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Vegetable farmers get technical k now-how of organic farming

MAMA Khadija is one of the many vendors selling vegetables and fruits brought by farmers from rural areas villages. She says customers who stroll by their ‘tables’, always look for eye catching produce!

“I sell spinach, tomatoes, watermelon, and oranges. My customers always go for good looking fruits and vegetables,” said Mama Khadija, a famous vendor at the Darajani market on Unguja Island.

Asked if she knows why her fruits and vegetables are huge and attractive, she replied, “It is because farmers who supply her with the fruits like watermelon, and vegetables use industry fertilizers on their farms.”

Asked if she has even heard of organic farming, the charming vender replied, “Y es, it is the old way of farming. Y ou use no industrial fertilizers and always the yield is not good.

Farmers are encouraged to use fertilizers for better results.” Does she know the difference between products from inorganic farming and organic farming?

“ I sell more of the vegetables and fruits from farmers using chemical fertilizers, because the products are attractive, but I cannot tell the health difference.”

Inorganic Farming (also known as conventional farming) is crop growing by using synthetic products such as pesticides [insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides] and chemical fertilizers, while Organic farming is a method of crop and livestock production without using pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms, antibiotics and growth hormones.

Inorganic farming also regarded as ‘modern farming’ has been widely encouraged and practiced in the past four decades particularly in developing countries as the best way to increase production and good yield in common crops: cereals (like maize, peas, beans, wheat), rice, tuberous crops (like tropical potatoes), root vegetables (like cassava).

With growing demand for food globally and at home fuelled by increasing population and tourism industry, Inorganic farming has also been applied in livestock and poultry keeping, aiming at increasing production of milk, eggs, and meat.

However, debate has been emerged within recent years about how healthy are products from inorganic farming.

Some researchers have linked increasing obesity, Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) - such as cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, stuntedness and malnutrition in children and poor performance in schools to the foods.

Some experts warn consumers that likely the big/fat and eye catching products like big watermelons, oranges, bananas, chicken, etc may be containing a lot of chemicals! Industrially-produced and chemical-based fertilisers give plants the nutrients they need to grow faster and bigger.

They say that these fertilisers to plants are what hormonal injections are to chickens, which can be dangerous to health.

Due to the worries, and destruction of land/soil fertility by chemicals, some countries, and regions in federal states have switched to organic farming while other states are strengthening campaign for organic farming (also known as traditional farming) and many individual people in developed countries have stopped consuming any product from inorganic farming.

The ongoing debate (food from Inorganic Vs Organic farming) is also driving health researchers, analysts, and other campaigners to encourage farmers to adopt organic farming and people to like consuming the products because they are healthy to our body.

They believe organic food [ fruits, vegetables, and cereals] will reduce the health risks non-organic ones expose to both adults and children, and it is high time people switch to consuming organic food even if it means paying extra for the foods. Discussing the importance of organic farming here last week, officers from UW AMW IMA (Umoja W a W akulima W a Mboga Mboga na Matunda Zanzibar), and Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (TOAM), met here with some stakeholders mainly farmers, health officers, and local leaders.

Ms Celestine Mgoba from Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre (TFNC), under the Government’s policy of first phase of dealing with the problem of malnutrition in the country, argues that lack of proteins, vitamins, and other minerals in the highly consumed foods (Inorganic) has led to health complications in children.

“Stunted children are 34.4 percent, underweight 13.7 percent, thin children 4.5 percent, along with Vitamins A, and Iron deficiency, while 58 percent children under the age of five face and 45 percent mothers have anaemia problem, respectively,” she said as linking the problem to much of food from inorganic and junk foods.

Dr Mwatima Abdalla (National Chairperson), and Mr Gama Jordan (Chief Executive Officer), Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (TOAM) said that organic farming would the solution to malnutrition in the country.

The officers urged the government to allocate budget to promote organic farming as the farming is possible in almost all areas of Zanzibar, and in the mainland adding that people need to be educated about the health, environmental, and economic benefits of organic farming.

“W hy should we continue using products from inorganic farming while we have the land and ability to produce organic foods for our consumption and export,” Ms Abdalla said here to farmers and the government authorities.

She drums for organic products, as some studies have indicated that the use of fertilisers lead to high nitrate contents in food which, when consumed over a long period of time, creates toxicity in blood, and also cause respiratory ailments, headaches and skin rashes among farmers.

Jordan who is also the African Organic Network (AfrONet) said that organic food crops and products are proven to be nutritionally better than inorganic ones, and need to be promoted by the government through its National Multicultural Nutrition Action Plan (NMNAP) and National guidelines on Organic farming and organic food products.

Mr Khamis Issa Mohamed, leader of UW AMW IMA- a group of farmers engaged in organic farming, informed a meeting here that his organization has been promoting organic farming because the farming is environmentally friendly to the land/ soil and products are safe for human consumption.

Mr Mohamed said that organic agriculture, which constitutes a holistic farm management system, is possible in the country. It is a combination of agronomic practices that are environmentally sound, socially just and economically viable, he said.

He mentioned that the international federation of organic agriculture movements (IFOAM) revised principles for organic agriculture: health, ecology, fairness and care.

He also built a strong case for organic as little damage to environment – less cost for society, and greater biodiversity. Other advantages of organic agriculture includes reduced nutrient losses, reduced erosion, water management, low use of non – renewable resources, safer working conditions, less risk of contamination, and can build on traditional knowledge.

Access to organic market, organic and Food Security, increasing yields in low-input areas, conserving bio-diversity and nature resources on the farm and in the surrounding area, increasing income and/ or reducing costs, producing safe and varied food, and being sustainable in the long term are other advantages.

THE Minister for Agriculture, Natural Resources, Livestock, and Fishing Mr Mmanga Mjengo Mjawir joined farmers groups here to promote organic farming to improve people’s and soil health and fertility.

Mjawir said the government will support organic farming because Zanzibar has the potential of becoming organic farming country in the region, but emphasized on Public Private Partnership (PPP) to make the farming successful.

The minister mentioned that the government was committed to promoting organic farming in the country and would provide support to farmers for its development.

He said already there policies such as Agriculture policy, and the poverty reduction strategy (MKUZA), which supports organic farming.

The Minister thanked UW AMW IMA farmers group for promoting organic farming in Zanzibar, as he also encouraged more farmers to get engaged in organic farming.

The price of organic food is generally higher than that of conventionally grown food.

The Minister said “Let us promote organic farming. Sustainable production can be achieved through organic farming by improvement in soil health and fertility.

Demand for organic produce in the global market is becoming high; let our farmers use the opportunity.”

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Author: STAFF REPORTER

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