in some notable increases in yield, proving natural green farming is just as promising as biotech.
One outstanding organic success stories is that of Tigray, Ethiopia; a story that highlights the importance of diversity in the success of agricultural practices for the continent. The ten year experiment in Tigray not only reversed damaged soil, crop yields were increased through the practice of composting.
A recent programme offered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization and Germany saw 5,000 small scale African farmers receive guidance on growing organically, as well as other training and supports, ultimately resulting in many of those farmers able to sell their organic crops on international markets.
The Food and Agriculture Organization anticipates that international markets for fair trade and organic food products will increase by at least 5% over the next three years, and the industry reflects that confidence, saying it expects slower, but steady growth into the near future.
There are approximately 800 million Africans suffering from hunger, a statistic that translates to 1 in every 3 people lacking food.
More about Organic farming, East africa, Green revolution, Tigray ethiopia, Food agriculture organization
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