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Stakeholders urge return to organic farming

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
30 December 2018   |   4:16 am
With the growing population of Africa and Nigeria in particular, the production of food via genetic modification has become inevitable, giving rise to genetically engineered crops.

With the growing population of Africa and Nigeria in particular, the production of food via genetic modification has become inevitable, giving rise to genetically engineered crops.

That the cultivation and consumption of organic crops is gradually diminishing, is to say the least, as research has shown that currently, the level of organic farming is very low globally, with only two per cent of the total arable lands allocated to organic agriculture.

By definition, organic farming is a method of crop and livestock production that involves choosing not to use pesticides, fertilizer, genetically modified organisms, antibiotics and growth hormones.

It entails a production system that sustains health of soils, ecosystems, biodiversity and people. It is also a system of production, which does not use synthetic fertiliser and drugs, pesticides, herbicides, growth regulators, antibiotics, hormone stimulant and /or livestock feed additive to grow crops and raise animals.

This system of farming has been identified to be of great importance to human, animal, agro-production ecosystems, the environment, the farming community and society because of its ability to keep the soil intact.

The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimise the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, according to the Oyo State Commissioner for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development, Mr. Oyewole Oyewumi, who added that it promotes healthy soil, which is rich in micro nutrients used for decades to grow crops.

“Organic grown foods are tastier, healthier and free from harmful chemical, artificial flavours and preservatives, which pose risk to diseases linked to cancers, foetal abnormalities, among others.

“Ultimately, organic agriculture helps combat global warming by capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide (Co2) and incorporating (sequestering) it into the soil,” he said.

However, the number of farmers engaging in organic farming is shrinking, coupled with the fact that its demand is somewhat insignificant in the country, because of the absence of legal standards.

The National Secretary, Association of Organic Practitioners of Nigeria, Mrs. Oluyinka Odukoya, who attested to this, said organic farmers are currently producing according to the demands of a small fraction of the country’s population.

She said establishing an organic produce market is possible only if there is collaboration between farmers and the regulatory agencies that would ensure good agricultural practices to promote standards.

“It is very possible to have an organic market established, but there is every need to ensure that farmers or producers of organic products meet standards. To achieve that, we must collaborate with the regulatory agencies like National Agency for Food Drugs, Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and others to achieve that,” she said.

“Currently organic farmers produce according to demands, which mostly are from the health conscious people, those with health conditions, the elite and those who just returned to the country and do not wish to eat food with chemicals.

“Organic produce all comes with a premium price and only a smaller amount of the population understand this and do not mind how much it will cost them. For these reasons, organic farmers need the assurance that when they produce, there will be buyers; that is why we do not produce in mass quantity,” Odukoya said.

Emeritus professor in the department of Pathology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Stellenbosch, in Cape town, Prof. Akin Abayomi, who manages 300 acre organic habitat forest conversation project in Osun State, lamented that there were genetically modified farm produce whose original form had been altered, saying though genetic modification was induced because of peoples’ innocent demand, it has long-term negative effects and therefore inhibit sustainable ecosystem.

He said exposing human beings to chemicals affects their genes and in turn affects the body system. To enhance a sustainable healthy ecosystem in the country, Abayomi canvassed the removal of toxins from the system, and the need for reorientation for people to know how they can relate or affect their environment, which is called biosecurity.

An environmental scientist from Michigan State University (USA), Jelili Adebiyi, charged farmers and other stakeholders on regulations, enforcement and monitoring to embrace and expand alternatives to pesticides centered farming system. “This is to avert unhealthy practices, which harm human, animals, plants and environment.”

He said food grown according to certified organic standard is safe for consumption, but conventional crops that are grown with synthetic inputs like fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides and others with toxic substances, are not safe, and consumers are poised to become unhealthy.

Few months ago, the Ecological Organic Agriculture (EOA), held a three-day summit in Lagos, with the aim of addressing the various challenges facing the organic agriculture sub-sector, especially as it affects human health and the environment.

Stakeholders in the organic farming sector, unanimously advocate the need to put pressure on the Federal Government to enact policies that would encourage farmers to go back to organic farming, to promote healthy ecosystem.

They disclosed that plans are on to push a bill on organic agriculture, which they believe would spur more farmers to go into the practice.

At the summit, the Chairman of NICERT Ltd., Mr. Ajibola Oluyede said efforts should be made to separate genuine organic farmers from the fake, so as to ensure that all organic produce in the market are of good quality.

“The Association of Organic Agriculture Practitioners of Nigeria (NOAN) has encouraged a practice which is built on the standards of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). The association does certification for some members for the Nigerian practice, but in terms of commercial recognition, our organic farmers ought to be accredited by the regulatory bodies involved in that.

“NICERT is credited to enforce European Union (EU) standards for organic products, as well as other countries. Nevertheless, Nigeria does not have an organic programme through which bodies may be credited.

“However, if you are producing what is organic, it must meet international standards. We need certification for organic producers because any farming process that does not help the ecosystem is not organic,” he said.

Oluyede, who noted that there was a high demand for organic produce in many foreign countries, said the demand was somewhat insignificant in Nigeria because of the absence of legal standards.

Vice chancellor, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Professor Felix Kolawole Salako, in an exclusive interview with The Guardian, however noted that the definition of organic agriculture is getting confusing, as “it is highly restricted.”

“I think the concept of organic agriculture is, produce everything using organic materials, but where many people miss it is that if the soil is not a virgin land, if it has been used in the past, you are not too sure of what has been deposited in that soil, you may not be producing organic food. The original concept of it is for you to start even from production level, from the soil that has not been contaminated with any chemical. Some people also miss it, when you go to a poultry farm and collect the poultry litters and the birds have been fed with some chemicals and you add the litters, which have some components of the chemicals, you think you are really producing organic?

“This is why the definition of organic agriculture is getting confusing. It’s not just about producing crops with cow dung, litters and the rest of them, what you feed the animals matter before they produce the dung. So, indirectly you may be putting some chemicals in your crop through the feeds and vaccines you gave the animals. There may be organic crops, but they are restricted. If you want organic in the true sense of it, such is highly restricted. It’s not that there is nothing organic, but they are restricted.”