The organic movement contributing to SDG2
How can organic farming contribute to SDG2: Zero Hunger? This was the central question for the interactive panel discussion organized by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday April 16, 2019. A broader public, coming from governmental organizations, NGOs, knowledge institutes and the private sector, attended the discussion. The International Federation for Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) kicked off with a presentation about the organic movement in East Africa. The discussion that followed would focus on the role of organic agriculture to enhance food security. “But the question is broader”, reacted Louise Luttikholt, director of IFOAM. “It’s how we can transform agriculture as a whole. We need to start producing within the planetary boundaries and see the true value of food. Organic agriculture has a role to play here. And in this, it contributes to SDG2 as well as all the other SDGs”.
Producing within the planetary boundaries
The discussion on achieving SDG2 is often associated with a plea for increasing productivity. “Why?”, Louise Luttikholt wonders. “There are more people with obesity in this world than people with hunger. We waste 30% of our food”. Luttikholt is referring to the importance of more properly valuing food, by both consumers and producers. When food is produced in a sustainable way, it increases food security, enhances biodiversity and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. This will also benefit the millions of smallholder farmers who are currently challenged by the poor fertility of their soils. “It’s time to start looking at agriculture from a systemic and holistic approach”, concludes Luttikholt.
This is where organic agriculture comes in, which means, an agriculture without chemical pesticides, herbicides and inorganic fertilizers, which uses multi-cropping and crop rotation. IFOAM has issued four guiding principles for organic agriculture: The health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet; the living ecological systems and cycles; the fairness for the common environment and life opportunities; and care for current and future generations. The use of the label ‘organic agriculture’ started in Sub-Sahara Africa relatively recently, while it is often said many farmers in low income countries are ‘organic by default’. In 1995, IFOAM initiated the Export Program for Organic Products from Africa (EPOPA) with support of SIDA, as a major push forward that led 100,000 smallholder farmers in East-Africa to produce in a certified organic way. The movement is growing, with almost three million producers worldwide, but still only 3% of the total organic farmland is located in Africa1. What is needed to further spread the organic agricultural movement in this continent?
Markets and knowledge systems
For the certified organic agriculture movement to grow, farmers need markets and access to knowledge. “Supporting local farmers to produce organically will only work if it contributes to livelihood improvement for these farmers”, says Bert Visser, scientific advisor for Oxfam Novib’s Sowing Diversity = Harvesting Diversity program. Smallholder farmers need to know that, and how, they can earn a better income from their organic produce. They can become integrated in export markets, which allow them to fetch premium prices for organic products, or they can start producing for domestic markets in the many countries that show an increasing interest for better-quality local products. In the course of the years, the IFOAM network has been instrumental in the development of UgoCert and TanCert, as well as of the regional standard ‘East African Organic Products Standard’ adopted by the East African Community. These are important processes to facilitate the trade in organic produce.
Certified organic agriculture is knowledge-intensive and comes along with complex logistical processes. “Before farmers can supply these markets, they need to be educated and “unlearn” many of the practices of the previous Green Revolution”, says Peter Jens, Director at Koppert Biological Systems, a company in the field of biological crop protection and natural pollination. “I believe organic agriculture, more than anything else, requires a disciplined mind”, adds Hans-Willem van der Waal, CEO of AgroFair, a company producing and importing tropical organic fruit from Africa and Latin America. “Farmers, small or big, need to be literate, committed and understand organic agriculture. And collaborate in farmer organizations”. Therefore, Oxfam Novib works with Farmer Field schools, to empower and support smallholder farmers in selecting better crops and varieties, which helps to produce organically. IFOAM established Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), which allow smallholder farmers groups to come together to decide on an organic standard that they want to meet , under which they market their produce at a local market.
Pay the true price
Paying the true price for food will boost the organic agricultural movement. Currently, the externalities of food production affect the sustainability of common public goods. Costs of these externalities are not captured in the price. “That is why our cheap food comes at a great cost”, states Luttikholt. Governments have a role to play here. Firstly, they need to set regulations for organic agriculture, because they decide what can be called organic agriculture. Secondly, governments need to develop common agricultural policies to incorporate costs for externalities, to ensure that we start paying the real price for food. “We need a type of agriculture that contributes to common goods instead of rewarding the use of chemicals through subsidies”, concludes Luttikholt.
More research and evidence is needed to create awareness among consumers and trigger more farmers to produce organically. Currently, there is not enough research done to understand the needs, benefits and limitations of ecological production. Where conventional agriculture makes widespread use of chemicals to reduce risks and increase production, organic agriculture is about deliberately closing nutrient cycles, outsmarting pests and using diversity. “But the benefits of this way of producing for farmers and consumers need more evidence to back up the positive claims”, says Joost Guijt, Senior Advisor Inclusive Agrimarkets at Wageningen University and Research. “For example, currently there is no evidence that organic certification leads to more structural income for small-scale farmers” adds Guijt. “[Nor] do we know how organic non-staple goods have additional nutritional value”, adds Visser.
Growing organic agricultural movement
The message IFOAM is bringing to the lunch session is clear: If we are serious about SDG 2, we need to adopt a systemic approach and focus on all the SDGs. Worldwide, farmers need to start producing food within the planetary boundaries. Organic agriculture has a role to play here. Not only through organic production, but also by applying the organic principles in people’s thinking and mentality and setting the example on how to make regular agriculture more sustainable. It’s all about the influence organic agriculture can have on the agenda for agriculture in general.
The organic agricultural movement is growing in Africa. The movement is spreading from East to West-Africa, and conventional cultivation has started absorbing organic principles into existing and integrated systems, claims IFOAM. For the organic movement to further grow in Sub-Saharan Africa, farmers need to be involved in a participatory way, enabling policies should be in place, and the evidence base needs to be increased. As consumers, we need to see the true value of food. And sometimes, this means we have to accept that we have to leave something in order to create space for others. Because in the end, it’s not about feeding the world, but it’s about nourishing the world, for which we are all responsible.
The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been supporting the organic movement in West Africa through IFOAM’s Organic Markets 4 Development project since 2017 as one of its food and nutrition security policy interventions. The Ministry doesn’t limit its funding to one agricultural model, but funds several.
- 1. https://www.ifoam.bio/en/news/2019/02/13/world-organic-agriculture-2019