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Manjo Smith
Namibian Organic Association
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Organic Agriculture combats desertification

The Organic Agricultural Sector calls on the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) to encourage governments to adopt Organic Agriculture as a tool to combat desertification.

“Unsustainable agricultural practices is a major cause of desertification” said Manjo Smith, Chairperson of the Namibian Organic Association and world board member of IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements), in her presentation, "Investing in our soils through environmentally‐friendly agriculture" during the Sustainable Land Management Business Forum at the UNCCD COP11 event.

Desertification is caused mainly by overcultivation, overgrazing, deforestation and poor irrigation practices, which result in organic matter loss, soil contamination, erosion, soil compaction and sealing, salinisation and long-term loss of natural vegetation” she explained.

Desertification leads to food insecurity, famine, poverty, and human displacement that can give rise to social, economic and political tensions, perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty and land degradation.

In sharp contrast, Organic Agriculture is a holistic production management system, which enhances agro-ecosystem health, utilising both traditional and scientific knowledge. Organic agricultural systems rely on ecosystem management rather than external agricultural inputs such as the application of chemical fertilisers and the use of pesticides and herbicides.

The practice of Organic Agriculture increases the resilience of soils to both water stress and nutrient loss. It contributes to combating desertification because soil erosion and land degradation is prevented and helps to rehabilitate degraded land.

Additional benefits of Organic Agriculture are:
  • building a fertile, living soil with frequent organic matter inputs, sustained soil cover, crop rotations and intercropping. Organic Agriculture farming systems that integrate crops and animals can reduce overgrazing and facilitate nutrient recycling on the farm;
  • wind and water erosion of soils is prevented because of a better, more stable soil structure and texture, through persistent and diversified soil cover and agro-forestry;
  • improved water infiltration and retention capacity because of high levels of organic matter and permanent soil cover such as cover crops or mulch, which substantially reduces the amount of water needed for irrigation;
  • reduced surface and ground water consumption and subsequent soil salinisation because of increased water retention capacity, reduced water evaporation, and the creation of suitable and sustainable micro- climates in dry areas. This kind of water retention can result in diversified organic agro-forestry systems that can attract and retain atmospheric humidity; and,
  • reduced ground and surface water contamination because the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers is discouraged, which protects the limited amount of water available in dry areas from pesticide contamination and nitrate and phosphate leaching.
Preventing desertification requires an integrated approach. Organic Agriculture, which includes techniques such as windbreaks, shelterbelts and reforestation should be promoted and strengthened along with socio-economic measures that addresses insecure land tenure systems and the promotion of sustainable human settlements.

Smith concluded, “Organic Agriculture should be a key component of programmes aimed at stopping land degradation processes and bringing degraded lands back into production. Governments, development agencies and donors should promote Organic Agriculture in their agricultural development efforts to reverse desertification where it has occurred and to prevent it from expanding.”
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