Food security: Organic farming to the rescue
As Nigeria strives for food security with the multiplicity of challenges including poor funding, low mechanisation level, lack of involvement of the stakeholders in policy formulations and the unwillingness of banks to offer long-term loans, especially to rural farmers, organic farming is seen as significant means of increasing food production. It provides people with healthier food choices. It is considered a sustainable agricultural practice since it does not use harmful pesticides that deplete the nutritional value of foods and have deleterious effects on the environment.
One of the persisting challenges however, is that many Nigerian farmers are not familiar with organic farming methods. Most still grow fruits and vegetables with the use of chemical fertilizers and still apply pesticide that may be harmful to the consumers.
According to agric experts commercially produced foods, especially those treated with chemical fertilizers and pesticides that leave our foods with toxins which could lead to life-threatening diseases.The Environmental Protection Agency of the U.S. government claims that some of the most common pesticides and fertilizers have been linked to cancer and other diseases. In fact, 60percent of all herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides, and 30 per cent of insecticides are considered carcinogenic.
From the environmentalperspective, those pesticides and chemicals find their way into our drinking water and deplete the land of nutrients. In addition, the fruits and vegetables grown through organic farming can be carried domestically with virtually all family members taking part. This inadvertently imbibes the culture of healthy farming and eating methods..
In addition, it is economically wise since the amount of money spent on fuel to get the produce from the farmlands to the home is drastically minimised.
When also considered from the organoleptic platform such foods are fresher, more appealing and have better tastes. On the nutritional content, The Journal of American Nutrition says studies have shown that organic foods have between 10 to 250 times the nutritional value compared to the non-organic varieties.
Even though the size of fruits may be smaller for organic fruits, it was discovered in 2001 that the nutritional content of such fruits grown in the US had 30 per cent more nutrients especially vitamin C than the non-organic types.
According to Oluwatomi Olatoye of the Tribune, many approved pesticides were registered long before extensive research linked these chemicals to cancer and other diseases. It prevents any more of these chemicals from getting into the air, earth and water that sustain us.
The elimination of polluting chemicals and nitrogen leaching, done in combination with soil building, protects and conserves water resources. This type of agric practice agriculture respects the balance demanded of a healthy ecosystem: wildlife is encouraged by including forage crops in rotation and by retaining fence rows, wetlands, and other natural areas.
The farmers have led the way, largely at their own expense, with innovative on-farm research aimed at reducing pesticide use and minimising agriculture’s impact on the environment.
Now every food category has an organic alternative. And non-food agricultural products are being grown organically- even cotton, which most experts felt could not be grown this way. Don’t forget, the best way to get fresh, organic fruits and vegetables is by growing them in your own garden.
The Indian experience
Globally, India is recognised as one of the leading lights in organic farming. According toNishika Patel, budding interest in organic food offers farmers soaring incomes and higher yields, but critics say it’s not the answer to India’s fast-rising food demands
India’s struggling farmers are starting to profit from a budding interest in organic living. Not only are the incomes of organic farmers soaring – by 30percent to 200percent according to organicexperts – but their yields are rising as the pesticide-poisoned land is repaired through naturalfarming methods.
Organicfarming only took off in the country about seven years ago. Farmers are turning back to traditional farming methods for a number of reasons. First, there’s a 10percent to 20percent premium to be earned by selling organic products abroad and in India’s increasingly affluent cities, a move towards healthy living and growing concern over toxic foods and adulteration plaguing the food market.
Second, the cost of pesticides and fertilisers has shot up and the loans farmers need to buy expensive, modified seed varieties are pushing many into a spiral of debt. Crippling debt and the burden of loans are triggering farmer suicides across the country, particularly in the Vidarabha region of Maharashtra. Organicfarming slashes cultivation and input costs by up to 70percent due to the use of cheaper, natural products like manure instead of chemicals and fertilisers.
Third, farmers are suffering from the damaging effects of India’s green revolution, which ushered in the rampant use of pesticides and fertilisers from the 1960s to ensure bumper yields and curb famine and food shortages. Over the decades, the chemicals have taken a toll on the land and yields are plunging.
“Western, modern farming has spoiled agriculture in the country. An overuse of chemicals has made land acidic and hard, which means it needs even more water to produce, which is costly,” says Narendra Singh of OrganicIndia. “Chemicals have killed the biggest civilisation in agriculture – earthworms, which produce the best soil for growth.”
Umesh Vishwanath Chaudhari, 35, a farmer in the Jalgaon district in Maharashtra, switched toorganicfarming seven years ago after experiencing diminishing yields from his 8-hectare (20-acre) plot. He came across a book on organicfarming techniques using ancient Vedic science. He started making natural fertilisers and pesticides using ingredients such as cow manure, cow urine, honey and through vermicomposting – the process of using earthworms to generate compost. Since then, his yields and income have risen by 40percent, and worms have returned to his soil. He sells lime, custard apple and drumsticks to organic stores in Pune, Mumbai and other cities, while his cotton is bought by Morarka, a rural NGO.
He plans to convert another 2 hectares to organic cotton and buy 10 cows to make his own manure, rather than buying it. “Using manure instead of pesticides and fertilisers has cut my costs by half, and I get a premium on these goods,” he says.
According to him, “I used to drive a scooter, but in the past few years I’ve been able to afford a bike and car – and even two tractors.”
More Nigerian farmers should therefore be trained on how to maximise the immense benefits of organic farming not only to feed the growing population expected to explode to 400 million Nigerians by 2050 but to protect our increasingly fragile environment.
Additional Information from Poverty Matters Blog with support from Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation
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