What is organic farming?

Organic farming refers to a style of crop production that avoids or minimizes the use of manufactured fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides — crop production with low external input. It is about

farming with a strong sense of natural environment protection, preservation of soil health and fertility, and sustenance of biodiversity. It is the type of farming that is more recommended for farmers in developing countries mainly due to the fact that they work on small plots of land, using simple tools, and unable to afford chemical inputs.

An organic farmer must be familiar with biological or natural methods of pest control such as using clean or pest-free planting materials.

Planting as soon as the rains begin helps crops to grow before pests build up their numbers. Application of manure on crops results in vigorous growth and stronger resistance to pests and diseases. The farmer must also be keen on field hygiene, which involves timely removal and destruction of all plant residues from infected crops. It is also good to prune the crops by removing dry or dead leaves and branches. Constant weeding prevents transfer of pests from weeds to farmed crops. Agricultural research institutes often develop disease-resistant planting materials and an organic farmer is advised to go for such seeds.

It is important to remember however that the weather conditions in the tropics are quite favourable for pest multiplication and that the position is worse with the onset of climate change. Right now, for example, it is extremely difficult to grow Irish potatoes and tomatoes without the use of manufactured pesticides to fight the late blight disease. The main reason smallholder farmers in developing countries are advised to opt for organic farming is their assumed inability to buy pesticides. The assumption is that buying pesticides reduces farmers’ profits. Yet non-use of pesticides for a number of crops like tomatoes means loss of the entire crop.

Irish potato farmers in some parts of Kigezi and other regions in Uganda spend nearly 50% of their inputs costs on pesticides. Cotton production in Uganda is declining because of big expenditure on pesticides by farmers. Crop breeders in the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) have developed disease-resistant Irish potato and cotton through biotechnology but they cannot be passed on to farmers to grow because Uganda has not yet got a biotechnology regulatory law in place.

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