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Are Organics The Answer to African Hunger?

October 24, 2008

Despite the widely held belief that organic farming is incapable of producing the large yields necessary to feed large, hungry populations, a new study by the United Nations suggests that organic practices being used across the African continent are delivering sharp increases in yields.

Due to a combination of environmental, economic and political factors, Africa has played host to many of the worst famines in modern history. Climate change only promises to bring worse growing conditions to much of the continent as well.

Conventional wisdom has pointed to mechanized, chemical farming to solve world hunger through a combination of initiatives undertaken throughout the latter half of the twentieth century known as “The Green Revolution.” However, Africa never got the Green Revolution treatment the way other parts of the wold did.Not only was the political environment unfriendly to outside aid in many countries during the 1950s and 1960s, the kind of chemical agriculture posited by the Green revolution just didn’t play out as well in Africa. High yielding crops that were successful in India withered in Africa. Eventually attempts to reform African agriculture just sort of fell out out of fashion.

Recently, however, a rising population and a global food crisis has put these issues back on the map, causing organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to pour huge amounts of money into developing locally based solutions to African hunger.

What makes the promise of conventional farming so different in many African countries than in America is labor. The industrial agriculture system in America capitalizes on an economy where nobody really wants to be a farmer, and one person with a tractor can feed thousands. However, when agricultural labor is more abundant, organic methods can actually provide dramatically increased yields per acre.

Not only can organic farming deliver increased yields, they can do it without wreaking havoc on the environment, or developing the kinds of centralized agricultural systems that serve mostly to benefit the elites that come to take control over a country’s food system. The promise of organics has always been about small-scale farms, accountable not only to the environment, but the economy and the community as well. Increasingly, they’re starting to get the numbers on thier side as well.

Competing viewpoint: Africa Needs GM Food

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