21 December 2012

Gambia: Organic Agriculture - Farming Without the Use of Agrochemicals

Using the layman's language Organic Agriculture (O.A) is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people by avoiding or largely excluding the use of synthetic compounded inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, livestock feed additives and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

This system of production is based on the premise that synthetic compounds have been found to have a damning negative side effect on consumers and our environment. This is a fact, which has been adequately highlighted in many research findings and publications. They are known to either enter our ecosystem and pollute the ground waters or directly enter our food chain and end up being deposited in our body tissues leading to a build-up and resulting into chronic poisoning on the part of the consumer.

Organic Agriculture relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions. It combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved. These farming systems include the use of but are not limited to crop rotation, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, off farm organic wastes to maintain soil productivity and the supply of plant nutrients. It also includes aspects of biological pest control to control insects, weeds, and other pests that cause havoc on our crops and livestock. It is therefore a production system which is not new to the Gambian farmer.

The facts and figures surrounding OA estimate that it is worth more than $50 billion (fifty billion dollars) in international trade and the sub-region, The Gambia inclusive is hardly taking advantage of this opportunity largely because of the level of awareness on OA is low and the pool of local skilled manpower available to drive OA is very negligible.

In an effort to bridge the inadequate manpower gap, some tertiary institutions in West Africa with support from the European Union (EU) created the West African Network for Organic Agriculture Research and Training (WANOART) to take care of the training and research in Organic Agriculture. The network is anchored on the philosophy of sharing human, material and intellectual resources in the areas of research and training between member institutions. This approach has enabled member institutions to fill the knowledge gap that is lacking in the area of OA and by extension, farmers within the sub-region and beyond are benefitting from the research findings and training. The University of the Gambia have shown keen interest in becoming a member of this network.

However, all said and done, this age old system of farming has its own weakness which is by far outweighed by its successes and benefits and if we are to safe our borrowed environment for posterity, we must start to think ORGANIC.

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