David Amudavi is the Executive Director of Biovision Africa Trust, an organisation that promotes organic agriculture. Dr Amudavi was recently elected to the world board of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) during the general assembly in New Delhi, India to represent Africa in the 129-member country organisation. He spoke to Peter Kamau on why organic farming is the future of agriculture and why the Kenyan farmer should not be left behind.
Tell us what IFOAM is all about?
This is an umbrella body that advocates for promotion and application of organic agriculture across the world.
This is agriculture that promotes people, animal, plant and environmental health as one and indivisible. IFOAM is also driven by the principle of ecology such that we should care about what we do to the environment and how we can protect it to sustain life.
There has to be fairness in what farmers put into agricultural production and practices. When people take an extra step in their production systems, it is only fair that they get premium prices for their effort.
Why organic agriculture?
Organic agriculture contributes a lot to nutrition and food security by having people consume food that promotes human health. One element that enhances nutrition is diversity in agricultural production.
The second reason is that organic agriculture is more resilient to the effects of climate change. If you look at the United Nations 2015 report on Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), it shows how climate change has become a very critical problem.
The resilience comes from the fact that agricultural systems that are based on organic agriculture pay much attention to natural cycles, issues of soil fertility and sustainability of agricultural production.
In Africa, most governments promote conventional agriculture. What chances does organic agriculture stand to change the mind-set of policy makers?
It is becoming clear that conventional agriculture or industrial agriculture with its focus on monoculture (growing only one type of crop) is no longer sustainable.
It is now obvious that to produce enough with heavy use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides that destroy the environment is simply not sustainable.
Organic agriculture is advocated because of its effect on protection of biodiversity. Moreover, health and food and nutrition security are inadvertently linked.
Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) are the leading causes of deaths in many regions including Africa and this is partly because of the food people eat.
By 2030, in Africa, deaths from NCDs are projected to exceed the combined deaths of communicable and nutritional diseases and maternal and perinatal deaths. Certainly attention has to be shifted to how we produce and consume our food.
How can organic agriculture address the problem of biodiversity loss?
Biodiversity is the foundation of agriculture as we know it. That means having a balance of organisms and plants (flora and fauna) that are in harmony with nature.
There are certain cycles in the environment such as the carbon and nitrogen; all which are well-balanced in organic agricultural production systems.
Organic agriculture is promoted because it is one of those agricultural systems that are able to maintain and preserve biodiversity. This means that you end up preserving very important processes that support life, for example ecological services.
One example of ecological services is pollination. Pollination cannot take place without insects such as bees. Bees are reducing worldwide because of high level use of harmful pesticides in industrial agriculture, yet we need these useful and friendly insects.
These beneficial insects, animals and plants provide important ecological services to mankind.
The Kenyan government declared an intention to phase out some of the maize seeds currently in use in place of new ones that are hardy, a move that promotes business for multinationals. How will organic agriculture develop in an environment where the policies don’t support it?
The truth is that the interest of multinationals is to expand and sustain markets for their products and therefore guarantee their profits, so they give the notion that they want to address the problem of food security. It is a fallacy for companies to claim that they are fighting food insecurity.
The problem is that most African governments including ours seem to prefer quick fixes to solving problems facing agriculture.
We need proper and inclusive discussions on what strategies we should use to ensure sustainable agricultural growth and transformation of the sector and improvement of majority of the peoples’ livelihoods.
What plans do you have to ensure that the importance of organic agriculture is brought into the national agenda?
We are not saying that the government should stop supporting conventional agriculture but organic agriculture should be recognised as one of the most viable, sustainable and resilient agricultural production systems in the country.
My membership to IFOAM raises the profile of our campaigns in Kenya, Africa and the world.
One of the things we will begin to do is develop a data base of the best organic practices and communicate these to policy makers, technocrats and farmers in bid to push best farming practices under organic agriculture.
Understanding Organic Farming
- The system of farming was started in the 20th century and relies on organic fertilisers like compost manure, green manure, and bone meal to replace nutrients taken from the soil by previous crops.
- It also places emphasis on techniques such as crop rotation, which help to fight pests and diseases without reliance on chemicals.
- Therefore, in organic farming, biological pest control and mixed cropping are encouraged.
- Organic farming practices are designed to sustain the health of soils, ecosystems and people.
- In weed management, organic farming promotes suppression, rather than weed elimination.