GEORGE NEWS - "The realisation of my life's work!" This is how Prof Raymond Auerbach, a research associate of the Nelson Mandela University in George, describes his delight with the recent launch of his book, Organic Food Systems: Meeting the needs of Southern Africa.
It is published by Cabi (Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau International).
The book, edited by Auerbach, a proponent for organic farming all his life, features numerous research articles by himself and 32 other authors. Six reviewers also contributed to the final product.
He says the book became a reality after he approached Cabi with a proposal, which they immediately accepted. "I pulled together my entire network of the last 20 years, and everyone seemed keen to collaborate," he told the George Herald.
He is also chuffed about being able to present a study in October for the African Union, titled "Mainstreaming ecological organic agriculture in Africa" in Accra. It was accepted by the AU and the Continental Steering Committee of the Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative (EOA), and was also discussed at the West African Organic Conference. Auerbach is pleased that he will remain involved, on request of the AU, in efforts to advance organic agriculture on the continent.
Furthermore, he will be in Germany in January and February next year, where he will be teaching at the Muenster and Oldenburg universities, as well as at Biofach 2020, the world's largest trade fair for organic food and agriculture, in Nuremberg.
Auerbach responded to a few questions from the George Herald.
What is the most important message / issue you want to convey with the book?
There are two issues and three messages: Issue 1 – Climate change will affect farmers in Africa dramatically, with less rain and higher temperatures.
Issue 2: The quality, both of our food and our environment, is deteriorating, and as a result, our food has less nutrition, and we are getting sick from toxins in food and the environment.
Message 1 is that organic farming improves soil biology, and water then holds moisture and nutrients better.
Message 2 is that science can help organic farmers to get their soil fertile, and they then produce good quality food, even with less water.
Message 3 is that when African people understand food quality, they choose healthy food. When their understanding of nutrition has been eroded by junk foods, they make poor food choices, and this causes stunting of children, malnutrition, obesity and diabetes. Healthy, fresh, organic food is a major part of the solution to climate change, non-communicable disease pandemics and rural economic development.
What hope do we have that organic agriculture will be mainstreamed and how can it be encouraged? Is it possible without the support of governments?
We have just completed an assessment for the African Union (AU) of 47 African countries for mainstreaming Ecological Organic Agriculture (EOA). The African heads of state commissioned this study, because they are committed to supporting EOA so that African farmers can become independent, and Africa can become food sovereign.
To what extent is the mindset in South Africa changing around organic farming - among farmers and the public?
Farmers are now embracing biological farming of various types, as fertilisers and poisons are expensive and unpopular. Discerning members of the public and celebrity chefs are moving to organic as the weight of scientific evidence shows the health benefits, and personal experience convinces ordinary people.
Do you think climate change will cause a realisation that we need to change over to organic? Will environmental conditions force farmers to turn organic?
This is already happening the world over. I have been in organic farming for 51 years, and we have predicted this since I was a teenager. Now it is here, and people have to wake up, even if they do not want to! Consumers are demanding to know how the food is produced, whether farm workers are paid well, whether the animals are treated well, what chemicals are used and how the environment is affected.
Farmers realise that they have to change, but organic farming is knowledge intensive. We need research results and our universities are simply not interested. Big companies fund research which they can use to sell their products.
How supportive is the SA government of organic farming?
The SA government has not been at all supportive of organic farming - on the contrary. Except for the National Research Foundation, there has been little support.
To what extent are other countries changing to organic farming?
Currently 70 million hectares worldwide are organically farmed (8 million more than last year; in 1999 it was only 11 million), with three million producers. Fifteen countries have more than 10% of their land certified organic. The world market is worth over 80 billion euros - to date, mostly in the US and Europe, but China and India are growing rapidly with states in India and South Korea going completely organic.
Visit the Organics International website www.ifoam.bio to view the annual survey The world of organics.
Tell us more about your presentation at the AU in Accra?
My team accompanied me to the workshop in Addis Ababa in October, including local farmer Sasha LaGrange-Mentz from Sedgefield, but I presented alone to the Continental EOA Initiative Steering Committee in November and was then asked to repeat the presentation to the West African Organic Conference later that week.
The study was received very enthusiastically by both the AU and the West-African organic sector (there was over an hour discussion of how the typology could allow assessment of progress towards climate-smart farming systems which promote food sovereignty).
How will the AU's acceptance of the study results influence what is happening in Africa?
Our AU study set up a typology, with Type 1 being 'Advanced Organic Country' where there is a government policy, a budget to support the organic sector, regulations, local certification bodies, a well-organised civil society group, organised farmers, a domestic market and an export market. There are only three Advanced Organic Countries in Africa (Tunisia, Morocco and Uganda).
South Africa falls under Type 3 (no government support, but a developing organic sector with domestic and export markets), Type 4 has only export, while Type 5 is "awaiting inspiration"! We have set up a monitoring and evaluation framework, and the AU has agreed that this will form part of the biennial reporting process of member countries.
How has it happened that you are going to teach in Germany?
I have worked internationally for the past 20 years. I have a joint project with Oldenburg and Dar es Salaam universities (they were co-authors of several chapters in the book), and I will teach both at Oldenburg (a partner university of Nelson Mandela University) and at Muenster University (the professor of Nutrition is an old friend and colleague, and she runs a company which advises German schools on nutritious, organic lunches).
Ifoam (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) has invited me to the Organic Fair at Nuremberg in February, where I will do a second launch of the book, and attend a meeting of the international Technology Innovation Platform for organics (Tipi).
* Auerbach thanked Sandy and Sidney Haddad whose support throughout the research has been a key factor in their work. "They also encouraged us to set up the Biological Systems Laboratory to provide a soil analysis and recommendation service to local farmers."
For more information about the laboratory, click here.
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