An inordinate amount of red tape, coupled with limited access to finance is holding back organic agriculture in Africa and may hinder the continent's ability to feed itself. Organic farmers in Africa face an arduous journey getting cropland certified, limiting exports and frustrating farmers who say ecological practices could increase food security while protecting the land.
Just 0.2% of Africa's farmland is considered organic — seven times less than the global average, according to data from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) — in a continent where natural agricultural and subsistence farming are widely practiced. Farmers who avoid synthetic fertilizers and pesticides but are unable to get organic certificates say their plans to export abroad are stymied by high costs, corruption and little government support.
And then there's the bureaucracy. "The ceiling is so high for smallholder farmers to be part of the international market," said Ara Nashera, a farmer near Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya who wants to get organic certification to sell chillies abroad. "When I looked last year at how many agencies I have to go through to start exporting, there were 53. You don't even know where to start."
Alfred Koleta, an organic farmer in the same region who is relying on sales of cassava to pay his children's school fees, said the complexity of the years-long process puts farmers off getting certified. "Unless you get someone to introduce you... it's quite challenging, it's quite tedious, because this process requires multiple agencies."
According to dw.com¸ more than half of Africans are smallholder farmers and agriculture is a central pillar of economies across the continent. With Africa's population set to double by 2050 and its crops increasingly menaced by extreme weather, soil erosion and desertification, farming choices today will play a key role in the continent's food security.