Friday, August 7, 2015

Organic agriculture in the developing world : a steady state or a transition?

In my recent trip to Uganda, we visited farmer John in the surroundings of Hoima. He is a member of a farmer cooperative (who is also the cooperative behind the Irish aid pork value chain project). What stroke me was how well organized he is. He got mentoring from tradelink an NGO that thought him how to write and implement a business plan. He has the best documented smallholder farm i have ever visited.
John the farmer with all his documents
John therefore knows very well what is profitable and what is not. He used to have broiler chicken but he gave it up as it was not profitable.

John's farm is mainly horticulture, which he produces by irrigating his plots near to the perennial river. He has a diesel water pump. He also has a cow, he just sold the other two to pay school fees for his last born. In addition he also has 2 pigs that are tied to a tree during the day and fed on waste. This is his trial, he is intending to join the new pig value chain project (described in an up-coming blog post) and keep at least 20 pigs.

What fascinated me was his claim to be an organic farmer, and he is hosting students from the local university to test and compare organic/natural pesticides and disease management methods. But in his speech there was no ideology, no harmony with nature or whatever story we usually hear from organic farmers.

I understood quickly that John is organic because organic agriculture reduces his input costs, as natural disease management is cheaper than paying for chemicals.

For the first time in my life, i understood that having an organic African agriculture, as promoted by so many NGOs in the Western world is maybe more than an illusion. But it is not a reality because it is good for nature, but because it might be the most profitable way of production in high potential areas in East Africa.

 Is it a steady state? at current farm gate prices organic agriculture is an optimum. However, if food prices continue increasing and if the marginal returns of cash crop is higher than the marginal cost of chemicals, then if i follow John's decision making correctly, then organic might just have been a transition.

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