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The Second African Organic Conference held in Lusaka in May was a great success, reports Prof Raymond Auerbach, Programme Co-ordinator for the Agricultural Management programme at the George Campus of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU).

Raymond Auerbach

Building on the regional developments in eastern and west Africa, the rest of the continent is now getting organised: the Southern African Network for Organic Development (SANOD), a project which Prof Auerbach has been working on for five years, finally came together in Lusaka.

One of SANOD’s first requests was to NMMU to design and set up three long-term comparative farming systems research trials. This was to be done for conventional, conservation (no till) and organic farming systems - one in a moist temperate region; one in a semi-arid and another in a sub-tropical region.

The first of these trials will be done as a joint project between NMMU and the Western Cape Department of Agriculture at Tygerhoek, where an existing long-term comparison between conventional and no-till farming will have an organic set of treatments added to it. It is anticipated that the second trial will be in Ficksburg, while the third is likely to be located in Zambia.

“A highlight of the Lusaka Conference was the session at which Yemi Akinbamijo, the Head of Agriculture for the African Union Commission (AUC) announced that the AUC had taken a resolution to the effect that organic agriculture should be strongly supported,” says Prof Auerbach who also chaired a session where five African governments discussed their organic policies. He regarded this as a positive sign that “… governments are beginning to support organic outreach and research”.

“According to the AUC, it has become clear that organic development projects allow emerging commercial farmers to increase their yields and access high-end markets, while avoiding dependence on bought-in chemical inputs; increasing carbon sequestration, and water- and energy-use efficiencies; and reducing pollution of waterways and groundwater” Prof Auerbach continued. 

He indicated that this view is supported by research findings of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which reported on yield increases averaging 132% over a range of projects using organic management, improvements in water and energy use efficiency, and doubling of carbon sequestration in organically managed soils.

Professor Auerbach delivered a keynote address entitled “Transforming African agriculture: organics and AGRA”, which compared the high-input solutions proposed by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) with low external input systems developed by organic farmers and researchers over the past twenty years. However, it was pointed out that both approaches have much to learn from each other. 

Two of Prof Auerbach’s post-graduate students delivered papers on assisting emerging farmers to access high-end markets. The organiser of the conference - the CEO of OPPAZ (Organic Producers and Processors Association of Zambia) - was also a doctoral student of Prof Auerbach.

“It is clear that the Zambian exposure puts NMMU at the cutting edge of Ecological Agriculture in Africa, and it is hoped that various funding applications already in the pipeline will allow the NMMU George Campus to expand its activities in Ecological Agriculture Research and Teaching” Prof Auerbach concluded.

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