During the launch of the Knowledge Centre for Organic Agriculture in Africa at Biofach in Nurnberg, Germany on 15 February 2019, Dr. Stefan Schmitz, Deputy Director General at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), noted that “Agriculture is not just key to fighting poverty but is also critical to food security and an economic engine of growth”. He noted that with productive land shrinking efforts are needed to ensure food production is in line with the environment. With the current trend of depletion of resources and climate change, Africa is likely to feel more strongly the consequences. He advised that the entire food and agricultural systems therefore need more improvement, modernization and ecologically sustainable practices. He cautioned that, “Business as usual is not an option and that Organic farming is the way to go”. He reported that only about 2% of land globally is managed organically and this has to change. Organic agriculture is the key to sustainable intensification, strengthening health of soils, ecosystems, water retention and people’s heath. With focus on diversification and integrated crop-livestock systems, there is increased access to health and environmental benefits and sustainable soil management leading to enhanced adaptability to climate change. Such achievements are needed to tackle three main challenges of food security, climate change and sustainable livelihoods in terms of jobs and incomes for growing populations.
Through BMZ’s One World Without Hunger Initiative, launched 4 years ago, focus has been on managing soil fertility through research and training. BMZ has also been promoting organic agriculture in more than 10 countries under 20 bilateral, regional and global collaborations with over 20 organic agriculture projects. Dr. Schmitz thanked Prof. Gerold Rahmann and others for their support to the development of the Green Innovation Centres which give innovations to farmers to produce products for markets and develop new value chains leading to increased productivity and incomes. This is further achieved through processing and marketing with over 35 public-private partnership projects involving the private sector.
Dr. Schmitz revealed that in 2017, BMZ organized round-tables with civil society organizations and associations in organic agriculture leading to the idea of Knowledge Centre for Organic Farming in Africa. The aim was to close the knowledge gap in organic agriculture in Africa. Supported by an Advisory Council, Civil Society, Universities, Research Organizations and others BMZ will be supporting three hubs in Africa (Eastern Africa, Southern Africa and West Africa) to enhance production in line with organic principles and standards and stimulate markets from local to domestic including international level. The centres are to collect and regionalize specific knowledge through all key stakeholders. Closer coordination and collaboration among the partners and networks and engagement with farmers to get practical knowledge will be fundamental to achieving the aim of the initiative. The project starts early this year (2019).
Dr. Schmitz stressed that the Knowledge Hubs should use various communication methods including internet and digital. He added that there are plans to network the Knowledge Centre project with the African Union-led Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative (EOA-I) and other initiatives on the continent. He noted that partnerships are needed to spread the necessary knowledge to villages, farmers, processors and consumers and through such efforts we can achieve some of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). He wished the partners success in this new exciting project.
In a following lively session on IFOAM’s Organics for Development moderated by Dr. Felix von Löwenstein of Bund Ökologische Lebensmittelwirtschaft (BOLW) who started off the discussion by asking whether organic was more of a luxury for the rich or more and more a solution to the entire world, Dr. David Amudavi highlighted that we need to focus on the benefits that organic agriculture can bring when it comes to biodiversity and ecological services as well as how it can fuel economic development. With the Knowledge Centre project, he would wish to see greater impact on ground in terms of farmers putting knowledge into practice to contribute to increased and stable production, incomes, healthy foods, motivated consumption of organic foods and thriving local markets which can graduate to domestic and international levels conditions permitting. He hinted that the project will adopt a strategy of ‘multiplier reach and impact’ working through and with partners from research institutions, farmers’ groups and associations, extension agencies from public and private sectors and other key players that can strengthen the business development service (BDS) infrastructure to make markets work for farmers. Besides knowledge, other essential components will need to be put in place as advised by Prof. Charles Ssekyewa, Chair of the Eastern Africa Steering Committee of the Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative.
Dr. Amudavi emphatically responded to the facilitator’s question on the role of traditional knowledge in organic agriculture that, “I believe in the power of local traditional knowledge that is inherent in people themselves. We would like to bring this to scientists, as such knowledge could be the foundation of transformative knowledge for innovations and interventions”. Amudavi further mentioned that Biovision Africa Trust mandated to coordinate the Eastern Africa Hub will work with key partners from research, knowledge management and capacity building (FiBL, CIAT, ICIPE, IFOAM Organics International and Access Agriculture) and national partners in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania. IFOAM will support capacity building of the partners including the National Organic Agriculture Movements (NOAMs). They were challenged to state their stand whether they were ready to support strengthen capacities of member organizations. Dr. Amudavi underscored the need to have vibrant and impactful NOAMs and other partners involved in these interrelated projects for organic agriculture. He emphasized that IFOAM, to which he is a member of the Board, has a role to play.
The other panelists included Peggy Miars, President IFOAM Organics International Board, Helmy Abouleish of Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development and SEKEM in Egypt and Ms Dorith van Behaim (the GIZ Coordinator of the Organic Hubs in Africa project). Ms van Behaim indicated that knowledge is available is at different levels – scientific and practical – and GIZ is prepared to work with partners in Africa and across the globe to make this knowledge available to farmers and to make the project a success. Ms. Gunilla Eitrem of Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) encouraged the new project to engage with national and regional research organizations and networks. Mr. Zachary Makanya, Country Coordinator of PELUM Kenya, expressed the over 50 memberships of its network in supporting this project.
The new project provides opportunity to examine how to reach millions of farmers, identify where the obstacles are and who are behind them, identify who have been driving the priorities and how do we change them, etc. It also provides opportunities for synergies with governments, research organizations, private sector, networks (such as AfrONet, farmer organizations, consumer alliances), and development agencies. The project partners were wished great success and encouraged to generate success stories to show the value of organic agriculture and the project.