Organic Agriculture is a holistic production management system which enhances agro-ecosystem health, utilizing both traditional and scientific knowledge. Organic agricultural system relies on ecosystem management rather than external agricultural inputs (IFOAM Organics International).
The IFOAM Organics International is the worldwide umbrella organisation for organic agriculture movements which represents close to 800 affiliates in 117 countries.
The European Union organic standard also included that organic agriculture practices involve the application of high animal welfare standards and a production method in line with the preference of certain consumers for products developed using natural substances and processes.
From the explanations above, one then begins to wonder, what is the difference between organic and conventional agricultural practices?
Dr Olugbenga AdeOluwa, the Country Coordinator of Ecological Organic Agriculture (EOA) Initiative in Nigeria said that organic agriculture `is one of the easily misconstrued aspects of agriculture’’.
He said that while the popularity of organic food and non- food products continue to increase, there are still plenty of people who don’t know what organic food and products are or how these differ from regular or conventional ones.
“There are established specific requirements that must be verified before any products can be labeled organic and must demonstrate that they protect natural resources and conserve biodiversity.
“In organic farming, the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, irradiation, sewage sludge, hormones, antibiotics and genetic engineering is strictly prohibited.
“Whereas farmers using conventional methods might spray synthetic chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth, organic farmers would, instead, apply natural fertilizers such as compost manure to feed the soil and the plants“.
AdeOluwa said that where the conventional farmer would use insecticides for pest control, the organic farmer would make use of beneficial insects, birds or traps.
“While the conventional farmer might use chemical herbicides for weed control, the organic farmer would rotate crops, use cover crops, till the dirt, engage mechanical weeding, hand-weed or mulch to manage the weeds.
“Similarly, producers of organic beef, pork, poultry and other meat products use preventative measures such as rotational grazing, a wholesome diet, clean housing, access to the outdoors and botanicals: in contrast to the conventional producers who give animals hormones to spur growth and antibiotics to prevent disease.’’
He said that sustainability of environmental resources and safety are important components of organic agriculture which are lacking in conventional agriculture practice currently taught in schools.
“There is a difference between organic agriculture and organic chemistry, therefore proper understanding of organic agriculture is needed for effective engagement of stakeholders in the value chain of agriculture, of which academic institutions are major.
“There is a need for curriculum development in Nigeria to incorporated organic agriculture into the Degree and National Diploma programmes in the country.’’
AdeOluwa, who is also a lecturer at the University of Ibadan said the curricula of Institutions must address the issue of the four principles of organic agriculture.
He said that for produce to be called organic it must have gone through and observed all the principles of organic agriculture practice.
“These include the `Principle of Health’ to sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal and human as one and indivisible.
“Principle of Ecology` that is based on, and working with, living ecological systems and cycles, emulate them and help sustain them.
“The Principle of Fairness’ built upon relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.
“The Principle of Care which should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and wellbeing of current and future generations and the environment“.
He unequivocally maintained that organic agriculture is necessary to save the planet from the misuse of harmful chemicals and protect fragile soil ecosystems.
He is also of the opinion that a proper understanding of organic agriculture would address challenges of low yields and intensification of production.
Prof. Victor Olowe, the President, Association of Organic Agriculture Practitioners of Nigeria lent his voice to why people should practice organic farming.
He said that health risks associated with exposure to pesticides are among the main considerations when looking at the reasons for the world to go organic.
“Farmers and their families are the most affected by pesticides, so also are the people who live in communities near the points of application of toxic pesticides, where pesticide drift and water contamination are common.’’
He said that even pregnant women working in the fields unwittingly expose their unborn babies to toxic pesticides but that in organic agriculture practice, their health would be protected.
“Organic agriculture does not utilize these toxic chemicals and thus eliminates this enormous health hazard to workers, their families, and their communities.
“Organic food can feed us and keep us healthy without producing the toxic effects of chemical agriculture.
“Also, in addition to lacking the toxic residues of conventional foods, organic food is more nutritious: It is richer in nutrients, in particular, organic acids and polyphenolic compounds, which have been shown to have human health benefits as antioxidants.’’
According to Olowe, `Food security is an existing global challenge: Everyone has to have stable access to an adequate quantity of nutritious and affordable supply of food that is subject to both quantitative and qualitative requirements.
“When you see the word `organic’ on a label or a package, it means the product was grown or made according to the strict standards (without the use of toxic, persistent chemicals, GMOs, antibiotics or hormones).’’
One could at this point ask, if organic agriculture is as important to healthy food security as the organic experts say, why is organic farming not yet widely adopted?
Mr Joseph Nwana, an agriculturist has this to say:
“Because farmers are not patient enough, they want immediate effects so they resort to the application of synthetic fertilizers and added to this is the fact that it is difficult to obtain organic fertilizers.
“Also, organically grown produce does not have properly organised markets at the moment, and governments have not put in enough efforts to propagate the benefits of organic agriculture.
“Organic agriculture may have lower yields and would therefore need more land to produce the same amount of food as conventional farms.
“This will result in more widespread deforestation and biodiversity loss, thus undermining the environmental benefits of organic practices.’’
Mr Ernest Aubee, Head, Agriculture Division, ECOWAS Commission Abuja says Nigeria is one of the leading countries in West Africa that have taken the lead in efforts to mainstream organic agriculture in school curricula.
Aubee, who is also Chairman of the Regional Steering Committee, Ecological Organic Agriculture (EOA) Initiative in West Africa said this will help to inculcate the principles of organic agriculture in the consciousness of future generations.
“This will help see how best to mainstream organic agriculture into the school curriculum to encourage and promote its sustainability.
“What Nigeria is doing in organic agriculture will benefit, not only Nigeria as a country, but also the other ECOWAS member states.
“This is the time for us as a continent to pay closer attention to what we eat.
“We read in the media all the time stories about contaminated foods and as a result we must be careful what we eat. This is important because that is part of what should define our personality and the population of the members of ECOWAS states“.
He encouraged other ECOWAS member states to follow suit and start work immediately on how best to make sure that organic agriculture becomes an integral part of their curriculum from primary to the highest level of education.
“In attempting to do this, we must not stop at just one level, we should start from the base, from the primary to the highest level of education,” he advised.