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IIABA: A project to advance organic agriculture in Africa

Launched on February 28 for a duration of three and a half years, the aim of the Institutional Innovations of Organic Agriculture in Africa (IIABA) project is to support the development of ecological organic agriculture across the continent. The project is coordinated by the African Organic Network (AfrONet) and project partners including the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), France's National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE), the Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (TOAM), National Organic Agriculture Movement of Uganda (NOGAMU), Moroccan Interprofessional Federation of the Organic Sector (FIMABIO) and Réseau des Initiatives Agroécologiques au Maroc (RIAM).

CIRAD and INRAE are working closely to facilitate the emergence of institutional innovations for the organic sector through the IIABA project and thereafter deploy AfrONet to domesticate all those innovations to members continent-wide. In the meantime, various activities are in place in these three countries of Morocco, Uganda, and Tanzania. The premise is that in order to encourage organic agriculture, it is not enough to increase organic agricultural production. Rather, it is necessary to develop the appropriate institutions, whether in terms of markets, certification of the “organic” quality of products, and or public policies. From 2020 to 2023, CIRAD, INRAE, TOAM, NOGAMU, and RIAM under the supervision of AfrONet will strive to identify institutional innovations in these three areas and to promote them at the national and continental levels. 

CIRAD and INRAE are coordinating action research for the IIABA project through studies and regular roundtable discussions, and using Tanzania, Uganda, and Morocco as the pilot countries for the project. Although organic agriculture initially developed in Africa through export markets to meet growing demand from consumers in the North, it has become increasingly acknowledged in the South as a means of ensuring food security, sovereignty, and nutrition. It is also increasingly being integrated into climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. Besides, it is a key public health challenge: indeed, although the use of synthetic chemical inputs like pesticides is less widespread in Africa than in other parts of the world, they are nevertheless used, and often in an inappropriate and sometimes dangerous manner.

The traditional approach to the development of the organic sector is mostly about connecting smallholder farmers to international markets. Although this solution enables producers to sell their organic products at good prices, it nevertheless cuts them off from local markets and excludes African consumers from these products. 

In order to meet growing demand from African consumers for healthy, natural products, and to enable better integration of the organic sector at the local territorial level, the challenge is to develop domestic markets. Based in particular on the establishment of market observatories, roundtables, and platforms for dialogue between producers and consumers, the goal is to help build new market models that are more equitable and inclusive and adapted to each local context. According to requests from partners and local actors on the ground, the project will test different combinations of solutions, whether these build on physical infrastructures, contracts between actors potentially involving the public authorities, or the possibilities provided by new technologies and social media.

In addition to markets, systems to guarantee “organic” quality are essential to the construction of sectors: they ensure the credibility of organic agriculture by building trust between producers and consumers. For export, products must be certified by a third party, but this type of guarantee is costly, often unaffordable, and too difficult to manage for small producers. This is why other types of guarantees of organic quality which are better suited to the social realities of smallholder farmers are necessary and becoming more and more common. Enter participatory guarantee systems (PGS). PGS are certification systems based on the active participation of the stakeholders concerned: Mainly producers, but also consumers and other stakeholders in the sector. Altogether they develop standards, specifications, and participatory rules for inspecting farms and delivering certification. These systems enable not only monitoring of organic practices, but also sharing of knowledge and best practices between the stakeholders concerned and making PGS very diverse. 

The goal of the IIABA project is not to define the ideal PGS, but to accompany stakeholders in the development of these innovative systems while improving mechanisms or technologies according to their needs. At this juncture, CIRAD has in particular developed original software to improve the organization of inspections. In addition to markets and guarantee systems, the development of the organic sector in Africa also requires promising public policies that will ensure policy decisions to support organic agriculture. 

Therefore the IIABA project advocates multi-stakeholder and multi-sector dialogue with policymakers at different administrative levels in each country to take organic agriculture to new heights. Public authorities can support the development of organic agriculture through the implementation of dedicated regulatory policy at the national level above all, but also through other national incentive measures. 

At the local level, all sorts of innovations are likely to be supported, such as municipal compost, territorial markets, organic fairs, supply agreements for mass catering, etc.

Research in these three fields of institutional innovation is aimed at developing specific manuals and tools that will enable not only AfrONet at the continental level but also partners in the three countries to build their capacity and encourage their ongoing initiatives.

Financed by AFD, IIABA has a budget of 1.48 million euros for a period of three and a half years to accelerate the development of organic agriculture in Africa.

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