In many countries in Africa, farmers are securing their livelihoods through organic food. At regional knowledge centres for organic agriculture, four million farmers are acquiring the expertise they need to boost harvests while protecting the environment. However, the transition to sustainable agriculture will only be successful if customers on local markets understand how good organically produced food is.
More than half of Africa’s population works in the agriculture sector. Farmers earn a living and make a vital contribution to overcoming undernourishment in Africa. So therefore, the larger the harvests the better. At the same time, it is important to protect endangered ecosystems. Is this contradictory? Not at all – as can be seen in Senegal. The government there has been committed to organic farming since 2019. And with success: farmers can increase their harvests and incomes when they use resources sustainably. Switching from conventional farming to organic agriculture requires expertise: the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has therefore set up the Knowledge Centre for Organic Agriculture in Africa.
Nothing works without communication, as Binta Dione knows. This is why, at the knowledge centre, she not only learned how to grow and process organic crops, but also how to market them. Today the farmer from the Senegalese village of Landou heads a local organic farming cooperative. Binta charges fair prices for her produce, although it sometimes costs more than conventionally farmed fruit and vegetables. ‘Active dialogue with customers is therefore an important part of my work,’ says Binta. For people to be willing to pay more for organically produced food, they have to understand how good it is for humans and the environment. Binta’s success proves that she is right: her organic business generates a good income. At special organic markets in Senegal’s capital Dakar, where Binta also sells her produce, up to three tonnes of local organic fruit, vegetables, cereals and eggs are sold every month.
Organic produce for the domestic market
A look at other African countries also shows that organic farming promises success. In a project in Togo, soy farmers learned modern organic farming practices and then increased their harvests by almost a third. However, the organic sector in Africa varies in terms of how developed it is at the local and regional level. While some countries like Togo and Burkina Faso have been doing pioneering work for decades, others have taken more time to value the benefits of organic farming.
Traditionally, organically farmed crops, like soy in Togo, have been destined for export. Organic farmers can often charge higher prices on the international market. But the majority of producers sell their goods on domestic markets. It is therefore important to market organic products locally and boost demand, so that more farmers will follow this example. To promote safe, healthy, high-quality produce, local associations in many places have developed their own organic label. This raises awareness among customers, and they can recognise organic produce at a glance. Many farmers are still hesitant to switch to organic farming, for example because they believe conventional methods will give them better harvests and thus higher profits.
Five knowledge centres in Africa
That is why knowledge sharing and communication are so important. On behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ works with local partner organisations at five knowledge hubs across Africa. They draw on modern and traditional expertise to produce good food more efficiently and with less environmental impact. Here, representatives from private companies, associations, cooperatives and NGOs, together with farmers, learn how to produce, process and market organic food.
The 2,500 multipliers trained at the hubs help establish networks in organic sectors, which create support for organic farming among further organisations, private companies and policymakers. They also share their expertise directly with farmers in 16 African countries – through training courses, field trials, at network meetings or village cinemas, and through television and radio. They have already introduced four million farmers to organic food production.
Last update: January 2023