Growing organic knowledge and networks in Southern Africa

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Leading global and regional experts in South Africa, Zambia and Namibia will develop a Southern African Knowledge Centre for Organic Agriculture over the next three years. Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) are funding the project that aims to scale up organic and agroecological farming in the region. The possibility of extending the project to Malawi in 2021 is being explored.

The Sustainability Institute in South Africa will administer the project. Angela Coetzee, programme director, notes that the project “will strengthen relationships and encourage knowledge sharing across the region, which will help build a stronger organics sector.”

Organic production is viewed as key to addressing environmental, social and economic challenges. It is known to deliver more nutritious food products, which will help address the significantly high levels of malnutrition in all three countries. Its adoption by smallholder farmers will also help to build resilience to the effects of climate change. Organic production focuses on building soil health, including its water-retention capacity, which helps mitigate the effects of drought on production. South Africa, Namibia and Zambia have been subject to more frequent and severe droughts in the past few years. It also builds resilience to the emergence of new pest and disease vectors likely to result from a changing climate.

Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) will implement and coordinate the project in Zambia, with the Namibian Nature Foundation/Namibia Organic Association and the South African Organic Sector Organisation (SAOSO) playing the same role in Namibia and South Africa respectively. All three organisations have extensive experience working with smallholder farmers to help them grow yields and incomes in a sustainable way.

PELUM Zambia has been working with smallholder farmers for more than 20 years. The organisation has developed training manuals, delivered training to and built capacity within its member organisations, and cooperated with regional organisations to develop the organic market, particularly the participatory guarantee system in Zimbabwe and Malawi.

The Namibian Nature Foundation has been significantly involved in promoting conservation agriculture for more than a decade. It works to enhance the resilience and livelihoods of more than 1 000 small-scale farmers using conservation agriculture. It works closely with the Namibia Organic Association and has developed a participatory guarantee system that is included in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Innovative Markets for Sustainable Agriculture portfolio.

SAOSO has brought together a fragmented organics sector in South Africa to develop a standard for organic production and processing. This standard has been accepted by the  International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). It also, with funding from GIZ, established a committee to drive the uptake of a participatory guarantee system in the country to help smallholder farmers access organic markets. SAOSO is leading a process to gain accreditation from national qualification boards for an agroecological curriculum.

The Southern African Knowledge Centre for Organic Agriculture will host a regional launch on 21 and 22 April in Zambia. In-country launches will take place on 27 and 28 February in Zambia, 15 April in Namibia and 17 April in South Africa.