Africa accounts for 20–24 per cent of the world’s certified organic farms, according to the policy brief published yesterday by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which said that the potential to export to consumers willing to pay premium prices generates “significant income possibilities for African organic farmers”.
At the same time this could help address supply issues faced by food companies as high demand for organic ingredients has been outstripping supply and restricting growth potential, according to specialist organic research firm Organic Monitor.
Although the research firm said that falling demand for organic produce is starting to re-balance the market, growth will continue and supply chains are expected to become ever more globalized, as large ingredient companies look to spread their production bases.
The UN report called “Sustaining African Agriculture, Organic Production” said that organic agriculture offers a wide range of economic, environmental and social benefits and is particularly well-suited for smallholder farmers, who comprise the majority of Africa’s poor.
Similarly, research has shown that organic agriculture is a good option for food security in Africa as it is “equal or better than most conventional systems and more likely to be sustainable in the longer term”.
It added: “Organic agriculture relies on local renewable resources instead of external inputs. This reduces rural communities’ vulnerability to external price volatility caused by factors far beyond their control.”
However the wide range of different certification systems for different markets is an obstacle to African farmers which needs to be addressed.
The report said: “For accessing international markets certification can be difficult and costly, especially as each market has its own standards and conformity assessment systems.
“There is a need for greater coherence at the international level. UNCTAD and partners have been working on solutions to help reduce the technical barriers to organic trade.”
The report blamed years of declining investment and subsidized food exports from the developed world for undermining agriculture production particularly in Africa and said it was time for a ‘sustainable green revolution’.
UN figures show that between 2002 and 2007, global certified organic sales doubled to reach $46bn and are expected to increase by $67bn by 2012.
Amarjit Sahota, director of Organic Monitor, told FoodNavigator.com:“There is a lot of opportunity there for developing countries to produce organic crops.
“More and more companies are looking to source from Africa and Latin America, not just organic but fair trade as well.
“If African farmers go organic and fair trade it opens up more markets for them. If there is no demand for the produce from the organic market it could still be sold as fair trade.”
Organic Monitor warned this week that in 2009 the recession will reduce demand for organics back in line with available supply.
It said growth will continue but more slowly than before in those countries worst hit, such as the UK. However double digit growth is continuing in other European countries.