As “Africa continues to face the biggest challenge of feeding its populations,” as Dr Dr Janet Edeme, Head of Division, Rural Economy/Agriculture and Food Security at African Union Commission put it; there is an evident need for sustainable way of food production in aid meeting one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “zero hunger.”
According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), around 800 million people in the world, that is, one in nine people, suffer from hunger. In eliminating hunger, studies show that “rapidly growing population, worsening effects of climate change, globalisation, rising food prices, new and old contracted conflicts,” continue to serve as threats to farmers all over the world and more important, the African farmers.
“Our planet is facing detrimental climate change and loss of biodiversity. The use of GMOs is on the increase, bringing with it unprecedented danger,” IFOAM, known also Organics International, said in a 2014 publication on its website. Organics International is an organisation which advocates for organic agriculture at the international level.
In an effort to eliminate some of these threats, especially in Nigeria, the coordinators of Ecological Organic Agriculture (EOA) in Nigeria, in collaboration with the Nigeria Organic Agriculture Network (NOAN), launched the maiden National Organic Agriculture Business Summit in Abuja to deliberate on challenges facing food production in Nigeria and the possible way forward.
At the two-day summit, held between December 6 and 7, 2016, in which farmers from across the country, researchers, government officials as well as other organic agriculture experts from the West and Europe, gathered to deliberate on ways to secure the country’s food systems, with the hopes to “catalyse demand driven expansion of organic agriculture business opportunities and general development in Nigeria,” it was said that organic agriculture serves an important role in securing the country’s economy, as well as its health.
Therefore, the EOA and NOAN hope that at the end of the summit, there would be a scaling up “ecologically and organically sound strategies and practices among diversified stakeholders” through “institutional capacity development, scientific innovations, market participation, public policies and programs, outreach and communication, efficient coordination, networking and partnerships in Africa,” according to Dr Olugbenga AdeOluwa, EOA Project Coordinator, Nigeria.
EOA, according to Adeoluwa, is a holistic system that sustains the health of ecosystems and relies on functional cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of synthetic inputs which have adverse effects on total health (human, animal, plant and environmental).
The goal, he said, is to mainstream EOA into national agricultural production systems by 2025 in order to improve quality of life for African citizens, with a vision of resilient and vibrant EOA systems for enhanced food and nutrition security, and sustainable development in Africa.
In achieving food security, creating national wealth and increasing employment in Nigeria and Africa, according to the experts, is organic agriculture. Organic agriculture, according to IFOAM’s internationally accepted definition “is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic Agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.”
Professor Victor Olowe, NOAN President, believes that through organic agriculture, Nigeria possesses the potential to achieve food security, mitigate and adapt to climate change and halt biodiversity loss. Speaking in a presentation at the summit, Olowe said it is important that the country embraces organic farming its health, environmental and economic potential, among others.
In terms of economic benefits, Uganda, Africa’s largest producer and marketer of organic produce, as at 2013, recorded a turnover of over $37 million per annum, with demand for organic products from Uganda reaching as high as about $600 million in a given year, according to international media reports. In addition to that, the country “had around 350,000 hectares of land under organic farming covering more than two per cent of agricultural land” in 2013, according to reports, with over 400,000 internationally certified organic farmers, “the first and second largest certified farmers in Africa and world over respectively,” as at 2014.
The global market for organic foods and drinks, according to IFOAM, is estimated to be around $50 billion a year and increases by 10 to 20 per cent annually. IFOAM’s research shows that the organic agriculture sector provides “a unique export opportunity for many developing countries, owing to the fact that 97 percent of the revenues are generated in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) countries, while 80 per cent of the producers are found in developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.”
These figures represent potential earning that Nigeria could generate from organic farming if it sets its mind to it, experts in the summit told the Nigerian Tribune in an interview. An international researcher, Jelili AbdulGana, who flew in from the US to present a paper on “Organic Agriculture Policy trend – Examples for Nigeria,” reacting to Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh’s assertion that only 9,671 hectares of land, representing only 0.01 per cent of world land under organic farming are being put to organic agriculture in Nigeria, called for policies that makes it possible for Nigeria to fund and implement programmes that support nation food-system development, and according to him, organic agriculture is a great way to start.
He said it is important that Nigerian governments look into promotion of programmes that could potentially promote and also support the growth of the organic agriculture sector. Lamenting that the Nigerian Agriculture Investment Plan (NAIP) did not recognise organic farming as a standalone cardinal pathway through which food security, agricultural productivity and FDI in the country could be enhanced, said “Nigeria is yet to have a policy framework that can support the development of her organic sector.”
To support organic market development, AbdulGana said it is important to inculcate international fairs and promotional activities, awareness campaigns and support for the creation of organic farmers’ markets, one-stop organic market information centres in national plans and policies.
AdeOluwa, the EOA project coordinator in Nigeria, speaking with the Nigerian Tribune at the end of the summit, said it is important that Nigeria transforms its agricultural system to prioritise investments in healthy foods and farms. This is not only possible; it is a responsible thing to do.