“Organic agriculture not an option for Africa at the moment”

As much as environmentalists have been promoting organic agriculture, the use of fertilisers is still important for Africa to achieve food sustainability.

This according to Andy Watt, managing director of Syngenta East Africa, in an interview with How we made it in Africa.

Andy Watt, managing director of Syngenta East Africa

Andy Watt, managing director of Syngenta East Africa

“Organic agriculture is not a choice for Africa at the moment. Africa needs to be able to produce enough food for itself, and to achieve this farmers should use fertiliser to harvest a good crop. This is not possible through organic agriculture,” says Watt.

He maintains that organic agriculture is a luxury for the overpaid and overfed western world. Due to its low yield it is not the appropriate way for farming for an underfed continent like Africa.

“We need to push for intensive production of food in Africa to achieve food sustainability, either way I do not advocate for overuse of pesticides due to its negative effects on the environment,” he says.

Among the services rolled out by Syngenta is input insurance which covers farmers from making losses when crop production fails due to rainfall patterns.

“By securing the value of the seed we will encourage farmers to invest in high breed quality varieties confidently, knowing that in case anything goes wrong they will receive their money spent back,” he said.

The project was tried out in Laikipai, Kenya last year in partnership with UAP Insurance and mobile operator Safaricom. A record of 220 farmers were involved in the test project out which 200 were compensated automatically through Safaricom’s M-PESA mobile money transfer service due to the dry season which affected crop production.

Other areas where the pilot project were undertaken include, Iten, Oyugis, Kisii, Embu, Eldoret, Bungoma and Teso.

Watt reckons that the government should invest more in training farmers.

“Many farmers do not have enough information [on] new farming techniques. They still use old techniques which are susceptible to crop diseases leading to low yields. Syngenta is partnering with extension services to provide training for farmers in selected parts of the country,” he said.

He says that with the construction of a proper infrastructure network in the country, Kenyan farmers will be more competitive in the export business globally and reap higher profit margins. “The competitiveness of Africa farmers in the international market is [hindered] by a poor infrastructure network. The costs of getting their products to the border for export is both time consuming and costly, and eats into their profits.”