Agriculture plays an important role in all of our lives, providing us with food, fuel and fibers. However, faced with the stark environmental impacts of climate change and a growing global population, agriculture faces several challenges. The sector is the largest consumer of water and the principal source of ammonia pollution, to name just two of its harmful effects. Organic agriculture presents a unique opportunity to internalize the environmental and social costs of production and to minimize the use of synthetic inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides.
IFOAM Organics International defines organic agriculture as “a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects.”
While the share of organically managed agricultural land is rising at the global level, increasing by almost 15 per cent from 2014 to 2015, South Africa lags far behind, with only 0.04 per cent of its agricultural land certified organic. One crucial factor for achieving further growth of organic agriculture in South Africa is awareness raising, capacity building and training, which enables stakeholders to harness the opportunities presented by trade in organic and biodiversity-based products.
In this context, the Environment and Trade Hub, under the framework of the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) and in collaboration with IFOAM Organics International and Afri-Trade, conducted a stakeholder engagement and technical training workshop entitled Leveraging Trade in Organic and Biodiversity-based Agricultural Products through South African Value Chains in Centurion.
The two-day workshop gathered nearly 30 participants from the South African government departments, civil society, sector and certification bodies, and the private sector, to engage stakeholders and enhance policymakers’ knowledge of export opportunities existing for increased trade in organic and biodiversity-based products.
The workshop covered topics ranging from the fundamentals of organic agriculture, to market trends for organic and biodiversity-based agriculture, to import and export policies. The event also facilitated best practice sharing through a case study of East Africa, with key insights presented by the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN).
The workshop produced several recommendations for the development of the sector in South Africa, namely to: (i) introduce an organic regulation; (ii) facilitate research, training and awareness-raising on organic farming practices and its benefits; (iii) strengthen the organic sector body with greater technical capacity and financial resources; and (iv) create enabling policies for organic and biodiversity-based agriculture. Additionally, the event put forward criteria for selecting specific, priority products for export.
The workshop built upon UN Environment’s 2016 study on Trade in Certified Organic Agriculture – Challenges and Opportunities for South Africa and provided participants with the knowledge and tools to work towards a more sustainable agricultural sector in the country, complementing South Africa’s efforts to deliver upon the 2030 Agenda and to achieve objectives outlined in the National Development Plan.