Organic food promises to be healthier and more sustainable. The European Union plans to reach organic production on 25 percent of its agricultural land by 2030, up from 9.1 percent in 2020. The United States, in contrast, isn’t putting big bets on organic, which still represents less than 1 percent of total American farmland. Instead, the USDA promotes climate-smart agriculture by investing $1 billion in regenerative commodity pilot projects. But which is the better move?

Organic requires too much land?
Organic farming isn’t more climate-friendly than conventional agriculture when looking strictly at emissions. In a comparative analysis of the environmental impacts of different agricultural production systems, Michael Clark and David Tilman at the University of Minnesota found that “organic and conventional systems did not significantly differ in their greenhouse gas emissions.” But that’s not all that matters.

Land use is organic’s achilles heel. The analysis concluded that organic farms require 25 to 110 percent more land to produce the same amount of food than conventional systems because organic yields are lower. That’s terrible news for the climate because land use comes with a so-called “carbon opportunity cost.”

When not used for farming, the same land could host natural ecosystems such as forests and grasslands that store much larger amounts of carbon than agricultural soils. But agriculture keeps taking over more

and more natural ecosystems instead of returning fields to nature, thus continuing to fuel the climate and biodiversity crises.

The resulting need to limit agriculture’s land use — alongside profitability concerns — keeps many farmers and environmentalists laser-focused on securing high yields. Advances in breeding, pesticides and fertilizers, machinery and farm analytics have led to an impressive yield increase over the past decades. For example, global soy yields have increased by 150 percent since 1961. Organic yields couldn’t compete with such rapid advancements, hampering its growth.

Carbon costs aren’t the only concern
Why hasn’t this yield disadvantage deterred organic’s advocates and practitioners, including European legislators?

One reason is that organic farming offers many other social and environmental benefits. BIPOC workers and rural communities suffer disproportionately from unsafe pesticide use on conventional farms. Organic soils tend to be healthier, increasing their resilience to extreme weather events such as floods and droughts — an essential consideration as the impacts of global warming will intensify over the coming decades. In low and middle-income countries, moving to industrial agriculture doesn’t tend to deliver an overarching improvement in local communities’ social, economic and environmental conditions.

Many practices that are branded as regenerative have been cornerstones of organic agriculture for decades.
Organic is also a more transparent way of promoting climate-smart farming. Many practices such as crop rotations, intercropping, cover cropping, reduced tilling and composting that are now branded as regenerative have been cornerstones of organic agriculture for decades. Organic farming is clearly regulated, third-party verified and labeled for consumers.

While the system certainly has flaws, it seems to me that it would be much easier to continue building on organic to support climate-smart practices rather than inventing a new regenerative ecosystem of regulation, enforcement and communication. I wish more food brands embarked on that path.

Other experts argue that the land use difference isn’t (or doesn’t have to be) as large as these studies estimated and question the dominating “feed the world” narrative. They argue that we need to consider the proper evidence to realize organic’s superiority. Many indigenous communities and smallholder farmers worldwide have successfully practiced forms of agriculture that resemble organic farming and are often summarized as agroecology while sustaining sufficient yields of nutritious foods. But those practices aren’t usually documented and shared in academic literature, the primary resource that informs today’s mainstream farming policies and practices, so it gets overlooked.

What’s a realistic transition?
So there are a lot of potential benefits of transitioning more farmland to organic. But it’s not without pitfalls, as recent evidence from Sri Lanka suggests.

In April 2021, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa imposed a nationwide ban on the importation and use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, forcing farmers to go organic. But Rajapaksa didn’t prepare the country for the transition — organic fertilizers, education and other resources weren’t available. Harvests plummeted and the country fell into a horrible food crisis. It’s under debate whether an overall positive outcome could have been achieved with organic agriculture in Sri Lanka if the transition had been managed better.

To me, the discussion boils down to a more holistic question on food systems change. How deeply do we want to transform the system? And what kind of structural change is indeed possible? Given organic’s yield challenge and respective carbon opportunity costs, a large-scale shift to organic farming seems untenable if we want to maintain (or even increase) current harvest levels and consumption patterns. In that scenario, introducing some regenerative practices to large farms while continuing to rely on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, as the USDA and many major agricultural companies promote, may be the best we can hope for.

But a better future for our lands and communities would be possible if we could revolutionize our relationship with food at a structural level. We’d need to shift to regional, seasonal, low-carbon diets that minimize food loss and waste and manufacturing emissions. We’d also need to double down on nutritious foods rather than commodity crops such as corn, soy and wheat, which provide calories but don’t do much to nourish people. That’s what I like to believe in and work towards. But on my less sunny days, this vision can seem more like a naive dream, given how challenging and fragile even the tiniest sustainability wins can be.

Screenshot of the EOA-I RSC & FAO Africa virtual meeting

Screenshot of the EOA-I RSC & FAO Africa virtual meeting

The Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative’ (EOA-I) Regional Secretariat of West Africa under the able leadership of Mr Ernest Aubee of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) Commission had a collaborative and interactive virtual meeting via Zoom with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Africa and West African sub-region team on Thursday, September 24, 2020.

The meeting which was moderated by Dr Eugene Rurangwa aimed at initiating interaction between the FAO and ECOWAS led ecological agriculture projects, with a view of finding commonalities and way forward to improving collaboration between the two teams. The moderator welcomed the participants at the meeting and wished the meeting fruitful and constructive deliberations. The Chairman of the Regional Steering Committee (RSC) of Ecological Organic Agriculture (EOA) Initiative in West African, Mr Ernest Aubee thanked the participants for gracing the occasion. He reiterated the readiness of the ECOWAS Commission and other critical stakeholders to support the cause of Agroecology in Africa and especially in West Africa. He also thanked the leadership of the FAO Africa and West African team for the meeting.

Isabel Kuehne presented the various agroecology projects of FAO (globally and in Africa), while her other team members also contributed on other specific projects in other parts of Africa. Dr. Olugbenga O. AdeOluwa made a general presentation on SDC-EOA activities in Benin, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal, as well as the West Africa Secretariat activities.

In total, eleven participants (from Africa and Rome) took part in the virtual meeting. Activities common to both parties were highlighted and possible areas of collaboration were also addressed.

Cross section of participants at the 5th West African Organic Conference (WAOC) in Accra, Ghana 2019

The 5th edition of the West African Organic Conference (WAOC) has officially been declared opened by honourable Owusu Afriyie Akoto (MP) Minister of Agriculture of Ghana, ably represented. In his opening remarks, he welcomed the participants to Ghana. Notable were participants from the global organic confraternity who gathered at the University of Ghana, Legon to discuss the state of ecological organic agriculture in the region and in the world at large. More than 350 participants converged to Accra. Key stakeholders in ecological organic agriculture such as; the African Union (AU) Commission on Agriculture, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission on Agriculture, African Organic Network (AfrONet), West African Organic Network (WAfrONet), Intercontinental Network of Organic Farmers Organisations (INOFO), GIZ-Ghana under the auspices of EOAP-Ghana and a host of other organic stakeholders converged to the Ghana to discuss: Organic agriculture, life for all between November 12th and 16th 2019.

 

Representative of Honourable Owusu Afriyie Akoto (MP), Minister for Agriculture of Ghana during the official opening of the 5th edition of the West African Organic Conference (WAOC)

 Also notable were welcome addresses from; the Chairman of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC), Dr Fenzy welcomed the participants to Ghana and wished them fruitful conference. The Chairman of the West African Organic Network, Prof Davo Simplice in his welcome remarks thanked both the local and regional organising committees for the efforts put in place for the realisation of the event. Furthermore, Mr Ernest Aubee, the Chairman of the Regional Steering Committee (RSC) of the Ecological and Organic Initiative (EOA-I) in West Africa in his opening speech on behalf of His Excellency Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, the President ECOWAS Commission and the Honourable Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr Sékou Sangaré, brought warm greetings and welcomed the gathering to West Africa and reiterates the commitment of the ECOWAS Commission to see a vibrant regional organic agriculture. In addition, in his opening speech on behalf of the Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union Commission (AUC), Her Excellency, Amb. Josefa Correia Sacko, Dr. Simplice Nouala congratulated the host country for putting together all it takes to organise a wonderful event.

During the Conference, key presentations and discussions centred on scientific research, policy and markets, farmers’ innovation information sharing were discussed.  The last day witnessed series of meetings such as the West African Ecological Organic Agriculture stakeholders’, the Regional Steering Committee and the West African Organic Network General Assembly meetings where crucial issues were ironed out. At the end of the programme, the participants at the 5th West African Organic Conference (WAOC) in Accra, Ghana agree to meet in Burkina Faso in 2021 for the 6th West African Organic Conference.

 Participants at Regional Workshop on Organic Standards and Certification @Bellecote, Abidjan

The African Union Commission in collaboration with West Africa Organic Network (WAfrONet) organises a four-day workshop titled Regional Workshop on Organic Standards and Certification from July 30 to August 2 at Belle Cote, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. This event brings together major stakeholders in organic sector from different countries of the Region. This workshop draws its participants from the ECOWAS Region, specifically from Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, the Gambia, Mali, Senegal and Côte D’Ivoire.

Mr Jonathan Nyarko Ocran while delivering the opening statement

 In his opening statement, Mr Jonathan Nyarko Ocran, Policy Officer, Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union Commission, welcomed the participants to the workshop which is seeking to train organic farmers, exporters and practitioners on organic standards and certification systems. He reiterates the undeniable fact that the agriculture sector including organic agriculture plays a prominent role in the economies of most African countries.  He stated that the sector contributes more than 50 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the countries and provides livelihoods to many men and women in Africa. He underlines the fact that organic produce from African farmers is destined for export and that organic certification is key to those markets, hence, the need for the workshop.

Mr Jonathan Nyarko Ocran highlighted the main focus of the workshop which include the following:-

  • To reduce cost of certification and increase access to organic certification for organic producers, processors and exporters in the ECOWAS Region.
  • To increase organic trade between ECOWAS countries and the main export markets of the United States, the European Union and Japan.
  • To develop organic certification training packages for farmers and exporters in the ECOWAS Region.
  • To improve compliance with organic standards; and
  • To develop a system of recognizing African trained inspectors through the formation of African Organic Inspectors Association.

Mr Jonathan Nyarko wished the participants a successful and enjoyable training programme and officially declared the training workshop opened.

Group photograph of EOA stakeholders at the Phase II Inception Workshop Meeting 17th – 18th July, 2019 @Onomo Hotel, Dakar, Senegal

The Biovision Africa Trust (BvAT) organised an inception workshop to mark the beginning of the Phase II of the SDC support to Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative in West Africa. The Phase I was implemented in eight African countries; Benin, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda from 2014 to April 2019. The Phase II will be implemented in the first eight countries including Rwanda. The workshop was tagged “West Africa Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative Implementing Partners Inception Workshop on Rolling Out of Phase 2 Project (May 2019- April 2023) funded by the SDC” took place from July 17-18, 2019 at Onomo Hotel, Dakar, Senegal. The event had in attendance stakeholders from the region implementing partners; Mali, Senegal, Benin and Nigeria.

 

The chairman of the inception workshop, Dr David Amudavi, the Executive Director of BvAT after welcoming the participants takes them through the salient points and reeled out the four major objectives of the event; un-package Phase II new strategies, develop common understanding of the project elements, procedures and implementation, discuss the development of partner work plans and familiarise with contractual requirements and obligations including project and financial guidelines.

There were discussions on the state of implementation from the implementing countries and intra-pillars discussions were also conducted. This will help to synergise actions and focus. Best practices, lessons and challenges learnt from the Phase I were reviewed to avoid further mistakes

Major issues such as; weaknesses from partner organisations, prudent project management, creation of impacts, etc. were discussed.

Cross section of participants at the EOA-I Phase II Inception Workshop Meeting @Onomo Hotel, Dakar, Senegal

One of the new developments in the Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative was the introduction of the Grant Management System (GMS) into the New Phase.

Professor Davo Vodouhe Simplice in while appreciating, thanked BvAT for organising such event, the representative of the ministries from various countries, the EOA stakeholders for gracing the workshop. He implored the participants to take good note of the recommendations of the discussions. In addition, Doctor David Amudavi, the convener of the workshop in his closing remarks talked about the new partners that will join the project and also ensured the gathering that the recommendations of the workshop are well-taken and the working documents will soon be shared as soon as they are ready. He thanked the participants for coming. The West Africa Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative implementing partners inception workshop on rolling out of Phase II project (May 2019- April 2023) funded by the SDC came to an end at 15:30 Dakar time on July 18, 2019.

Group photograph of RSC Members @ibis hotels

The 2nd Regional Steering Committee (RSC)  meeting of  West African Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative’ under the chairmanship of Mr. Ernest Aubee of the ECOWAS-Commission took place at Ibis hotels, Ikeja Lagos, Nigeria on April 26 & 27, 2019. The Chairman welcomed everybody to the 2nd Regional Steering Committee (RSC) meeting. He thanked the members and the staff of the Regional Secretariat for being dutiful. He remarked that a lot has been done on EOA at the regional and country levels. According to him, EOA is gaining prominence in West Africa. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission sent her goodwill messages and encouraged the RSC members to do more in flagging high the banner of EOA. The Chairman added that members will review the rolled-over and 2018 activities of the regional and propose activities for the year 2019.

At the end of the two-day meeting, many fruitful deliberations and strong decisions vis-à-vis Ecological Organic Agriculture activities in the region were made. The RSC members reviewed the rolled-over 2018/2019 work plan and reports. The meeting also proposed some activities for the year 2019.

Regional Steering Committee during the 2nd RSC meeting

In his closing remarks, the Chairman of the Regional Steering Committee, Mr Ernest Aubee of the ECOWAS-Commission thanked the members for finding time in their very tight schedule to attend the meeting and deliberate on Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative in West Africa. He also thanked the Secretariat for working hard to put things together and implement the Abuja meeting recommendations.

Executing Agency of Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative in Africa, Biovision Africa Trust (BvAT), organised a five-day workshop on the Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative (EOA-I) in West Africa after a similar programme in Machakos, Kenya in East Africa which had in attendance stakeholders from; Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania). The workshop takes place between 13th and 17th of August 2018 at Riviera Hotel, Cotonou, Republic of Benin. This exercise brought together 40 participants from Nigeria, Mali, Senegal and Benin.

Welcoming the gathering to the workshop, Professor Simplice Davo Vodouhe, from the University of Abomey-Calavi (UAC), Cotonou, thanked the participants for gracing the occasion and hoped the opportunity would provide a fruitful and engaging session. That this will afford them the platform to share experiences and learn from each other. Mr Aimé Bokonon-Ganta, the Chair of the Benin EOA National Steering Committee welcomed the participants to Benin and to the workshop and looked forward to having successful deliberations. In his opening remarks, Dr David Amudavi, the Executive Director of Biovision Africa Trust was glad to have a good number of participants from implementing West African countries (Mali, Senegal, Nigeria and Benin) of the Initiative. He highlighted the importance of the workshop, as an opportunity for the stakeholders to validate two major findings of Phase 1; the Organizational and partner Capacity Assessment report and the External Evaluation Report.

During this planning workshop, the stakeholders shared their success stories, achievements, weaknesses and way-forward of EOA-I’ 1st phase. Afterwards, the participants at the programme considered strategic areas that could be addressed to help achieve the Initiative’ aims and objectives.

Furthermore, the gathering considered two (2) general salient points considered critical to the success of the Initiative in the region:  robust monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework and Effective grant Management.

The 5-day workshop enabled the stakeholders to provide vital information which would serve as basis inputs for planning for the preparation of the grand proposal for support by the Swiss Government through its agency, the Swiss Development Cooperation, in the next phase of four years.

In his closing remarks, the Beninese minister of Agriculture ably represented by Mr Kwakanou Bonaventure, the permanent secretary of the ministry, lauded the Initiative and reaffirmed the support of the government to organic agriculture. Pointing at the fact that agriculture is the bedrock for sustainable development, Mr Bonaventure stated that the emergence of Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative paves ways for a sound food security system in the region in particular and in Africa in general. Thereafter bidding the participants safe journey back to their various destinations.

The picture above: the rep of the minister receiving promotional materials from the leader of the ECOWAS led delegate.

 

As part of the on-going Regional Steering Committee meeting of the Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative in West Africa at ECOWAS Commission Headquarters at Abuja (May 3 – 4, 2018), the delegates of the meeting visited the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh on May 3rd, 2018.  The delegate led by Mr Ernest Aubee, who is the Chairman of Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative in West Africa and the Head of Agriculture, Directorate of Agriculture and Rural Development  of the  ECOWAS Commission, Abuja. Other members of the delegate came from Benin Republic, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal, among which Prof. Victor I.O. Olowe (the President of Association of Organic Agriculture Practitioners of Nigeria) and Dr Olugbenga AdeOluwa (Country Coordinator of Ecological Organic Agriculture in Nigeria) represented Nigeria.

The delegate was received by Engr. M. O. Owolabi (one of the Directors at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development) on behalf of the minister, who unavoidably couldn’t attend the meeting. Among other discussions, the ECOWAS led delegate raised the awareness of Ecological Organic Agriculture in Nigeria and West Africa, laying emphasis on its benefits of food security and healthy food production for healthy living. The delegate requested the Minister of Agriculture to be one of the Organic Agriculture Champions in West Africa and also used the opportunity to announce the forthcoming National Organic Agriculture Business Summit (NAOBS) on July 10 – 13 at Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja. The ministry also used the opportunity to present some issues on organic inputs (herbicide, pesticide and fungicide) and adequate research confronting development of organic agriculture in Nigeria. According to the representative of the minister, the forthcoming National Organic Agriculture Business Summit should address these challenges.

 

 

 

Members of EOA-I in West Africa the Regional Steering Committee of @ECOWAS headquarters, Abuja, Nigeria

The Ecological Organic Agriculture (EOA) Initiative in West Africa meeting took place between 3rd and 4th May 2018 at the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) Commission headquarters, Abuja, Nigeria to inaugurate its Steering Committee. The meeting was chaired by Mr Sékou Sangaré, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Agriculture, Environment and Water Resources ably represented by Mr Ernest Aubee the Chairman of the Regional Steering Committee of EOA-I in West Africa. The meeting had in attendance fourteen (14) participants from Benin, Mali, Senegal and Nigeria. Different issues relating to EOA-I activities in the region and in Africa were discussed.

Mr Ernest Aubee on behalf of the ECOWAS Commissioner for Agriculture, Environment and Water Resources welcomed everyone present and discussed about the need for a vibrant Ecological Organic Agriculture which will enhance food security for feeding more than three hundred and fifty million people of the region and to tackle environmental challenges, which are causing a lot of issues. He informed the meeting that the ECOWAS Commission just lunched a project on agro-ecological agriculture in West Africa funded by French Government to the tune of eight millions Euros. He noted that the project is designed to promote agro-ecological practices in West African region. “This project is designed to promote agro-ecological agriculture in the region by implementing it in five pilot countries; Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Ghana and Mali in the bid to spread it to the entire ECOWAS region.  Mr Ernest Aubee added that the project will work on capacity building, technologies and raise awareness. He believes it will support other similar projects in West Africa. The ECOWAS Commission will also work closely with regional and continental clusters in ensuring that EOA becomes widespread. He also encouraged the member states to ensure that Organic Agriculture is implemented in their countries as a matter of priority. He ended his message by wishing the Regional Steering Committee fruitful deliberations.

At the end of the two-day meeting, some salient issues were addressed and fruitful resolutions were made. The Regional Steering Committee of eight (8) members was set up and formalized, they are; Mr Ernest Aubee, the Chairman, Prof Simplice D. Vodouhe, the Vice-Chairman, Dr. Olugbenga O. AdeOluwa, the Secretary while Mr. Ernest Pedro Comlan, Mr Seydou Tangara, Sir Mike Elechi, Dr. Emile V. Coly and Dr. Abdulai Jalloh as  members. The Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative in West Africa considered activities in the four (4) implementing countries through their CLOs. An overview of EOA activities in West Africa and Africa was also presented. The Committee paid an advocacy/courtesy visit to the Hon. Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The Chairman presented ECOWAS perspective on how to expand EOA-I. The Committee considered the 2018 work-plan and the roll-over activities of 2014-2016 and 2017.