United Nations: Organic Farming Can Feed Africa

Chemical farming methods have failed a hungry continent, says UN report.

November 12, 2008

Yield ahead: African farmers doubled their food production by going organic.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Organic farming can feed Africa and bring higher incomes to poor, rural farmers, according to a United Nations report focusing on food security and sustainability issues. The report, compiled by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), contradicts a popular myth that organic-farming methods can’t produce enough food to feed the world.


THE DETAILS: Much of the study data comes from East Africa, where an organic-agriculture project was put into place in 2004. Organic and near-organic crop yields in the 24 countries studied increased by 116% since the start of the project. In 11 of 13 cases, food production rose—and sometimes doubled—when farmers switched from chemical methods to more sustainable, organic growing methods. The report’s authors argue this will feed millions more and bring much more food security to the continent.

“The evidence presented in this study supports the argument that organic agriculture can be more conducive to food security in Africa than most conventional production systems, and that it is more likely to be sustainable in the long term,” write Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary-general of UNCTAD, and Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP. “The great technological progress in the past half century has not led to major reductions in hunger and poverty in developing countries.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Organic agriculture means food security and an escape from poverty for millions. The latest UN report backs a large International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge report released in April 2008 and supported by more than 400 experts and cosponsored by huge organizations, including the World Bank and World Health Organization. “The way the world grows its food will have to change radically to better serve the poor and hungry if the world is to cope with growing population and climate change while avoiding social breakdown and environmental collapse,” WHO authors stated.

Add all this to the fact that organic food is free of harmful pesticides, and that organic growing techniques can mitigate global warming, and it’s clear that organic farming can benefit anyone, on any continent.

To tap into organic agricultural advantages, you can:

• Be an organic detective. Replace grocery store visits with trips to a local farmer’s market. While there, find out which farmers are certified organic or use sustainable-farming practices even if they’re not certified. Ask these questions to find out if your local farmer makes sustainable choices:

Mr. or Ms. Farmer …
1. Do you use synthetic pesticides, herbicides or insecticides, chemical fertilizers, or genetically engineered seeds?
2. Do you have a manure lagoon, or do you compost your animal waste and use it in your fields?
3. Are your animals pasture-raised and free of growth hormones or antibiotics used to boost growth?

• Let your lawn feed you. New to gardening? No worries. Find your region in Organic Gardening’s OG Almanac for month-by-month instructions on how to become a successful gardener without chemicals.

• Learn the ABCs of CSA. Look for a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program in your area through Local Harvest, and consider buying a share of organic veggies during the growing season. Some areas offer winter CSAs, too.