Is Organic Farming Good For Africa or Not?

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A few weeks ago the Guardian went to town on genetically modified food, suggesting "their development has the potential to save lives" and lambasting Prince Charles as "a very modern Marie Antoinette" for his opinions about organic food and the dangers of GM Food and his claim that they are the biggest environmental disaster of all time.

Its competitor the Independent tells a very different story, quoting the head of the United Nations' Environment program Achim Steiner, who says that a new UN report "indicates that the potential contribution of organic farming to feeding the world maybe far higher than many had supposed". It appears that organic practices are delivering "sharp increases in yields, improvements in the soil and a boost in the income of Africa's small farmers who remain the poorest people on earth."

Which is it?

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"The rise of organic farming and rejection of GM crops in Britain and other developed countries is largely to blame for the impoverishment of Africa, according to the government's former chief scientist."


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"Organic farming offers Africa the best chance of breaking the cycle of poverty and malnutrition it has been locked in for decades, according to a major study from the United Nations to be presented today."

The Independent takes note of the dichotomy:

"Last month the UK's former chief scientist Sir David King said anti-scientific attitudes among Western NGOs and the UN were responsible for holding back a much-needed green revolution in Africa. "The problem is that the Western world's move toward organic farming – a lifestyle choice for a community with surplus food – and against agricultural technology in general and GM in particular, has been adopted across the whole of Africa, with the exception of South Africa, with devastating consequences," he said.

The research conducted by the UN Environment Programme suggests that organic, small-scale farming can deliver the increased yields which were thought to be the preserve of industrial farming, without the environmental and social damage which that form of agriculture brings with it.

An analysis of 114 projects in 24 African countries found that yields had more than doubled where organic, or near-organic practices had been used. That increase in yield jumped to 128 per cent in east Africa.

"Organic farming can often lead to polarised views," said Mr Steiner, a former economist. "With some viewing it as a saviour and others as a niche product or something of a luxury... this report suggests it could make a serious contribution to tackling poverty and food insecurity."

The study found that organic practices outperformed traditional methods and chemical-intensive conventional farming. It also found strong environmental benefits such as improved soil fertility, better retention of water and resistance to drought. And the research highlighted the role that learning organic practices could have in improving local education. Backers of GM foods insist that a technological fix is needed to feed the world. But this form of agriculture requires cash to buy the patented seeds and herbicides – both at record high prices currently – needed to grow GM crops. " More in the Independent.

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It is really like looking at the American media in this election, two completely different universes seeing different stories. Here we have the UN saying that organic improves soil fertility and retains moisture, while Monsanto is all over the New York Times with the promise of GMO drought resistant crops as the only way to save African agriculture. Which is it? . More in the New York Times

More Food for Thought in TreeHugger:
The World Needs a Farming Revolution! Declares U.N. Report
Eating Local Food: The Movement, Locavores and More
Can Sustainable Agriculture Prevent Suicide?
The Guardian on Genetically Modified Food

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