Investing in organic agriculture
Agriculture is central to human survival. It provides food and fuel, other ecosystem services and is an important source of livelihood and plays a crucial role in economic development.
Agriculture is, however, also a major source of environmental degradation, contributing to climate change, depleting freshwater resources, degrading soil fertility and polluting the environment through fertiliser and pesticide use.
Ironically, food production is critically dependent on the very natural resources it is degrading.
Sustainable food security, therefore, requires not only that all people at all times have access to sufficient and nutritious food, but also that this food is produced with minimal environmental impact.
Sustainable agricultural development, instead, requires that agriculture meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Current agriculture policies fail to achieve these goals on numerous ends. Agriculture today also does not feed people adequately, as still one in six people in developing countries are undernourished due to a lack of sufficient access to nutritious food according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Given that we do not achieve sustainable food security today, and given that we will, probably, need to double food production by 2050 to feed nine billion people with increasing demand for meat and dairy products, there is a drastic need for changes in the food system.
From an agricultural perspective, we need to produce more food in the right locations at affordable prices, ensuring livelihoods for farmers and reducing the environmental cost of agriculture.
Considering the huge challenge ahead of us, it is important to assess the potential contribution of different types of farming systems to sustainable food security.
‘Alternative’ farming systems that try to mimic ecological processes while minimising external inputs are often suggested as more sustainable forms of food production.
Organic farming emphasises the use of natural inputs (that is minerals and products derived from plants) and the renunciation of synthetic fertiliser and pesticides for food production.
In Malawi, agriculture employs about 80 percent of the total workforce, contributes over 80 percent to foreign exchange earnings, accounts for 39 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and contributes significantly to national and household food security.
The smallholder sub-sector tends to contribute more to agriculture GDP than the estate sector.
But for decades, Malawi’s agriculture sector has been heavily linked to dependence on the use of synthetic chemical fertilisers and pesticides for food production.
As such, there has been minimal attention on the promotion of the use of organic farming in Malawi.
The Government of Malawi, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, has neglected this type of farming.
Malawi’s major food producers are the poor rural farmers with limited resources who, at times, may not afford to procure farm inputs such as fertiliser to sustain agricultural activities.
Despite the government’s efforts to still promote the Affordable Inputs Programme for smallholder farmers to make the agriculture system sustainable, the programme remains weak owing to a number of factors such as inefficient planning.
If we are to ensure that there is sustainability in our agriculture system, our ministry needs to formulate a clear policy that also considers the integration of organic farming as a phase-out strategy to over-reliance on the use of inorganic farming.
The ministry’s role is to also ensure that extension workers are properly trained and given enough resources for the dissemination of organic farming services to rural farmers who form a large share of agriculture.
In conclusion, we need drastic changes in the global food system to achieve a more sustainable agriculture that feeds people adequately, contributes to rural development and provides livelihoods to farmers without destroying natural resources.
Organic agriculture must be proposed as an important means for achieving these goals and must be a priority in development policy and be put on the agenda for Malawi’s agriculture system as a means of achieving sustainable agriculture development.
Overall, organic agriculture provides promises for sustainable agricultural development but its shortcomings should be considered.