Organic produce is a topic of interest for both consumers and growers across the globe. Owing to the low input costs of an organic approach to farming and the rising prices of fertiliser and seed, it has the potential to be a more lucrative venture. Additionally, it also has the benefit of producing healthier and sustainable food.

For smallholder farmers in African countries, the question arises: What does organic vegetable production really mean, and is it worth considering?

What is organic vegetable production?

Organic farming uses minimal intervention, by applying natural inputs and procedures to preserve soil health and fertility. The emphasis of organic farming is thus placed on using cultivation methods and input that do not use synthesised chemicals that break down the natural properties of the environment.

Growing vegetables organically has the benefits of improved water consumption, and helps farmers increase their yields and profits in some cases. Organic farmers use natural fertilisers such as compost or manure, and rely on crop rotation to further improve soil fertility. Pest management is also done without any harmful chemicals. There is a risk of accidental poisoning or health deterioration associated with these chemicals and alternative, environmentally friendly methods lead to a healthier life and plant!

Inorganic vegetable farming, on the other hand, causes land and soil to degrade over time because of the use of artificial pesticides. The soil also becomes infertile due to exploitation. Seeds that are genetically modified (GMOs) are also used. GMOs aren’t bad per se, as they are bred with the idea of giving farmers the strongest plants with the highest yields. The downside to this unnatural modification is that it breaks down the natural diversity and nutrition of the plant in question.

Furthermore, improvements in soil health also contribute to better carbon fixation which leads to enhancements in the environmental impact conventional farming has on climate change.

Organic farming in Africa

To be an organic producer selling organic produce, the farm needs to be certified as organic by the local government or government body for organic production. This is important because this official certification means that a farmer can place a higher asking price on organic produce, but this should not necessarily be the goal. Some of the challenges that Africa already faces concerning food security are access and affordability of food, therefore, asking for a higher price might not result in higher profits.

However, many African farmers already use organic farming practices, whether on purpose or not. The ever-increasing cost of fertiliser to nourish specific vegetable crops is simply unrealistic for small-scale farmers. Add to that the obstacles they face to get the fertiliser from the distributor when the infrastructure impedes their distribution. In Zimbabwe, for instance, farmers have chosen to rather plant crops from seeds that they kept from previous harvests to help ease the cost of seeds.

A recent study in Germany estimated that €4 billion can be saved if the agricultural industry employs more organic practices (organic livestock production included).

Key ways to adopt organic practices on your farm

Soil health: Organic farming emphasises the importance of nurturing soil health through compost, cover crops, and crop rotation. Fermented manure from livestock can be used, ensuring that the manure has broken down and won’t burn the roots of vegetables. You can also build your own composting heap to have a free supply of compost readily available. This is important because organic farming does not allow the burning of crop residue.

Soil moisture: Planting cover crops when you have finished harvesting prevents erosion and helps the microbiome by promoting biodiversity. It assists with retaining soil moisture and adding nutrients to the soil.

Natural pest control: Instead of relying on chemical pesticides, organic farmers use natural predators, companion planting, and other techniques to manage pests, reducing the environmental impact. Natural predators, for example, can be chickens grazing around the field and eating all the bugs that might damage your crops. A variety of strong-smelling plants can be intercropped to act as a natural repellent.

Polyculture: Organic farming encourages biodiversity, fostering a balanced ecosystem through planting a mixture of crops. It also reduces the farmer’s risk when pests or diseases occur, as these will not spread between crop types.

GMO-free: Organic farming systems do not permit the use of genetically modified organisms. Ensure that the seeds planted for your vegetables are GMO-free, or consider planting heirloom seeds.

Remember, the transition to organic farming is often a gradual process. Start by implementing changes on a small scale, monitor the results, and gradually expand your organic practices. Additionally, staying informed about organic farming principles and practices is crucial for success.


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