Africa Week back at DU, includes talk on organic farming

Sydney Bauer | Staff Photographer
Drummers perform outside Gumberg Library on Oct. 26 as a part of Duquesne’s annual Africa Week. The week’s events included a lecture on organic farming in rural Africa.

Megan Garrett | Staff Writer

As part of Duquesne’s annual Africa Week, the university hosted an event Tuesday evening meant to raise awareness of the agricultural difficulties facing developing African countries and to discuss possible solutions.

Plaxedes Chitiyo, an assistant professor of environmental education in the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, was the primary speaker at the event, which was titled “Certified Organic Agriculture: The Answer to Africa’s Environmental Woes and Social Ills?” She spoke about organic agriculture and the struggles of sustaining it.

According to Chitiyo, if done correctly, organic farming could lead to a more nutritious diet of vitamin and mineral-enriched food for African consumers, an increased income for African farmers and a healthier environment.

Chitiyo said there has been large-scale efforts to help promote organic practices in Africa. Export Promotion of Organic Products from Africa, or EPOPA, was a program created by the Swedish International Development Agency with projects in Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia, she said. It ran from 1997 to 2008. The goal of the program was to help farmers create a better quality of life for themselves.

However, Chitiyo said organic agriculture must overcome some challenges before becoming a large part of Africa’s economy. She said potential roadblocks to its success include “a lack of policy and support from the government” and “a lack of recognition and incentive.”

Organic farming refers to “agricultural production systems that do not use genetically modified (GM) seed, synthetic pesticides or fertilizers,” according to the Organic Farming Research Foundation.

Chitiyo’s lecture was followed up with responses by John Stoltz, a professor in the Bayer school and director of Duquesne’s Center for Environmental Research and Education, and Stan Kabala, a professor of environmental science and management in the Bayer school.

Kabala said that until a few years ago, about 90 percent of chicken feed in the U.S. contained arsenic. He said this is typical of non-organic farming.

“Modern agriculture is industrialized, mechanized and relies heavily on petroleum,” Kabala said.

The African continent might be well-suited for organic agriculture.

According to the Africa Agribusiness magazine, the global organic food industry is worth about $50 billion a year — and one African country, Uganda, sees an approximate $600 million demand for organic products each year.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, along with the United Nations Environmental Programme, released a report in 2008 regarding organic farming in Africa. The report, titled “Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa,” addressed how they believe that organic farming can provide better food security for Africa and is “more likely to be sustainable in the long run.”

The UN study reported that 87 percent of African farmers involved with organic farming received a boost to their own and their household’s income.

Not everyone agrees that organic agriculture is good for Africa. Robert Paarlberg, a political science professor at Wellesley College, wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times detailing how organic farming in Africa is done out of necessity, not design, in the continent’s “impoverished countryside.”

“Two-thirds of all Africans depend on farming or animal grazing for their food and income, and nearly all of their operations are small-scale,” Paarlberg wrote. “Nearly all of Africa’s farms are this de facto ‘organic’ … poor and non-productive, but organic.”

Organic food is still a booming industry in the United States, where the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service has found that American demand for organic products has grown at a steady rate. They reported that in 2012, 4 percent of all U.S. food sales were organic.

Students at Duquesne can play a part in agriculture awareness as well by staying educated on food policy, according to Kabala.

Raymond Arke and Brandon Addeo contributed reporting.