Quality improvement in food crops through organic farming systems

Producing crops using fertilizers and chemicals has come to be known as conventional agriculture. Environmental concerns, possible pesticide residues in foods and declining energy resources have breathed new life into alternative forms of production such as organic farming. Foods that are organically farmed are seen as more natural, healthier and perhaps of higher quality. Organically grown foods are cultivated without synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. A food that is described as 'organic' simply means a food in its purest form, grown or produced without chemical aid. Organic farming keeps harmful chemicals and pesticides out of the food we eat and beverages we drink.

The chemical approach for increased production has many drawbacks and hazardous consequences and mankind has to pay a heavy price in terms of carcinogenic, mutagenic and reproductive defects. Compared to 50 years ago, today's regular fruits and vegetables contain astonishingly less vitamins and minerals.

Example: Today cultivated potato has lost the following percentage of nutrients. The injudicious use of pesticides and herbicides has been found to cause an increase in the incidence of cancer and other serious diseases through the toxic residues in the edible plant parts. According to Environmental Protection Agency, pesticides are rated as third-highest risk factor for cancer incidences. Organic foods are required in a number of alternative treatments, including alternative cancer therapies. It is widely assumed that any benefit derived from organic foods is due to an absence of pesticide residues. Many foreign countries have directed their attention to the study of organic agriculture and organic foods.

Need of organic farming

With the increase in population our compulsion would be not only to stabilize agricultural production but to increase it further in sustainable manner. The scientists have realized that the ‘Green Revolution’ with high input use has reached a plateau and is now sustained with diminishing return of falling dividends. Thus, a natural balance needs to be maintained at all cost for existence of life and property. The obvious choice for that would be more relevant in the present era, when these agrochemicals which are produced from fossil fuel and are not renewable and are diminishing in availability. It may also cost heavily on our foreign exchange in future.

The key characteristics of organic farming include

  • Protecting the long term fertility of soils by maintaining organic matter levels, encouraging soil biological activity, and careful mechanical intervention
  • Providing crop nutrients indirectly using relatively insoluble nutrient sources which are made available to the plant by the action of soil micro-organisms
  • Nitrogen self-sufficiency through the use of legumes and biological nitrogen fixation, as well as effective recycling of organic materials including crop residues and livestock manures
  • Weed, disease and pest control relying primarily on crop rotations, natural predators, diversity, organic manuring, resistant varieties and limited (preferably minimal) thermal, biological and chemical intervention
  • The extensive management of livestock, paying full regard to their evolutionary adaptations, behavioural needs and animal welfare issues with respect to nutrition, housing, health, breeding and rearing
  • Careful attention to the impact of the farming system on the wider environment and the conservation of wildlife and natural habitats

CAMEROON ORGANIC AGRICULTURAL NETWORK

Organic farming system in Cameroon is not new and is being followed from ancient time. It is a method of farming system which primarily aimed at cultivating the land and raising crops in such a way, as to keep the soil alive and in good health by use of organic wastes (crop, animal and farm wastes, aquatic wastes) and other biological materials along with beneficial microbes (bio fertilizers) to release nutrients to crops for increased sustainable production in an ecofriendly pollution free environment.

As per the definition of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) study team on organic farming “organic farming is a system which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetic inputs (such as fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, feed additives etc) and to the maximum extent feasible rely upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, off-farm organic waste, mineral grade rock additives and biological system of nutrient mobilization and plant protection”.

FAO suggested that “Organic agriculture is a unique production management system which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity, and this is accomplished by using on-farm agronomic, biological and mechanical methods in exclusion of all synthetic off-farm inputs”.