The 2nd African Organic Conference highlights food security
My colleague Silvere Tovignan (TE’s Regional Director for Africa) and I attended the 2nd African Organic Conference in Lusaka, Zambia from the 2nd to the 4th May. The conference was organized by Organic Producers and Processors Association of Zambia (OPPAZ) in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of Zambia under the auspice of International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and the African Union. I felt this partnership between the African organic movement, government, and agriculture provided the perfect combination of representatives to bring a wide cross-section of stakeholders to the same table.
The theme for the conference was: “Mainstreaming organic agriculture in the African development agenda”, with the overall objective being to promote the integration of organic agriculture into African governmental policies, intergovernmental strategies, as well as to align development goals. The conference was well attended with over 300 participants from over 40 countries. It was exciting to see that the majority of speakers and delegates were African, and ‘outsiders’ were allocated the role of supporters and partners rather than agenda-setters.
At the opening session of the conference, Mr. Petko Draganov, Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTAD spoke of the impressive array of food security, economic, environmental, and health benefits for developing countries that organic agriculture practices can bring.
The conference stuck closely to the overall theme, with side-meetings dedicated to strengthening collaboration between African countries generally, and between organisations, associations, research bodies, and other relevant networks (of which there are now many) within Africa and beyond.
In fact, the complexity of organisation and the layering of policy and activities within and between the African countries was one of the most intriguing and exciting insights [of the conference] for me. To me, it felt like a tipping point for organic was being reached and once achieved it felt like we would see the cascading of an holistic and integrated organic agriculture movement like we have never seen before!
How do the layers of organisation work?
Generally speaking, most [African] countries have their own organic ‘association’ or ‘network’ of stakeholders supporting the sector. These membership-based groups provide everything from advice and training, extension services, through to advocacy and lobbying on behalf of their members. Some groups are managing to work closely with their ministers and relevant governmental departments to try and influence agricultural policy and strategy.
Importantly for the future of organic agriculture, some groups have taken on the issue of genetically modified crops (GMOs) and biosafety as well, while others work in collaboration with national campaigners. During the conference I joined an excellent side-meeting organised by the Alliance for Agro-ecological Farming and Biodiversity Conservation and TWN & Partners. The meeting was a real eye-opener for me – and far too complex to summarise here sorry – If interested I recommend you find out more about the Cartagena Protocol and take a look at TWNs Biosafety Briefings and the PELUM website.
On the sidelines of the conference, the African Organic Network (AfroNet) – the umbrella organization uniting and representing African organic stakeholders – was institutionalized. All levels of organic agriculture organisation are supported by IFOAM.
The Lusaka Declaration was the ultimate outcome of the conference and calls upon the African Union to mainstream organic agriculture into all areas of its work, including the potentially hugely influential Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), and to take the lead in the implementation of the African Organic Action Plan, in close collaboration with AfroNet.
A timely meeting
All in all, I felt this conference, combining organic agriculture, food security, and the development agenda came at a critical time for Africa. A friend once wisely said to me “It would be arrogant to insist that there is only one way to approach a problem” and these words have stuck with me ever since. There is not one way ‘to feed the world sustainably’ and I think having such a broad range of stakeholders and actors together in Lusaka was a mature step towards finding the right place for organic agriculture within the multi-faceted issue of food security for all; but perhaps particularly in developing countries where the need for low industrial input, local and knowledge intensive technologies are proving more and more critical to farming sustainably.
In my humble opinion it’s not only the food security agenda that is a concern but the deeper issue of food sovereignty (food ownership) as well. This in turn leads us to the question of 'seed' in terms of both its security and sovereignty. Once again the organic philosophy is well-placed to offer an answer.
Yet another wise person's words echo in my ears "He who controls the seed, controls the food".