Shift to organic foods is good news for farmers, experts say

Although they say old habits are difficult to change, people are increasingly choosing to live healthy by maintaning a healthy lifestyle. Consumers in developing countries are taking steps to become healthier by switching to organic foods while shunning genetically modified ones.

And farmers are ready to grab the opportunity. Experts say that Tanzania will soon be added on the list of countries with a large number of certified organic farmers in the world, enabling it to enjoy available opportunities in foreign markets, especially in Europe.

Organic farming is beneficial in environmental protection and a sure way of safeguarding the health of consumers as it restricts the use of chemicals, including pesticides and industrial fertilisers.

Covering almost 2,790 square kilometers, Tanzania’s land under organic farming is the largest in sub-Saharan Africa, according to 2017 reports. However, the area is only 0.7 percent of the country’s total agricultural land.

Last year, the European Commission launched an Organic Farming Action Plan for the EU countries intended to achieve the 25 percent European Green Deal of agricultural land put under organic farming by 2030.

The shift in paradigm from GMO to organic food should be considered as good news for Tanzania farmers holding the third position in Africa.

Having experienced weather changes globally in recent years, organic farming that goes with environmental protection should be the option for Tanzania farmers.

For instance, the EU standards demand organic farming to protect and preserve the soil from erosion, protect the trees from deforestation, reduce carbon emission and protect water resources that should be used to facilitate organic farming.

Mobo Group CEO, Mr Maurice Awiti, told The Citizen that black pepper for instance, which is produced through organic practices is sold at Euro 7 per kilo (equivalent to Sh18,000) as compared to non-organic cultivated black pepper, which sells at Euro 2 (about Sh5,143) per kilogramme.

“Since the demand is high, Tanzanians should grab the opportunity and benefit from it. I can confidently say that organic farming is the future,” Mr Awiti says.

He goes on to say that a kilo of organic ginger is traded at Euro 5.2, while non-organic merchandise is sold at Euro 1.9, noting that normally the price doubles or triples depending on the quality of the produce.

Mr Awiti says cinnamon by convention price is sold at Euro 3.2 per kilogramme, while organic fetches between Euro 6.3 to Euro 10, with conventional cardamom price ranging from Euro 7 to Euro 10, while organic is traded from Euro15 to 15 per kilogramme.

“The country needs to embrace and promote organic farming, which is an agricultural system that uses fertilisers of organic origin such as compost manure, green manure, and other organic matters. The practice emphasises cropping techniques such as crop rotation and companion planting,” he tells The Citizen.

He sees a big opportunity for organic farming prosperity in the country. “Personally, I find it as a new dawn for farmers interested in organic farming as well as those who have been considering engaging in agriculture. To be precise, most exports to Europe and Asia are organic crops,” he adds.

Sales and distribution manager of SAT Holistic Group Limited, Mr Akley Mbaye, says organic farming provides people with food free from chemicals and plays an important role in environmental conservation.

“We produce various crops including grain, vegetables, fruits and spices. For example, last year we exported rosella at high prices. We are supposed to embrace this type of farming for health and economic benefits,” Mr Mbaye says.

He says vegetable farmers who regularly spray their crops, a practice that could be harmful to consumers’ health could reduce the impact through organic farming.

How organic farmers are certified

For farmers to be certified, they need to consider the type of crops to grow, targeted markets, stages of production, preparation, distribution of organic products and control, according to Mr Awiti.

He says the EU standards require farmers to protect and preserve the soil from erosion, protect trees from deforestation, reduce carbon emission, protect water resources and use them for crop cultivation.

“The standards are formulated and acknowledged by different certifying bodies nationally and worldwide. These standards provide the basis for sustainable production of organic crops while ensuring there are effective functioning markets, guaranteeing fair competition, promoting consumer confidence and protecting their interests,” he shares.

When it comes to organic farming requirements, they take more traceable farm histories including the place where the crop was initially grown, the initial grower, harvesting and processing background and storage methodologies, which are compiled and submitted to the accreditation body.

Challenges in organic farming

“For the last three years, land acquisition has been our major challenge. Our plan is to grow organic black pepper on 400 hectares this year. The challenge has been getting the whole 400 acres in one place,” says Mr Awiti, adding; “We have placed our hope and confidence in the ministry of agriculture whose leaders are tirelessly working to ensure the sector prospers and conquers the global market. Hopefully, there are many farmers wishing to expand their activities but they don’t know where to start.”

Certification of small scale farmers is another challenge, especially when it comes to the cost of certification, inspection and auditing.

“Lack of experience and knowledge among most organic farmers is another challenge. Training on how this farming is practiced to bring sustainable and financial profit is needed,” he adds.

Organic farming, according to Mr Awiti produces crops at 30 to 40 percent declined yields, noting therefore that farmers would require more land compared to when conventional crops are produced.

An agro-economist from the Sokoine University of Agriculture, Prof Joseph Hela, concurs organic farming is very promising and has a niche market potential especially for cotton, vegetables and other crops.

“The challenge is that it is practised by small-scale farmers, most who don’t have organic certification. Therefore, if government works on this, many farmers will benefit through exports.”

Prof Hela says Tanzania lacks an organic farming policy and that the government is currently working on it. He is hopeful that things will soon be good.

He says many people in Europe today prefer wearing clothes made from organic cotton, and that Africa is the leading organic cotton producer, whose farming is environmental-friendly.

Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (Toam) chief executive officer, Mr Bakari Mwongo, says people are now aware of the benefits, citing the preference indigenous chickens, which he says is part of organic farming.

“The market is very huge both inside and outside the country so Tanzanians should tap the opportunity for their own benefit and that of the nation.”

He says the movement is working with the ministry of agriculture in preparing the Tanzania Organic Agriculture Strategy, which is expected to be launched by August. Its aim is to promote organic farming in the country.

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