Desire to protect the environment which is already scarred by destructive human activities like wanton destruction of forests is inspiring a new breed of farmers growing food organically in a move credited with reversing the sorry state of affairs.
The farmers are taking this venture so seriously that they are even attending schools to equip themselves with more skills. Benson Kinyua is one such farmer in Rongai area of Nakuru county. His formula for a peaceful coexistence with nature, has taken hold in manycommunities worldwide. He practices organic farming, which relies on simple, locallyavailable and low-cost environmentally friendly agricultural techniques. Kinyua, says it is all part of a conscious plan. “I depend solely on the environment for food, and so I have to protect it.”
It prohibits the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides whose mismanagementadversely affects the environment and human health.
Just like most Kenyan families, he is a smallscale farmer who produces food onlimited land. Most of his agricultural yield is for home consumption and the surplus is sold to generate income for other needs such as school fees, health and groceries.
For Kinyua, organic farming was a common sense transition that has changed the lifeof his family. He began the practice in 2004, after undergoing training at the KenyaInstitute of Organic Farming (KIOF).
“Initially, while practicing conventional farming, I spent so much of the family financeson manufactured fertilizers and pesticides. But now, I don’t need to buy anything. Ifertilize my soils with compost manure made from what I primarily considered wastesuch as animal droppings, vegetable remains, dry leaves, ash and bones.”
Once applied, it continually enriches the soil with key nutrients (potassium, nitrogenand phosphorous) necessary for plant growth. The manure also produces humus,which binds soil particles. “This enables my farm to withstand erosion from intensefloods and winds that previously destroyed my crops,” he says.
“You know, when I used to rely on conventional pesticides, I would have sleeplessnights imagining the effects those chemicals would have on the family, and especiallythe kids, if used inappropriately.”
He now uses biological methods. “The Mexican marigold weeds – mixed with pepperand other crop residues – are effective against whiteflies and spider mites that attackvegetables. Practices like rotating legumes with cereals, and using pyrethrin spraysfrom pyrethrum are also valuable,” he says.
As for diseases, he says organic matter from compost manure increases soil micro-organisms that naturally suppress them, while mulching with dry grass also helps.
Such simple techniques have protected his family from the effects of pesticidepoisoning, which causes cancer, birth defects and damage to the nervous system. TheInternational Labor Organization links pesticides to more than 40,000 deaths yearly,affecting mostly children.
Since organic farming advocates for diversity, Kinyua says that his family is alwaysassured of sufficient food and income. “I plant maize, beans, cassava, bananas, kales,tomatoes among other food crops all year round. I also rear animals such as cows,goats, rabbits, ducks and chicken,” he says.
Kinyua says organic farmers need to be aware of available solutions for combatingpost harvest crop losses, which is often more than 50 percent for most of them.
“I use metal silos, which are affordable simple structures. They can store up to 25sacks of maize for many years without using any pesticides or chemical preservatives.They also protect grains against humus and attacks from rodents, insects and birds,”he adds.
“Organic farming has made me realize that nature provides us with so much. Farmersonly need to have knowledge and skills for harnessing the gifts,” says Kinyua.
Despite using such simple farming methods that conserve the environment, the farmerstill reaps huge profits. “We now have outlets such as green groceries, restaurants andsupermarkets that specifically sell organic products. And they are on high demand fortheir health and nutritional value,” he says.
Apart from increasing soil fertility, organic farming controls pests and diseases, savesthe environment from chemical deposits, makes ground water clean and safe andsaves the farmer on money that would have been used on expensive farm inputs suchas fertilizer.The farmer also produces safe and nutritious foods that fetch better prices in the market.