Kenyan farmer Judith Mumbua noticed that using commercial fertilizers was creating problems for both her crops and the dirt on her farm in Mwania village, eastern Kenya.
“The chemicals affect soil by making it hard, and the plants, especially maize and beans, do very poorly,” she says.
That was three years ago. Now, she has switched to organic farming, which, she says, has created a more positive outcome and a healthier way to grow crops. It is even better for her livestock, she says.
“There are benefits in the production compared to previous farming methods I explored by using chemicals and fertilizers from shops,” says Mumbua.
Mumbua started organic farming after a training program at a local agriculture organization. She admitted this farming method has helped her curb the antimicrobial crop resistance her plants had experienced for a number of years.
“Antimicrobial resistance is when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change and no longer respond to medicine, making infections hard to treat and even manage in crops,” she explains.
Organic agriculture or ecologically-based farming is basically the use of green manure, compost, biological agriculture and biological fertilizers derived from animal waste. According to Mumbua, the method has increased her food quality and production.
Mumbua advises farmers to try to make organic medicines for crops using locally available materials such as leaves, chicken droppings, cow dung, goat and sheep droppings and even wood ash from the kitchen.
Education is key
An agriculture teacher at nearby St Mary’s school, Charles Itumo, also farms a small piece of land adjacent to the school where he teaches students.
His patch had not been producing well for past two years, he tells Africa Calling podcast. Organic agriculture experts visited his farm, and pointed out that his crops had antimicrobial resistance.
He turned to organic farming and is now passing the benefits of organic farming by not using chemicals down to his students
“Organic agriculture is farming without using chemicals. For example, one digs a compost pit and fills it up with kitchen waste materials to decompose – then it can be used later as manure on the farm,” says Wayne Muey, a grade 5 student at St Mary’s Primary School.
“This helps a farmer save money and helps them in the healthy growth of the plants such as kales, spinach, onions and tomatoes.”
Livestock benefit too
One long-time organic believer is small-scale farmer Peter Melonye, who lives in neigbouring Kajiado County. He has been feeding his livestock with organic feeds from his farm for the past 18 years. Melonye says his livestock produce quality milk, chemical-free and with no antimicrobial resistance strains.
“It is easier to treat a resistance free animal than the infected one. The infected cattle take a lot of time and money to treat,” Melonye observes. “Animals who feed on farm remains provide milk and meat.”
Most farmers treat their animals without consulting proper veterinary experts, which leads to such resistance, says Dr Dennis Bahati, a vet at the Africa Network for Animal Welfare.
“The excessive use of these specific drugs, especially antibiotics, may have adverse effects. For example, in Maasai land, the community have a habit of treating their animals without consulting veterinarians. This over-the-counter self-prescription at local agro-vets is risky,” he says.
When a cow is injected with antibiotics and is milked the following morning the cow’s milk is not safe for consumption, says Bahati.
People consume a lot of antibiotic residues unknowingly, not only in milk but also in meet sold in local butchers without expert approval.
In addition to his livestock rearing, farmer Melonye is also practicing mixed cropping, where he plants different crops on one piece of land. He says agriculture extension officers and local organizations have been a great help to him thanks to the decentralized government and agriculture system in Kenya.
Local and government-funded schools for training farmers teach what are the best crops for both human and livestock consumption are.
“Fungicide and antibiotic residue in crops encourage the emergence of resistant fungus and bacteria strains. It could also increase the risk of human resistance as well as other health risks,” Melonye cautions.
The use of the same type of products for a long time is the main cause of antimicrobial resistance on Kenyan farms, says Eustace Kiarie, organic expert at Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN).
“Good soil health enables health crops that are able to resist some of these pathogens. This ensures your livestock is also healthy,” she says, adding that farmers must regularly monitor their crops and treat problems immediately if they arise.
Kiarie says the results are evident.
“We have seen an increase in terms of the products in the market that are naturally produced and are able to manage these pathogens effectively,” she adds.