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Why organic agriculture for food security?

Modern agricultural methods have brought spectacular increases in productivity - more cereals and animals per hectare, more meat and milk per animal, more food output per person employed. Given access to sufficient inputs, knowledge and skills, large amounts of food can be produced. But most farmers in developing countries are poor and marginalized from input and product markets, and some 790 million people still go hungry. Thus an important question centres on the extent to which farmers can improve domestic food production with cheap, low-cost, locally available technologies and inputs1. A supplementary issue relates to the extent to which they can do this with methods that do not add to existing environmental harm caused by agriculture2.

In contrast to modern systems, organic agriculture represents a deliberate attempt to make the best use of local natural resources. The aim of organic agriculture, also known as ecological or biological agriculture, is to create integrated, humane, environmentally- and economically-viable agriculture systems in which maximum reliance is placed on locally or farm-derived renewable resources, and the management of ecological and biological processes. The use of external inputs, whether inorganic or organic, is reduced as far as possible. Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in adoption of organic agriculture in industrialized countries, as illustrated in Chapter 3.

The important thing for most organic farmers is that it represents a system of agriculture rather than simply a set of technologies. The primary aim is to find ways to grow food in harmony with nature. The term organic is "best thought of as referring not to the type of inputs used, but to the concept of the farm as an organism, in which the component parts - the soil minerals, organic matter, micro-organisms, insects, plants, animals and humans - interact to create a coherent and stable whole"3.

These interconnections are important. Lady Eve Balfour, founder of the Soil Association, and author of The Living Soil4 saw agriculture as a vital service for the nation: "if the nation's health depends on the way its food is grown, then agriculture must be looked upon as one of the health services, in fact the primary health service". She, like other founders of the organic movement, Albert Howard and Friend Sykes, saw agriculture as intimately connected with human and environmental and health. This should change the way we think of food production: "once agriculture comes to be regarded as a health service the only consideration in any matter concerning the production of food would be: is it necessary for the health of the people? That of ordinary economics would take a quite secondary place"5.

Most farmers in developing countries are poor and marginalized from input and product markets.

Recent evidence from certified and non-certified organic systems in developing countries

The University of Essex, in the United Kingdom, recently completed an audit of progress towards agricultural sustainability in 208 projects in 52 developing countries6. These projects included both integrated and near-organic systems (179 cases), and certified and non-certified organic systems (29 cases). These organic cases comprised a mix of food, fibre and beverage based systems of agriculture, with 154 742 households farming 106 197 hectares (Table 1). The average area per household is small (0.7 ha), as many of the projects involve small-scale organic vegetable production.

This audit indicated that promising improvements in food production are occurring through one or more of four mechanisms:

In all cases where reliable data has been reported, increases in per hectare productivity for food crops and maintenance of existing yields for fibre have been shown. This is counter to the popular myth that organic agriculture cannot increase agricultural productivity7, though what we do not yet know is whether a transition to organic agriculture, delivering greater benefits at the scale occurring in these projects, will result in enough food to meet the current food needs in developing countries, let alone the future needs after continued population growth and adoption of more urban and meat-rich diets. But what we are seeing is highly promising. There is also scope for additional confidence, as evidence indicates that productivity can grow over time if natural, social and human assets are accumulated. These findings are similar to those of McNeely and Scherr (2001b) and Parrot and Marsden (2002) whose recent review of eco-agriculture in both developing and industrialised countries has also indicated that there are novel ways both to feed the world and to save biodiversity.

The issue of asset accumulation over time is important. If agricultural systems are either intrinsically low in natural, social and human assets, or are low because they have become damaged by degradation, then a sudden switch to "more sustainable" practices that rely on these very assets will not be immediately successful - or at least not as successful as it might be. In Cuba, for example, urban organic gardens produced 4 000 tonnes of food in 1994. Over five years, production had grown to more than 700 000 tonnes, partly because of an increase in numbers of gardens, but also because the per area productivity had steadily risen over time8.

Increased productivity over time has also been found in fishponds in Malawi. These are typically 200-500 m2 in size, and are integrated into a farm so that they recycle wastes from other agricultural and household enterprises. In 1990 yields were 800 kg/ha, but rose steadily to nearly 1500 kg/ha over six years. Brummet (2000) indicates that "as farmers gain a greater understanding of how this new system functions, and an appreciation of its potential, they become increasingly able to guide further evolution towards increasing productivity and profitability". Revealingly, where non-participatory approaches had been used to work with farmers, and systems were imposed in a completed format on farmers, then yields fell.

Table 1: Summary of scale and impacts of certified and non-certified organic projects and initiatives



Number of farm households

Area under organic agriculture (ha)

Changes in productivity

1. Bolivia

PRODINPO integrated development programme

2 000

1 000

Potato yields from 4 to 10-15 t/ha

2. Brazil

AS-PTA alternative agriculture

15 000

60 000

Bean yields up 50-100%

3. Brazil

Agroecology in Zona da Mata



Coffee - nd

4. Cameroon

Macefcoop organic coffee



Coffee - nd

5. Chile

CET organic vegetable gardens



Vegetables, 20-30 kg per month

6. Cuba

Organic urban gardens4 000 to 700 000 t/yr

26 000

8 000

Total production up from

7 Dominican Republic

Plan Sierra soil conservation

2 000

1 000

Maize - nd

8. Egypt

SEKEM biodynamic cotton


2 000

Cotton from 2.25 to 3.0 t/ha

9. Ethiopia

FAO Freedom from Hunger

2 300

2 150

Sweet potato yields up from 6 to 30 t/ha

10. Ethiopia

Cheha integrated rural development

12 500

5 000

Cereal yields up 60%

11. Guatemala

San Jose Poacil ADECCA

1 450

1 260

Mixed crops - nd

12. India

SPEECH, Tamil Nadu



New rice crop in dry season

13. Kenya

Manor House Agriculture Centre

70 000

7 000

Maize yields from 2.25 to 9 t/ha; new vegetable crops

14. Kenya

C-MAD programme


1 000

Maize from 2 t/ha to 4 t/ha

15. Kenya

Mumias Education for Empowerment project

2 069


Beans/groundnut yields from 300 to 600 kg/ha

16. Kenya

Push-pull pest management



Maize yields up 60%

17. Lesotho

Machobane farming systems

2 000

1 000

Whole system productivity improved

18. Malawi

Small-scale aquaculture



New fish crops

19. Mexico

ISMAM organic coffee

1 200

1 200

Coffee - nd

20. Mexico

UCIRI fair trade and organic coffee

4 800

5 000

Coffee yields from 300-600 kg/ha to 600-1 200 kg/ha

21. Nepal

Community welfare and development



Maize and rice yields up (nd), new vegetable crops

22. Nepal

Jajarkot permaculture Programme



Rice yields from 1.8 to 2.4 t/ha; maize from 1.2 to 1.6 t/ha

23. Pakistan

Sindh Rural Women's Uplift Group

5 000

2 500

Mango yields from 7.5 to 22.5 t/ha; citrus up from 12 to 30 t/ha

24. Senegal

Rodale Regenerative Agriculture Research Centre

2 000

2 000

Millet/sorghum yields from 0.34 to 0.6-1.0 t/ha

25. Senegal

ENDA organic cotton



Cotton yields - no change at 300 kg/ha

26. Tanzania

GTZ organic cotton



Cotton yields - no change at 660 kg/ha

27. Zimbabwe

Chivi Food Security Project



Sorghum/millet yields doubled; new vegetable crops

28. Zimbabwe

Silveira House

1 211


New vegetable crops

29. Zimbabwe

Zambezi Valley organic cotton


2 000

Cotton - nd



154 742

106 197


(nd = no confirmed data on yields)

Each type of agro-ecological improvement, by itself, can make a positive contribution to raising production. But another dividend comes with combinations. Synergistic effects tend not to be captured or appreciated by reductionist methods of analysis that measure the effects of one variable at a time, while holding all the others unchanged, the so-called ceteris paribus approach. This misses synergism - where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Thus soil and water conservation that emphasises terracing and other physical measures to prevent soil loss is much less effective than combinations with biological methods that seek to increase the productivity of the system, such as with green manures and cover crops.

Agriculture systems become more productive when human capital increases, particularly in the form of farmers' capacity to innovate and adapt their farm systems for sustainable outcomes9. Sustainable agriculture is not a concretely defined set of technologies, nor is it a simple model or package to be widely applied or fixed with time. It needs to be conceived of as a process for social learning10. Lack of information on agroecology and necessary skills to manage complex farms is a major barrier to the adoption of sustainable agriculture.

We know much less about these organic and resource-conserving technologies than we do about the use of external inputs in modernized systems. So it is clear that the process by which farmers learn about technology alternatives is crucial. If they are enforced or coerced, then they may only adopt for a limited period. But if the process is participatory and enhances farmers' capacity to learn about their farm and its resources, then the foundation for redesign and continuous innovation is laid. As Bunch and Lòpez (1996) have put it about Central American agriculture, "what needs to be made sustainable is the social process of innovation itself".

Agriculture systems become more productive when human capital increases, particularly in the form of farmers' capacity to innovate and adapt their farm systems for sustainable outcomes.

Food outcomes are not the only measures of success. A selection of the positive side effects reported in these projects and initiatives include:

Twenty-nine case study narratives

There are a wide range of methods and technologies used in these projects for the transition to organic agriculture. As indicated above, the key issue is the integration of these to produce effective systems of agriculture, rather than just the amendment of single components. Narratives for these cases of organic agriculture are presented below, and are followed by a section on lessons learnt.

Bolivia: Integrated Development Programme, World Neighbours, Northern Potosí11

The World Neighbours Integrated Development Programme (PRODINPO) has been working in the high mountains of Bolivia (2 800-4 000 masl) in Northern Potosí on improving potato productivity since the 1980s. The sandy loam soils suffer from acute erosion, and high population densities have forced cultivation of slopes of up to 50 degrees. High rates of non-literacy, a lack of agricultural research and extension outreach, and deep local suspicion posed severe challenges for the project. In addition, the areas infant mortality rate was 200/1000; maternal mortality 100/1000, and average life span of 36 years.

At first, the project sought to improve livestock and maize production. But after failures, farmers asked them to focus on potatoes. Their interest was in testing new varieties that might help to improve food security using traditional agricultural practices. Crop performance varies dramatically from one hillside to another and from one ravine to another, and so learning to account for this variability was a central part of the project which set out to build farmers' own capacity to experiment with new technologies, and to adapt them to their own circumstances. Communities elect their own farmer promoters to help spread lessons learnt as well as be the conduit for improved training.

Farmers have evaluated many varieties of potatoes in on-farm trials, adopted uniform spacing and deep cultivation, tested green manures (especially lupins) and animal manures, and experimented with variations in seed size. Some 2 000 farmers have improved potato production from about 4 000 kg/ha to 10-15 000 kg/ha. An example of the ways this project has broken away from the norms of agricultural practices centres on the adoption of lupins into crop rotations. The spread of mucuna (velvetbean) in Central America, and its extraordinary effect on maize yields, prompted World Neighbours to send 13 farmer promoters from Bolivia and Peru to Honduras. Mucuna does not grow above elevation of 2 800 masl, and would have been destroyed by the process of mounding of soil around potatoes towards harvest. But lupin was identified as an alternative - it can fix 200 kg N/ha/year, and benefits soils when turned under as a green manure.

Once yields improved, many farmers actually reduced their field size, sometimes by as much as 90 percent, so as to focus their intense efforts.

Farmers were at first incredulous, but their long association with the benefits of experimentation persuaded them to test the practice. Potato yields immediately increased from 1 780 kg/ha to 8 500 kg/ha with lupins, and rose to 13 000 kg/ha when sheep manure was also incorporated. The cash outlay for lupins is US$18/ha, which compares with the US$170/ha for an equivalent amount of inorganic fertilizer.

The project has seen many social benefits, not least improved household food security and health. Once yields improved, many farmers actually reduced their field size, sometimes by as much as 90 percent, so as to focus their intense efforts. Reduced field size turned out to have great benefits for women - making it easier for them to continue to farm whilst men migrate to cities in search of work.

Brazil: Alternative Agriculture Project Consultants12

The Alternative Agriculture Project Consultants (AS-PTA) is a non-profit NGO which aims to promote sustainable development for Brazilian agriculture by helping to build an alternative agriculture development model based on agro-ecology and with the support of a farming community made up of small to medium sized producers. AS-PTA was founded in 1989 and works directly with farmers in a participatory way to research and develop appropriate sustainable agriculture technologies and methods. The agricultural development model of AS-PTA is based on three aspects:

Brazil: Agro-ecological Farming Systems in Zona da Mata13

This project works with about 200 farmers near a designated conservation area. A buffer zone incorporating five municipalities around the park has encouraged farmers to be aware of the local and national value of the resources. Through the use of a series of participatory methods, farmers have redesigned diverse farm systems to make the most of agro-ecological relationships for coffee cultivation, particularly centred on green manures, soil conservation and agroforestry practices. Five farmers' unions have been incorporated into a regional association, and these focus on adding value through the processing of coffee beans, and direct sales to the market. These groups have also helped to improve annual fodder supplies to individual farmers.

Cameroon: Macefcoop Organic Coffee14

Macefcoop is a farmers' cooperative organization at Mamfe, near the Nigerian border, that focuses on processing and marketing organic coffee in Cameroon. Until 1992, the Government regulated all coffee and cocoa marketing and the Marketing Board held the monopoly. After 1992, cooperatives and private companies were able to market their own produce but farmers found that many organizations lacked experience and understanding of production issues and so many farmers started to organize themselves. Macefcoop started in this way in 1994 and by 1999 it had over 600 members. It was not easy, a lack of working capital, the lack of trucks to collect the coffee beans from the farm gate, no processing factory and inadequate communications with Fairtrade and other exporters, meant that Macefcoop was in need of support. However, farmers wanted to succeed in exporting their own coffee and were keen to produce organically, as they did not use pesticides and chemical fertilizers anyway. Macefcoop has been able to overcome these problems and obstacles to EU organic certification with support from buyers and a European NGO. In June 1999 Macefcoop's coffee was formally recognized as organic and the first 600 bags of organic robusta coffee, the first to be socially and organically labelled from Africa, left the port of Douala.

Chile: CET Organic Vegetable Gardens15

CET in Chile was one of the first NGOs to combine technological improvements with community organizing and since 1980 has engaged in a rural development programme aimed at helping peasants reach year-round food self-sufficiency while rebuilding the productive capacity of their small land holdings. The approach has been to set up several half-hectare model farms, which consist of a spatial and temporal rotational sequence of forage and row crops, vegetables, forest and fruit trees, and animals. Most vegetables are grown in heavily composted raised beds located in the garden section, each of which can yield up to 83 kg of fresh vegetables per month, a considerable improvement over the 20-30 kg produced in less-managed gardens tended around households. The rest of the 200-square metre area surrounding the house is used as an orchard and for animals (cows, hens, rabbits, and improved beehives). Over the years, soil fertility in the original demonstration farm has improved, and no serious pest or disease problems have appeared. Fruit trees in the orchard and fencerows, as well as forage crops, are highly productive.

Most vegetables are grown in heavily composted raised beds located in the garden section, each of which can yield up to 83 kg of fresh vegetables per month.

Milk and egg production far exceeds that on conventional farms. If all of the farm output were sold at wholesale prices, the family could generate a monthly net income 1.5 times greater than the monthly legal minimum wage in Chile, while dedicating only a relatively few hours per week to the farm.

Cuba: Organic Urban Gardens16

Two important strands to organic agriculture in Cuba have emerged. First, intensive organic gardens have been developed in urban areas: self-provisioning gardens in schools and workplaces (autoconsumos), raised container-bed gardens (organoponicos), and intensive community gardens (huertos intensivos). There are now more than 7 000 urban gardens and productivity has grown from 1.5 kg/m2 to nearly 20 kg/m2. Second, sustainable agriculture is encouraged in rural areas, where the impact of the new policy has already been remarkable. More than 200 village-based and artisanal Centres for the Reproduction of Entomophages and Entomopathogens have been set up for biopesticide manufacture. Each year, they produce 1 300 tonnes of Bacillus Thuringensis (Bt) sprays for lepidoptera control, nearly 800 tonnes of Beaveria sprays for beetle control, two hundred tonnes of Verticillium for whitefly control and 2 800 tonnes of Trichoderma, a natural enemy. Many biological control methods are proving more efficient than pesticides. There are 170 vermicompost centres, the annual production of which has grown from 3 to 93 000 tonnes. Crop rotations, green manuring, intercropping and soil conservation have all been incorporated into polyculture farming.

Intensive organic gardens have been developed in urban areas: self-provisioning gardens in schools and workplaces (autoconsumos), raised container-bed gardens (organoponicos), and intensive community gardens (huertos intensivos).

At the forefront of the transition towards sustainable agriculture has been the Grupo de Agricultura Orgánica (GOA), formerly known as the Asociación Cubanes Agricultural Orgánica, and formed in 1993. GAO brings together farmers, field managers, field experts, researchers and Government officials to help spread the idea that organic-based alternatives can produce sufficient food for Cubans. Despite great progress, there remain many difficulties, including proving the success of the alternative system to sceptical farmers, scientists and policy makers, developing new technologies sufficiently quickly to meet emergent problems, coordinating the many actors to work together, the need for continued decentralization of decision making to farmer level, and the appropriate land reform to encourage investment in natural asset-building.

Dominican Republic: Plan Sierra Soil Conservation17

The Plan Sierra eco-development project took on the challenge of breaking the link between rural poverty and environmental degradation in the central cordillera of the Dominican Republic. The strategy consisted of developing alternative production systems for the highly erosive systems used by local farmers. Controlling erosion in the Sierra is not only important for the betterment of the life of these farmers but also represents hydroelectric potential as well as an additional
50 000 hectares of irrigated land in the downstream Cibao valley. The main goal of Plan Sierra was the development and diffusion of production systems that provided sustainable yields without degrading the soil thus ensuring the farmers' productivity and food self-sufficiency. More specifically, the objectives were to allow farmers to more efficiently use local resources such as soil moisture and nutrients, crop and animal residue, natural vegetation, genetic diversity, and family labour. In this way, it would be possible to satisfy basic family needs for food, firewood, construction materials, medicinal plants, and income. A range of farming methods are integrated in several ways:

Animals, crops, trees, and/or shrubs are integrated to result in multiple benefits such as soil protection, diversified food production, firewood, and improved soil fertility.

Animals, crops, trees, and/or shrubs are integrated to result in multiple benefits such as soil protection, diversified food production, firewood, and improved soil fertility.

Egypt: SEKEM Biodynamic Cotton18

The SEKEM farm started the biodynamic movement in Egypt in 1977 with the aim to integrate rural development with biodynamic farming and contracted the Egyptian BioDynamic Association (EBDA) to grow vegetables, herbs and other products for SEKEM. After the success in other crops, SEKEM started to apply biodynamic methods to cotton in collaboration with scientists, farmers, consultants and consumers. In addition, in 1980 the Egyptian Government started a programme of integrated pest management (IPM) for cotton to reduce the amount of pesticides used. In Egypt, most cotton is grown by small-scale farmers, in rotation with other crops and higher prices are the main incentive for farmers to produce organically. The success of bio-dynamic cotton production in Egypt has been the result of collaboration between SEKEM, EBDA, Cotton People Organic, Union of Growers and Exporters of Organic and Bio-dynamic Agriculture, and a German group Natura.

Transfer of organic know-how is mainly done in the field, during group visits and inspection and EBDA provides farmers with training, advice and certain specific inputs. Organic farmers tend to diversify their farm system and use techniques such as composting, green manures, and biological pest management. Cotton yields increased by 30 percent as compared to conventionally grown cotton (there is a fall in yields immediately after conversion but then they rise to 3 000 kg/ha) and there is more direct contact between farmers and buyers leading to better understanding and efficiency. Field workers and villagers are no longer exposed to toxic pesticides and their associated health risks and there is less water pollution and less leaching of nutrients from the soil which has resulted in less eutrophication of water-courses.

Farmer-to-farmer extension and experimentation has resulted in farmers being more able to cope with drought and other setbacks.

Ethiopia: FAO Freedom from Hunger19

The FAO Freedom from Hunger project in southern Ethiopia works with farmers to increase food security in the area. Before the project began, most farmer families were hungry for at least three months a year, but the introduction of sweet potato, with its early maturing characteristics, has allowed three harvests per year and 30 000-40 000 kg/ha being produced, so calorie requirements are now met. Previously degraded lands are now being replenished with nutrients once more by using soil conservation and compost application methods. Also, multiple cropping is taking place and Neem is being used for pest control rather than chemical pesticides. During the drought in 1984-5 farmers out-migrated from the area but farmer-to-farmer extension and experimentation has resulted in farmers being more able to cope with drought and other setbacks and the previously migrated farmers have started to settle in the project areas again. Farmer family incomes have also increased at least twofold since the start of the project.

There is more direct contact between farmers and buyers leading to better understanding and efficiency.

Ethiopia: Cheha Integrated Rural Development project20

This is an example of an integrated and relatively small-scale project making a substantial impact on regional food security. It has been working in southwest Ethiopia since the drought of 1984, and has introduced of new varieties of crops (vegetables) and trees (fruit and forest), promoted organic manures for soil fertility and botanicals for pest control, and introduced veterinary services. Some 12 500 farm households have adopted sustainable agriculture on about 5 000 ha, resulting in a 70 percent improvement of overall nutrition levels within the project area, along with a 60 percent increase in crop yields. Some farmers have begun to produce surpluses that they sell in local markets, earning much-needed income for their families. Thus, an area once reliant entirely on emergency food aid has now become able to feed itself and have enough left over to contribute to surplus. The real promise of the programme, however, lies in the fact that farmers are replicating activities on their own initiative (including those outside the project area), where once they had to be encouraged to participate through food-for-work payments.

Thus, an area once reliant entirely on emergency food aid has now become able to feed itself and have enough left over to contribute to surplus.

Guatemala: San Jose Poacil ADECCA21

ADECCA is a grassroots community organization with origins in the village of Hacienda Vieja, just over a hundred kilometres away from Guatemala City. ADECCA sprung from community partnerships with a number of NGOs providing humanitarian assistance and emergency relief (after civil unrest for several years) and was formed in 1987 with a view to planned development of the area. ADECCAs director, Santiago Chutá Chan says "we wanted to show the world that poor peasants have the capability to identify and resolve their own problems and needs when they are allowed to."

"We wanted to show the world that poor peasants have the capability to identify and resolve their own problems and needs when they are allowed to."

ADECCA has four programme areas: health, agriculture, livestock and handicrafts and culture. ADECCA also provides participatory agricultural training techniques such as soil and water conservation methods, tree planting, composting and in 1994 started to promote organic agriculture for its lower costs and environmental and health benefits. ADECCA has initiated community-managed revolving credit schemes, which provide loans for livestock and seeds that can be paid back the following year. ADECCA now works with 22 communities and as a result of its activities agricultural production has increased, more livestock are kept, seasonal migration has decreased together with the level of indebtedness of local farmers to private companies and coastal plantations. In addition communities have realised the value and success of working collectively to solve problems.

India: The Society for People's Education and Economic Change, Tamil Nadu22

The Society for People's Education and Economic Change (SPEECH) has been working in Kamarajar District of Tamil Nadu since 1986, and has helped to build and strengthen local groups and institutions in 45 villages. The region is known for its acute droughts, erratic monsoons, poor services and entrenched socio-economic and cultural division. Village groups, or sanghas, have adopted a range of sustainable agriculture approaches to make better use of existing resources. Water harvesting has been particularly effective as it not only brings previously abandoned land into production, but also means sufficient water can be saved for an additional wet rice crop on the small amount of irrigated land. Milk cows have been introduced, bringing particular benefits to women and children. Sorghum and millet yields have doubled, and extra crops and fruit and timber trees are being cultivated. As sanghas become more confident, they begin to develop new activities, such as providing for health care, building roads, and running savings and credit schemes. Representatives are elected to a Cluster Level Governing Council, an independent society that provides a platform for local groups to address emerging concerns.

Kenya: The Manor House Agricultural Centre, Kitale23

Manor House Agricultural Centre was founded in 1984 in response to a three-year drought. The Centre's training and research complex includes demonstration gardens and livestock facilities that provide a working model of bio-intensive agricultural systems for trainees, visitors and members of local communities. The Centre provides practical training to young people, farmers and staff of Government agencies and NGOs, as well as conduct adaptive research. The Centre has trained some 6 000 farmers in 185 community groups, of whom 3 000 are known to have adopted bio-intensive agriculture. The main impact has been on vegetable production. Many have doubled their yields by adopting double digging and composting, using local methods of pest and disease control (such as planting sunflowers to attract predators, local plant extracts to control maize stalk borer, and intercropping to reduce tomato blight). There have been big savings on pesticides, as farmers have cut out their use. Farmers have found phosphorus to be limited over periods of six years of composting, and so bonemeal is being brought in to add to compost. The Centre encourages these farmer groups to train neighbouring farmers.

Many have doubled their yields by adopting double digging and composting, using local methods of pest and disease control.

Kenya: Community Mobilization Against Desertification Programme24

The Community Mobilization Against Desertification (C-MAD) Programme works in a "low-potential" part of South Nyanza, western Kenya. The programme area has a single rainfall season, and the land is badly degraded due to overgrazing and deforestation. The project began as a straightforward tree-planting effort, expanded to incorporate soil conservation, soil fertility and organic agriculture methods, and now focuses on whole-farm improvements. The social processes incorporate participatory learning methods, farmer-based research groups, strengthening community and village groups, and collaboration with Government and non-government research and extension agencies. It works with about 500 farmers in some 1 000 hectares, who have seen maize yields improve from about 2 to 4 t/ha. Income has also increased for many farmers following the cultivation of fruit (citrus, orange, mango, pineapple). The project reports increased local employment through growth in demand for on-farm labour. The cultivation of vegetables in home gardens has further improved domestic food security. The project also reports reduced child mortality and improved health and nutritional status.

Kenya: Mumias Education for Empowerment Project25

The Mumias Education for Empowerment (MEFE) project works with some 2 070 households in Kakamega, and area of western Kenya characterized by high rates of rural malnutrition, infant mortality and non-literacy. Severe food insecurity affected 1 in 4 people before the project, with many households' only food secure for 1-3 months per year. The project uses a structured learning process (REFLECT) to encourage all groups to analyse critically their own environment and to seek new solutions based on locally available resources. The project uses a range of biological pest management methods together with legumes, cover crops and green manures for soil fertility improvement. Raised beds have been incorporated on farms to increase vegetable production. As a result, beans and groundnut yields have doubled from 300 to 600 kg/ha. The project reports that the food security period has improved to 3-6 months for a typical household. The increased consumption of protein particularly benefits child health.

The project reports increased local employment through growth in demand for on-farm labour.

Kenya: "Vutu-sukumu" Pest Management in Smallholder Systems26

The work of ICIPE is explicitly focused on designing low-cost pest management technology. It works closely with farmers to test and adapt technologies. It is also producing unexpected synergistic effects through manipulation of agricultural systems and the paradigms that define them. One activity is investigating novel habitat management approaches to suppress cereal stem borer and Striga populations in maize and sorghum. This project is developing novel `push-pull' strategies to repel stem borers from the cereal crop and attract them to intercrop or barrier forage grasses. It has found extraordinary multi-functionality in a range of fodder grasses and legumes in cereal systems. The strategy involves trapping pests on highly susceptible trap plants (pull) and driving them away from the crop using a repellent intercrop (push):

Researchers from ICIPE and IACR-Rothamsted have found that such `push-pull', using the attractive plants as trap crops and repellent plants as intercrops, reduces stem borer attack and increases levels of parasitism of borers on protected maize, resulting in a significant increase in yield. Farmer participatory trials in 1997 and 1998 have shown significant yield increases in maize. The aim is now to develop a maize-based cropping system that will reduce yield losses due to both stem borer and Striga and at the same time improve soil fertility due to nitrogen-fixing action of Desmodium. Such a redesigned and diverse system has many of the characteristics of "traditional" farms in Kenya.

Such `push-pull', using the attractive plants as trap crops and repellent plants as intercrops, reduces stem borer attack and increases levels of parasitism of borers on protected maize, resulting in a significant increase in yield.

Lesotho: Machobane Farming System, Lesotho27

The Machobane Farming System (MFS) is an example of a fundamentally redesigned system yielding multi-functional benefits. Lesotho is severely affected by erosion and land degradation. During the last twenty years, arable land fell from 14 to 9 percent of the country's total area, and crop yields are now about half the 1970s level. Dr. J.J. Machobane, a Mosotho agronomist, first conceived his system over 40 years ago, experimenting on his own land for 13 years before attempting to launch it amongst fellow farmers. Unlike most extension methods, the Machobane approach starts with the basic behavioural requirements for adopting its technical message:

In Lesotho mountain areas, most crops are grown on terraced land, but poor soil structure, inadequate soil fertility management and erratic rainfall mean that land productivity is low and variable. According to Machobane, these constraints can be overcome by rational exploitation of the resource base and minimising the need for purchased inputs. The technical elements include intercropping, localised placement of ash (from household waste) and manure, weeding, introduction of potato as a cash crop, preservation of natural enemies, row-rotations, and legumes with cereals.

Farmers adopting the MFS indicate three advantages of the system:

In addition, MFS will substantially reduce farm income fluctuations through the combination of lowering yield fluctuations of individual crops, spreading risk of fluctuations in yields and prices by planting a larger range of crops and decreased reliance on imported inputs (fertilizers and pesticides). Some 2 000 farmers are now practising this system.

Malawi: Small-Scale Aquaculture28

The International Centre for Living Aquatic Resources Management (ICLARM) works to integrate pond fish culture into low-input farm systems in Malawi. The programme uses a participatory process for farmers and scientists jointly to map resource flows on farms, and then identify the potential for adjustments that would bring synergistic effects. It has worked with some
2 000 individual farmers on both vegetable improvements in home gardens and fishpond aquaculture. This integrated agriculture-aquaculture component of farmers often comprises only 500 m2 within an average farm size of
1.5 hectares. Yet intensification of just this core component has led to significant improvements in food security - vegetable yields have grown to 2 700 to 4 000 kg/ha, and fish ponds produce the equivalent of 1 500 kg/ha of fish - a new source of food for households. These integrated farms also produce six times more cash than conventional farms - with the vegetable-fish element contributing up to 70 percent of annual cash income. ICLARM has documented the steady improvement of productivity in these systems amongst collaborating farmers - with pond productivity increasing steadily from 800 to 1500 kg/ha. Amongst those farmers trained only through the conventional Training and Visit system in southern Malawi, yields by contrast fall steadily, as the over-designed systems unravelled as farmers lost control. An asset-building approach, building both on natural capital on the farm and farmers own human capital (skills and knowledge) allows for continuous readjustments over time.

An asset-building approach, building both on natural capital on the farm and farmers own human capital (skills and knowledge) allows for continuous readjustments over time.

Mexico: ISMAM Organic Coffee29

Over the last decade, thousands of Mexican smallholders have switched to organic agriculture. ISMAM, a farming cooperative, was formed over ten years ago by smallholder coffee growers to meet problems of low productivity, poor marketing conditions and extreme poverty of farm households. By adopting organic techniques and improving quality, ISMAM was able to overcome soil degradation and low yields and move into a speciality market that rewarded the extra efforts towards sustainable agricultural production. Techniques include intercropping and crop rotation for pest control and fertility management. Farmers now recognize that surrounding wildlands play a key role in maintaining favourable ecological conditions, pest control refuges and buffering from climate extremes.

Farmers now recognize that surrounding wildlands play a key role in maintaining favourable ecological conditions, pest control refuges and buffering from climate extremes.

ISMAM works with sound, participatory management and hard work and has now become a major agro-industry with their own processing facilities and direct export markets in Europe, Japan and the United States. ISMAM have begun to produce blends and soluble coffee for the national market and to diversify their agro-production for greater food security. A percentage of profits are returned to regional committees of the cooperative for investment in social works. In 1995 ISMAM received the National Agro-Export prize and now enjoy a privileged position with respect to credit and Government support and have diversified their business into a number of areas including ecotourism.

Mexico: UCIRI Fair Trade and Organic Coffee30

The Union of Indian Communities in the Isthmus Region (UCIRI) was organized by farmers in Oaxaca for the cultivation and marketing of organic coffee. This was partly to reduce dependency on credit, but also to improve yields. Organic coffee cultivation demands more active management and a higher labour input from farmers. Coffee is planted on the contour to stop soil erosion, and slashed weeds and pruned branches are also laid on the contour. Half-moon terraces are constructed for each coffee tree. Formerly the coffee beans were depulped into waterways, causing significant water pollution - now farmers return the pulp to the fields after composting, along with animal manures, lime and green plant material. This improved system produces 600-1 200 kg/ha of coffee beans, an improvement of 30-50 percent compared with earlier practices. The Union has 4 800 members, and has been able to build up its own infrastructure for the transport, storage, processing, and export of coffee. The premium received for the organic coffee from fair trade organizations is used for a range of social purposes, especially improving schools. The Union also runs public transport and medical insurance systems, and owns several shops.

The premium received for the organic coffee from fair trade organizations is used for a range of social purposes, especially improving schools.

Nepal: Community Welfare and Development Society31

The Community Welfare and Development Society (CWDS) was established as a NGO in Nepal in 1990, with the main objective of uplifting the rural community by improving household incomes and living conditions through the introduction of sustainable agriculture and rural development related activities. CWDS is involved in the promotion of organic farming systems in different parts of the country, both on its own and in collaboration with other NGOs and government agencies, and since 1992 has been member of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). The active participation of the community members and a focus on locally available resources is the basis for the implementation of all developmental activities, which ensures community ownership of the programmes. CWDS promotes diverse farms with integrated crop and livestock production and encourages farmers to adopt techniques such as mixed/multiple cropping, green manures, and agroforestry and to introduce new vegetable varieties. This organic sustainable agriculture has produced various on-farm benefits including increased availability of animal fodder, fuel-wood and timber; increased soil organic matter content and reduced soil erosion. Farms are more resistant to adverse climatic conditions and look "greener" all year round. In addition the health and nutritional status of farming household (especially children) has increased. Various farmers' and women's groups have emerged focussing on credit and saving schemes and community management of natural resources. CWDS have also provided adult education and literacy classes and participatory agricultural training which has led to farmer experimentation and initiatives.

The active participation of the community members and a focus on locally available resources is the basis for the implementation of all developmental activities, which ensures community ownership of the programmes.

Nepal: The Jarjarkot Permaculture Programme32

The Jarjarkot Permaculture Programme (JPP) is an organization based in the mid-west Himalayan hills of Nepal. The project started in 1988 and has grown from one acre of land to over fifty villages in the area. JPP promotes permaculture as a participatory, community based farming system and has set up many demonstration sites to show how sustainable agriculture can be practised by implementing good farm design and techniques including composting, green manures, rotation/mixed cropping, reduced tillage, mulching, controlled grazing, agroforestry and biological pest management. JPP also provides training programmes for fruit and vegetable production, beekeeping, weaving and drinking water systems. As a result of the Jarjarkot project activities and farmer-to-farmer spread of technologies to communities outside the programme area there have been many on-farm benefits. Crop yields have improved, the use of external inputs has been reduced and there is greater tree cover and biodiversity around cropland due to agroforestry (840 ha under forest). This has meant that farms now offer greater resistance to drought as water flows are higher and streams dry out for shorter periods. In addition 44 local self-managed community or farmers' groups have been formed providing revolving funds and grain bank loans. Also some farmers have stopped seasonal migration for cash income due to the income gained from bee keeping.

Pakistan: Sindh Rural Women's Uplift Group, Organic Fruit Production33

The Sindh Rural Women's Uplift Group aims to empower and improve opportunities of women in rural Pakistan and in 1989 the organic fruit production project was started. Yields of mango and citrus fruits increased by 150-200 percent after adopting organic agriculture techniques such as mulching, no till production, composting and planting the fruit trees in double dug beds. The quality of the produce is now much better and market prices for the fruit have increased by 50-60 percent, so farm incomes are now higher and there has been a 2-3-fold increase in food security in the area. Employment has increased due to the project and in particularly the number of women employed in organic fruit production has increased. The Sindh Rural Women's Uplift Group also provides adult education and training in organic fruit tree production for many farmers at the Panwhar farm and this has led to farmer experimentation and farmer leadership of initiatives. Farmers and communities working together in this way has also led to the better management of local natural and human resources in the area.

Senegal: Rodale Regenerative Agriculture Research Centre34

In Sahelian countries, the major constraints to food production are related to soils, most of which are sandy and low in organic matter. Where they are heavier and of better quality, they are subject to intensive use and so exposed to water and wind erosion. In Senegal, soil erosion and degradation threaten large areas of agricultural land. Since 1987, the Rodale Institute Regenerative Agriculture Research Centre (RARC) has worked closely with farmers' associations and government researchers to improve the quality of soils in Senegal by using organic agriculture methods. Regenerative agriculture in the groundnut basin has resulted in positive biophysical, environmental, social and economic benefits. The primary cropping system of the region is a millet-groundnut rotation. Fields are cleared by burning, and then cultivated with shallow tillage using animals. But fallow periods have decreased dramatically, and the use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides is rare amongst smallholders, owing to high prices. It has also been well-established that inorganic fertilizers do not return expected yields unless there are concurrent improvements in organic matter - nutrients are washed away by the first rains, or are taken up by soil microbes and weeds. Soils low in organic matter also do not retain moisture well.

The RARC works with about 2 000 farmers in 59 groups to improve the soil quality, integrate stall-fed livestock into crop systems, add legumes and green manures, improve the use of manures and rock phosphate, incorporate water harvesting systems, and develop effective composting systems. The result has been a 75-195 percent improvement in millet yields - from 330 to 600-1 000 kg/ha, and in groundnut yields from 340 to 600-900 kg/ha. Yields are also less variable year by year, with consequent improvements in household food security. As Amadou Diop has put it: "crop yields are ultimately uncoupled from annual rainfall amounts. Droughts, while having a negative effect on yields, do not result in total crop failure".

"Crop yields are ultimately uncoupled from annual rainfall amounts. Droughts, while having a negative effect on yields, do not result in total crop failure".

Senegal: ENDA Organic Cotton35

In 1993, a partnership between ENDA-Pronat, a West African NGO, the Pesticides Trust and a group of farmers from Koussanar (eager to convert to more sustainable agricultural production) resulted in the establishment of experimental organic cotton in Koussanar, Senegal. The objectives of this project were to:

By 1996, an agronomist and two extensionists were in place in Koussanar to provide effective and rapid support to the farmer volunteers and their newly developed organization. Technical recommendations included sowing as early as possible, ploughing before sowing, the use of Neem for pest control, the use of cow urine as a fertilizer and pest control agent and hand picking of the cotton. In 1998, 23 tonnes of seed cotton were produced by the project and markets for the organic cotton are being established locally in Senegal and also in Europe. The project has also been successful with gender issues: the women's "Grouppement de neem" have been involved in preparing and selling the neem preparations for pest control; the number of women farmers growing organic cotton have been steadily increasing (because they do not need to purchase expensive chemical inputs or take part in the predominantly male activity of crop spraying) and women are represented in the structures of the new farmers' organization. The project, although in its early stages, has proved that it is possible to grow cotton organically in Senegal.

The number of women farmers growing organic cotton have been steadily increasing (because they do not need to purchase expensive chemical inputs or take part in the predominantly male activity of crop spraying) ...

Tanzania: GTZ Organic Cotton36

Cotton is the second most important export for Tanzania and is generally produced by smallholders using few agricultural inputs, in two main areas the "Western Cotton Growing Area" (WCGA) and the "Eastern Cotton Growing Area" (ECGA). In 1994, the Tanzanian Government liberalized the cotton market to allow private companies to buy seed cotton from farmers and to run ginneries. One such company (CIC Limited - a Tanzanian textile company) approached the GTZ-Protrade programme in order to run an organic cotton feasibility study. A village in the Meatu District, Shinyanga Region, Northwest of the country in the WCGA, was chosen as the project area and 45 contracted farmers produced organic cotton in the 1994/5 season. This area was particularly suitable for the project for several reasons, because cotton is produced here at low-yield level so risks of yields falling during conversion are less and so farmers were therefore keen to participate. Most farms have areas of fallow lands to act as refuges for natural enemies of insect pests and farmers have large numbers of cattle so can provide animal manure fertilizers for their cotton crop. The GTZ-Integrated Pest Management project offered support in training of extension staff and research and two private ginneries were under construction in the area. Project farmers agreed to organic cultivation and to practise crop rotation and the cultivation of trap crops for insect pest control in return for inputs and guaranteed markets for their cotton. By 1997, the project consisted of 134 farmers, producing an average of 663 kg/ha of cotton with the cotton certified as organic.

Zimbabwe: Chivi Food Security Project37

The Chivi Food Security Project aims to develop vibrant rural economies based on sustainable agriculture and other locally available natural resources. The project has positively impacted upon local food availability by emphasising production of drought-tolerant local crop varieties (e.g. small grains like sorghum and millet). Farmers in the project in this highly drought-prone district report that their yields have more than doubled since the project was initiated in February 1991. Some farmers are now able to consume some food crops "out of season", e.g. green mealies and some vegetable crop varieties. Good water-harvesting techniques have also improved vegetable production, mainly for local consumption but partly for sale. Other changes include the use of livestock manures, the use of indigenous pesticides and multiple intercropping. More than 500 farmers have been trained and supported in sustainable land-management practices and these farmers have in turn demonstrated the good farming practices to other farmers who are adopting the practices in increasing numbers. At least some 20 local resource-management groups have emerged and participants have learnt and discovered their immeasurable capacity to help themselves through actively participating in their own initiatives, with minimal external aid.

Participants have learnt and discovered their immeasurable capacity to help themselves through actively participating in their own initiatives, with minimal external aid.

Zimbabwe: Silveira House, Sustainable Agriculture Programme38

Silveira House promotes sustainable agriculture in the Mutoko District of Zimbabwe by setting up demonstrations and workshops in villages and encouraging farmers to introduce techniques such as intercropping, use of livestock manure, composting, soil and water conservation measures, and agroforestry to create integrated crop and livestock farming systems. Training is organized in a way that puts farmers first and lets them use their indigenous technical knowledge, encouraging them to experiment, to be observant and be in harmony with nature. Farmers who have been trained are supported in organizing and training others. Their farms also act as models for others to learn from and the programme has made an effort to address poorer farmers, those not active in other Government and non-government projects. Farmers participating the programme have to come together to form groups with strong committees. Food security in the villages has increased, there is more food available because the farmers have learnt to diversify and there has been an increase in crop yields in the kitchen gardens and in the trial plots. Farmers have also completely stopped applying pesticides and chemical fertilizers choosing to use compost and green and liquid manures.

Zimbabwe: Zambezi Valley Organic Cotton Project39

The Zambezi Valley Organic Cotton project in Zimbabwe was initiated by a group of resource-poor, mainly women farmers who were keen to produce cotton without pesticides for economic, health and environmental reasons. These farmers worked in collaboration with a local NGO (ZIP Research), Novib, the Pesticides Action Network, Cargill and the local consultant from Agro Eco. Zip Research provides training and research assistance for the farmers regarding pest management and organic agriculture. Farmers attend Farmer Field Schools in natural pest management and organic agriculture that are facilitated by trained local farmers (Farmer-Field-Workers). The Farmer-Field-Workers collaborate in farmer-participatory research and are also responsible for operating the organic "internal control system". In order to encourage more women into the organic project, a local market has also been found for groundnuts. In addition, the organic inspectors have accepted the conditional "wives special exception", in which a wife may be allowed to have her unsprayed cotton certified, even though her husband is still a conventional farmer. Marketing of the organic products is a crucial aspect of this project. The 2000 harvest (1 tonnes of organic lint) was being locally processed into export-quality, printed T-shirts. The next harvest was expected to be between 50-70 tonnes of organic seed cotton, depending on the rains. Due to this project the farmers in the Zambezi Valley have been able to market Zimbabwe's first organic cotton and Zip Research has developed an organic conversion process for commodity crops that can be used to assist in the conversion of other smallholders in Africa.

Training is organized in a way that puts farmers first and lets them use their indigenous technical knowledge, encouraging them to experiment, to be observant and be in harmony with nature.

Key lessons learnt on processes for improvement

Transitions in agriculture are often conceived as requiring sudden shifts in both practices and attitudes, but not all farmers are able or willing to take such a leap. However, all can take small steps, and small steps added together can bring about big transformations. Drawing on the empirical evidence from the field, a typology of improvements has been developed to demonstrate where adjustments towards sustainability can be made40. The first improvements involve those that positively affect natural capital in different ways (Mechanisms 1-4). The second improve social and human capital (Mechanisms 5-6), and the third involves improving financial returns to farmers and/or their access to finance and credit (Mechanisms 7-9).

Mechanism 1: Better use of locally-available natural resources

A wide variety of technologies and practices are available which farmers and communities can use to make better and more productive use of available natural resources - the basic notion being that for a variety of reasons, water, soils and biodiversity have not been used most effectively in the past. The options include water harvesting, soil and water conservation such as: contour cropping, terraces, minimum tillage, grass strips; composting, livestock manures; irrigation scheduling and management; restoration of degraded or abandoned land; rotational grazing; habitat management for pest-predators; drainage systems and subsoiling; raised beds or chinampas; bio-pesticides and bio-fungicides.

Mechanism 2: Intensify micro-environments in farm system (gardens, orchards, ponds)

A further improvement to farm or livelihood systems involves the intensification of a single subcomponent of their farm, while leaving the rest alone. These technologies can significantly increase total food production for rural livelihoods, particularly of protein and vegetables. The beneficiaries are often children during "hungry" seasons. The options include: double-dug beds; vegetables on rice bunds; kitchen gardens; fish ponds; gully cropping and silt traps.

Mechanism 3: Diversify by adding new regenerative components

The third type of improvement to natural capital involves the diversification of the whole agro-ecosystem through addition of new regenerative components, such as legumes in cereal rotations, fish in rice, agroforestry and livestock. These technologies can result in synergistic interactions - where one component of the system positively contributes to the success of other components. The options include: legumes in cropping systems (cover crops, green manures) and pastures; integrated livestock (e.g. poultry, stall-fed ruminants); fish in rice fields; Azolla in rice; trees in cropping systems, including woodlots; natural enemy releases for pest control; and habitat management for pest control and enhancement of beneficials (e.g. hedgerows, beetle banks, flowering and grass strips).

Mechanism 4: Better use of non-renewable inputs and external technologies

Where external and non-renewable inputs are being used, the system can be made more sustainable by ensuring precise applications of inputs with little or no wastage or damage to natural or human capital. Such approaches are similarly combined with introduction of regenerative alternatives. The options include: new seeds, patch spraying of botanicals, low dose and non-toxic sprays; veterinary services; pheromones, sterile males; resistant crop varieties and livestock breeds; and machinery (e.g. hand tools, ploughs).

Mechanism 5: Social and participatory processes leading to group action

These improvements focus on social and participatory processes that lead to social capital increases, so improving people's capacity to work together on common resource-management problems, forming groups for pest, irrigation, watershed, joint forest or credit management. The options include: farmers' research and experimentation groups; resource management and users' groups (e.g. forest protection, fisheries, irrigation, watersheds); credit groups; and horizontal partnerships between external sectoral agencies (e.g. private and public).

Mechanism 6: Human capital building through continuous learning programmes

These improvements focus on building farmers' knowledge and skills so as to improve analytical skills and capacities to innovate and control their farm systems. A major constraint in the transitions towards more sustainable systems in the levels of human knowledge and skills needed for management of more complex systems (it is much easier, for example, to spray a pesticide than it is to farm for beneficial insects). The options include: Farmer-Field-Schools for improving agro-ecological knowledge; leadership training; adult literacy classes; computer-based knowledge development; farmer-to-farmer extension; and farmer experimentation programmes.

Mechanism 7: Access to affordable finance (credit, grants, subsidies)

Improving access to finance is a vital way to help farm families develop more sustainable systems of management. This may be in the form of affordable and accessible credit (e.g. through micro-finance institutions and social organization, particularly of women), or through families accessing new sources of external finance (grants and subsidies, or from tourists and visitors). The components include: access to affordable credit; access to government grants and subsidies; increased returns on sales of produce; attract new sources of money for natural capital (e.g. ecotourism, hunting of wildlife, carbon credits for sequestration).

Mechanism 8: Added value through processing to reduce losses and increase returns

A variety of options are available to increase the returns to families from their production, either by reducing losses to pests (better storage and treatment) and inefficient processes (e.g. fuel-saving stoves); or by adding value before sale or use (conversion of primary products through processing). The options include: post-harvest technologies; processing primary produce before sale (e.g. dried fruit, chutney, oil press, sawmills); labelling produce for traceability and transparency (location or eco-labels); fuel-efficient stoves.

Mechanism 9: Adding value through direct or organized marketing to consumers

Farm families can also add value to their production through better marketing. This may involve improvements to physical infrastructure (e.g. roads, transport); or through direct marketing and sales to consumers (thus cutting out wholesalers and "middlemen"). The options include: rural roads and infrastructure; farmers' markets, box schemes, farm shops and direct mailing and community supported agriculture; producer groups for collective marketing; ethical trading schemes to ensure value reaches rural communities and livelihoods; green tourism schemes (selling the landscape and wildlife functions of farms).

Table 2 contains a summary of the improvement types used in these 29 certified and non-certified organic projects compared with those used by all 208 projects in the database. These indicate that:

Table 2: Summary of use of mechanisms for improvement for agricultural sustainability: comparison of organic projects with whole sustainable agriculture database

Improvement Mechanisms

Proportion of organic agriculture projects using each improvements

Proportion of all 208 projects on SAFE database using each improvement

1:Better use of locally-available natural resources



2:Intensify micro-environments in farm system (gardens, orchards, ponds)



3:Diversify by adding new regenerative components



4:Better use of non-renewable inputs and external technologies



5:Social and participatory processes leading to group action



6:Human capital building through continuous learning programmes



7:Access to affordable finance (credit, grants, subsidies)



8:Added value through processing to reduce losses and increase returns



9:Adding value through direct or organized marketing to consumers



These findings suggest that the technical improvements leading to natural capital accumulation are being widely applied, but that there remains a need to focus more on social capital and institutional development for building resilience and innovation capacity within communities, and aiding the spread of good practice. The low scores for access to credit are worrying, as are the lack of attention paid to adding value to produce before marketing. Some 40 percent of organic projects involve a direct link to consumers and markets - much better than for the main database, but still surprisingly low.

Technical improvements leading to natural capital accumulation are being widely applied, but there remains a need to focus more on social capital and institutional development.

Conclusions on scaling up experiences in organic agriculture

Several conclusions can be drawn from these certified and non-certified organic agriculture cases:

Most of the organic agriculture improvements seen in the past decade have arisen despite existing national policies. These will need major reform. Policies framed to deliver increased food production will have to be changed if they are to help deliver environmental and social benefits too. Food policies framed to help deliver cheap and abundant food regardless of quality will have to change too. And rural development policies and institutions focusing on exogenous solutions to the economic and social problems of rural communities are ill suited to the needs of community-based and participatory development. Nonetheless, there has been increasing global recognition of the need for policies to support sustainable agriculture in general and in some cases, specifically to organic agriculture. Although almost every country would now say it supports sustainable agriculture, the evidence points towards only patchy reforms.

In some contexts where organic agriculture is being adopted, there will also be critical trade-offs that may limit spread. The main secondary problem that may arise in these projects relate to shifts in resource allocation, between landlords and tenants and between men and women:

Experience from the above-mentioned examples suggests that the development in organic agriculture in developing countries will require the following actions:

The cases in this Chapter show that increased agricultural sustainability through adoption of organic methods can be complementary to improvements in rural people's livelihoods. It can deliver increases in food production at relatively low cost. Were these approaches to be widely adopted, they would make a significant impact on rural people's livelihoods, as well as on local and regional food security. But there are clearly major constraints to overcome. There will be losers along with winners, and some of the losers are currently powerful players (e.g. agrochemical companies). And yet, social organization and mobilization in a number of contexts is already leading to new informal and formal alliances that are protecting existing progress and developing the conditions for greater spread41. Improving agricultural sustainability through adoption of organic agriculture may not bring all the solutions, but promising progress has been made in recent years. With further explicit support, particularly through international, national and local policy reforms, these benefits to food security and attendant improvements to natural, social and human capital could spread to much larger numbers of farmers and rural people in the coming decades.

Certified and non-certified organic agriculture tends to succeed when organizations operate in partnership with others.

1 Pretty, 1995; Hinchcliffe et al., 1999; Bunch, 2000; FiBL, 2000; Uphoff, 2002.

2 Carson, 1963; Conway and Pretty, 1991; Steiner et al., 1995; Pimentel et al., 1995; Pingali and Roger, 1995; Waibel and Fleischer, 1998; Norse et al., 2000; Pretty et al., 2000, 2001.

3 Lampkin and Padel, 1994.

4 Balfour, 1943.

5 Conford, 1988.

6 For full details of methodology, see Pretty et al., 2002.

7 Borlaug, 1994a, b; Avery, 1995.

8 Murphy, 1999; Funes, 2001; Kovaleski, 1999; Socorro Castro, 2001.

9 Pretty and Ward, 2001.

10 Röling and Wagemakers, 1997.

11 Ed Ruddell (pers comm.), 1999; Ruddell, 1995; SAFE, 2001.

12 Jean-Marc von der Weid (pers. comm.), 2001.

13 SAFE, 2001.

14 Jos Harmsen and Hans Bolscher (pers. comm.), 2001.

15 Miguel Altieri (pers. comm.), 2001.

16 Rossett, 1997; Funes, 2001.

17 Miguel Altieri (pers. comm.), 2001; SAFE, 2001.

18 M. Saber (pers. comm.), 2001; SAFE, 2001.

19 Adiss Belake (pers.comm.), 2001; SAFE, 2001.

20 Food for the Hungry International (pers.comm.); SAFE, 2001.

21 ActionAid (pers. comm.); SAFE, 2001.

22 John Devavaram (pers. comm.); Devavaram et al., 1999; SAFE, 2001.

23 Manor House annual reports; SAFE, 2001.

24 Peter Omondi (pers. comm.); SAFE, 2001.

25 Francisca Mate, James Atema (pers. comm.); SAFE, 2001.

26 Herren and Pickett, ICIPE annual reports; Pickett, 1999; Khan et al., 2000.

27 Alberta Mascaretti (pers. comm.); SAFE, 2001.

28 Randall Brummet, Daniel Jama (pers. comm.); Brummet, 2000; SAFE, 2001.

29 Hamm, Gronefeld and Halpin, 2002.
Ronald Nigh (pers. comm.); SAFE, 2001.

30 SAFE, 2001.

30 Znaor and Kieft, 2000.

31 CWDS, 1999; SAFE, 2001.

32 Chris Evans, (pers. comm.); SAFE, 2001.

33 SAFE, 2001.

34 Amadou Diop (pers. comm.); Diop, 2000; SAFE, 2001.

35 Amadou Diop (pers. comm.); Diop, 2000; SAFE, 2001.

36 Ratter In Myers and Stolton, 1999; SAFE, 2001.

37 Intermediate Technology Development Group (pers. comm.); SAFE, 2001.

38 SAFE, 2001.

39 Sam Page (pers. comm.); SAFE, 2001.

40 Pretty and Hine, 2000.

41 Pretty and Ward, 2001.

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