Organic farming is a system that supports and sustains biodiversity. It is therefore beneficial to any ecosystem, because of its reliance on nature to provide what is needed in terms of soil fertility, pest and disease control. How does this work?
The soil; If we look at unspoiled nature, a forest, for instance that is in pristine condition and untouched by man, we see beautiful big trees that co-exist with all of the smaller plant life in the middle and understory’s, all of which are inhabited by a very diverse array of wildlife including insects that live in the trees and in the soils. It is this diversity that maintains the health of the forest. We cultivate crops to feed ourselves and others and to achieve this, man has cleared massive areas of natural vegetation of all kinds and planted single crops in these fields, and this is called monoculture. This monoculture is alien to the environment, and results in farmers using synthetic fertilizers to maintain yields and applying toxic chemicals to combat pests, diseases and weeds. The result is high levels of chemical residues are left in the produce but more importantly, the medium in which the crops are grown, the soil, has been altered in a negative way. The structure of the soil is being reduced to the basic elements; stone in one form or another, which holds no nutrients, it is just sand without any dead plant matter. A healthy forest does not need any chemical assistance; it generates its own controls, fertilization is accomplished in an ongoing cycle from living matter to dead matter to nutrients that can be used by growing plants, pests are controlled by predatory insects and animals, rodents are controlled by predators such as snakes, disease is controlled by the maintenance of healthy plants that live in a healthy environment in healthy, nutrient rich soils. And so it goes on in an ongoing cycle of health. What is needed to maintain healthy soils?
Organic matter (Crop/plant residues)
Soil life to decompose the organic matter;
These feed on dead plant matter from the surface and below the surface of the soil
These feed on dead plant and animal matter from the surface and below the surface of the soil
Other microscopic life such as nematodes moss & Algae
These further break down the excretions of larger life forms
Water & Oxygen
Water is required by plants, to grow and it helps nutrients to be taken up into the roots
Water is also required by the diverse sub terrestrial animal kingdom. Without water, underground life either dies or goes into a state of dormancy
Water also softens dead matter in or on the soil, thereby assisting in the decomposition process
We could go on and on, the point, however, is that untouched nature is self sustaining with a history that cannot be disputed. The relatively new practice of monoculture, using synthetic chemical aides to supply crops with their needs, is ultimately and globally, leading to large scale hydroponics because soils are being reduced to their basic parent materials, which farmers have to infuse in ever increasing quantities, with nutrients in order to achieve decent yields. So in the relatively short lifetime of Monoculture, it has proven to be unsustainable. It is also placing huge strain on our planets water resources, and impacting the environment in so many ways, from industrial pollution because of the mining of raw materials to make fertilizer and the large factories built for the same purpose, to the physical impact on the land because huge areas are being cleared to grow food for an ever increasing global population.
Globally, the more ‘open minded’ and forward thinking people in agriculture, realize the need for change, and are actively participating toward the use of more sustainable ways to produce food. Another positive contributor is that consumers, particularly in developed countries, choose only to purchase organically produced goods. This has created a huge market, and farmers have to change in order to satisfy that market.
Here, around Gorongosa National Park, we have a unique opportunity. Traditional farming practices in this area have also become redundant because of population growth, resulting in land being over-farmed because there is not enough land available to allow it to lay fallow, and a small number of farmers are already using more sustainable alternatives, so the realization that change is needed is creeping in. Traditionally, when land became unproductive, farmers would abandon their fields and open new fields. This worked in the past, at a time when community populations were relatively small and as such, farmers were semi-nomadic and able to move around. As this no longer applies because these farming communities live within de-limited boundaries, there is a growing need, and interest, for the introduction of more sustainable farming systems. While there does appear to be some interest in new farming systems, there is, however, deeply ingrained into the culture/s, a sense of tradition and the majority do not see the need for change, believing that if the old ways were good enough for their ancestors, it is good enough for them. I believe that the best way to introduce more sustainable farming systems is through demonstration. In the case of the job in hand, seeing is believing, too many people and organizations have tried to ‘teach’ new ideas and had only little success. Demonstration should include things such as field days attended by farmers, on farms that are using sustainable systems and trips to commercial farms also using acceptable practices to see how they do it. The Idea is to positively impact the lives and futures of the small scale farmers in the GNP buffer zone and around Mount Gorongosa to improve the livelihoods of those communities, on plots of land from which the farmers do not have to move in search of more fertile fields.
The idea that demonstration is the best means of extension work here, given the background of the people, brings us to the question of how best to implement the program. (This program is aimed at farmers, and not schools, however, schools should be encouraged to visit the demonstration farms) Two approaches could be made; (1) For the GNP Human Development team to run plots in various areas within the buffer zone and around the mountain, or (2) To select a farmer from each area and to assist these farmers to farm using Organic Farming practices. Obviously, this is a massive task, so ideally begin with one farmer near to our base and as the program evolves in the chosen starting area, and the various startup problems that will, no doubt, arise, can be ironed out before beginning the second phase in a neighbouring area and so on. The main advantage of option 2 (above) is that the demonstration farms will belong to community members and the other farmers will not think that what the farmer has achieved on his/her farm is beyond their capabilities or budget.
Note: As mentioned above, this program is intended for the farmers and not the schools, the importance of including the schools in this sort of education is vital to prepare the next generation of farmers.
We live in an exciting time; science is opening up new frontiers so rapidly it is hard to keep up. An understanding of how our home ‘Earth’ functions is one such frontier and it should be realized that man has plundered his planet so terribly that drastic change is needed to repair the damage. Not everyone believes this to be true, on the contrary, the diehard ‘modern’, educated farmer will challenge anyone who tries to promote the use of organic farming, saying that yields and quality will be inferior. My question, then, to these skeptics; I would visit the forest on Mount Gorongosa with them and once there would ask, “Why does everything in this forest grow so beautifully? Why is this forest so healthy? And why is it that nature can sustain such a vast array of plants, including these massive trees you see before you, without the assistance of synthetic fertilizers? How would that educated farmer reply, secure in the knowledge that s/he is correct? The irony is that many such people know a little about the workings of nature, but cannot see how that can be applied to the farm. The fact is that the ‘modern’ farmer has fought with nature to produce crops, and nature has fought back to reclaim that land which is being abused. What we have been taught is a weed, is in fact a natural plant, put there by nature for a specific reason, which in the case of abused soils, is to provide the soil with protection from direct sunlight, or because these ‘weeds’ are short-lived and when they die back will rot back into the soil thereby adding another necessary element to the soil. So, even with the educated farmers of this world, it comes back to a matter of ‘seeing is believing’. This applies, perhaps even more so, to that field of ‘experts’ whom have very set opinions and who are accustomed to being listened to. Our task is a big one, and while we can appreciate the value of many modern applications, such as hybrid seed that is bred to achieve specific results or to be grown in specific conditions, we expect reciprocation from the skeptics. Part of our job then, is to remove the blinkers from their eyes and open up this new world to them.
M. Grant Norvall
15th February 2008
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Cheryl and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in the Lake districts: I haven't been very active, blog-wise, of late, but with summer on the way I can get out of hibernation. I have begun the course for tour guiding and will include something from that in my blog.
Scarlet Ibis at the South Lakes Wild Animal Park.
A Red Headed Poachard, also at South Lakes Wild Animal Park.
Also at South Lakes Wild Animal Park, a Geoffrey's Marmoset.
Lake Windermere from the Windermere quay
A view from the far side of Lake Windermere
Beatrix Potters Hilltop Home in the miniature Beatrix Potter Village at Lake End
This Miniature village has been built using natural materials