Nigeria’s determined drive for the implementation of the twin policies of food security and safety has brought to the fore the imperative of bio-safety and environmental protection in line with internationally accepted best practices. The issue goes beyond mass production of sundry food items. What more, there are multiplicity of challenges to be overcome. These include poor funding, low mechanization 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 therefore, seen as significant means of providing people with healthier food choices. It is considered a sustainable agricultural practice since it does not use harmful chemical fertilizers and 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, 60per cent of all herbicides, 90 per cent 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 becarriedout 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 minimized.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 OluwatomiOlatoye, a journalist 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 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.
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 recognized as one of the leading lights in organic farming. According to Nishika 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 30% to 200%, according to organic experts – but their yields are rising as the pesticide-poisoned land is repaired through natural farming 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 10% to 20% 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 trriggering farmer suicides across the country, particularly in the Vidarabha region of Maharashtra. Organicfarming slashes cultivation and input costs by up to 70% 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.”
UmeshVishwanathChaudhari, 35, a farmer in the Jalgaon district in Maharashtra, switched to organicfarming seven years ago after experiencing diminishing yields from his 8-hectare (20-acres) 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 40%, 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.
More Nigerian farmers should therefore, be trained on how to maximize 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.
– Baje is a respected public analyst