Zambia: Farmers push for agricultural policies that support organic farming (by Brian Moonga, for Farm Radio Weekly)

| May 26, 2014

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Annemieke de Vos grows a variety of crops on a two-hectare plot, including lettuce and cabbages. But she avoids using chemical fertilizers − she says it is healthier to eat food which is grown organically.

Ms. de Vos is a small-scale organic farmer from Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. She used to work for Zambia’s agricultural research institute as a plant pathologist, but has been farming organically for the past 14 years.

She argues that plants grown with chemical fertilizers tend to contain more water because they grow too fast. Ms. de Vos says, “Naturally grown foods have more minerals and vitamins, and this means that the consumer gets more nutritional value.”

Ms. de Vos works with a handful of women and men that help with the daily nurturing, harvesting and packaging of crops. The farmers supply several stores in Lusaka with packaged fresh vegetables and pico relish: tomatoes, peppers and onions seasoned with lime and coriander.

Ms. de Vos has created her own brand over the last decade. Green Fox is now one of the fastest growing brands of organic food in Lusaka.

Ms. de Vos believes that organic farmers should work hard to promote organic foods. She says: “Many people now have depressed immunities due to high levels of air pollution [and] high consumption of chemically-fertilized foods.”

Dr. Henrietta Kalinda is an agricultural scientist at Lusaka’s Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre. She attributes some common diseases to chemical inputs. She explains, “Research shows that herbicides have been implicated in a number of health problems including cancer, birth defects and declining sperm count.”

Government regulations allow only chemically-treated seed into Zambia. This is difficult for organic farmers. Ms. de Vos explains: “[We must] use seed produced organically in Zambia because if you import, then it must be treated with chemicals, and this defeats the whole purpose of going organic.” She says the government needs to change its rules to acknowledge the needs of organic farmers.

Kelly Lungu is an organic farmer in Lusaka. She says that despite challenges such as the seed regulations, organic farmers in Zambia are determined to succeed. She also believes that organic farmers need to more effectively promote the benefits of their produce. Ms. Lungu says, “We must push this and advocate for laws, and set up investment funds for small-scale farmers [who] opt to go into organic farming.”

It is not just human health that can be affected by chemical inputs. Soil health can be damaged through pesticides that reduce biodiversity; acidity and nutrient imbalances caused by chemical fertilizers mean that some essential minerals become unavailable to growing plants.

These potential threats to soil fertility and human health have pushed some farmers to take action and promote organic farming.

Thirty kilometres east of Lusaka, 91 farmers have formed the Chongwe Organic Producers and Processors Association. The organization helps the farmers produce organic vegetables collectively on 12 hectares of land, and market their crops in bulk.

Zambia currently has no stand-alone policy on organic farming. But bodies such as the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre along with individual farmers are lobbying for change. They want Zambia’s national agricultural policy to include an organic farming strategy so that small-scale organic farming can be more viable.

Ms. de Vos thinks Zambia needs to stand strong on organic farming. Across southern Africa, farmers are being encouraged to use genetically modified organisms. She asks: “What will happen to all the natural seed [that] small-scale farmers have collected? What about the hidden consequences of consuming GMO-produced foods? Zambia should formulate laws that support organic farming to protect public health and the agricultural sector.”