Saturday, November 24, 2012

Will The UK Begin Investigating The Banning Of A Bee Killing Pesticide?

The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is examining the possibility of banning the controversial nerve-agent pesticides increasingly implicated in the decline of bees and other pollinating insects.

Mr Paterson has asked officials of his Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to examine the practical consequences of restricting the use of neonicotinoids, which are now widely deployed across British agriculture, The Independent has learnt.

He wants to know about the likely effects on farming of a ban, and  what alternatives might be available. This is the first sign that the Government may shift its stance on neonicotinoids, which, it was disclosed yesterday, have been implicated in problems with bee health in more than 30 scientific research papers in the last three years alone.

Mr Paterson’s action will send shockwaves through the immensely profitable agro-chemical industry. Any ban on neonicotinoids would mean many millions of pounds in lost profits for the multinational companies which manufacture them, such as Bayer and Syngenta, and would be vigorously resisted by the industry, and possibly by farmers as well.

But Defra is coming under increasing criticism for not adopting a precautionary approach towards the chemicals in the face of the rapidly mounting body of research implicating them in environmental problems, especially the widespread declines of honey bees and bumble bees. 

So far, Government advisers have insisted there is no “unequivocal evidence” that they  are harmful and have refused to recommend a ban, although they have been banned in other countries, including France and Germany.

Mr Paterson said today: “The health of our bees is a real concern and we have always been open-minded about the results of any new science that links bee decline with the use of certain pesticides.

“There has been a lot of research into the effect of neonicotinoids on bees in laboratories but.crucially we still don’t really know what impact they are having in the wild. That is why I have asked the Food and Environment  Research Agency  to speed up the field studies they are doing. Once we have the full picture in the New Year I will be asking independent experts to give us an up to date view on the safety of neonicotinoids.”

Mr Paterson’s independent experts will be the members of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides, who have twice stated recently that evidence against neonicotinoids does not justify banning them. - Michael McCarthy, The Independent 

Has The Crop Protection Association Dismissed Claims That RoundUp Could Be Harmful To Humans?

Roundup from Scotts Miracle-Gro defended by Crop Protection Association after being called into question by study paper. The Crop Protection Association (CPA) has dismissed claims that glyphosate regulators have understated the importance of research showing birth defects in experimental animals.

The Soil Association last week highlighted a paper published in The Journal of Environmental & Analytical Toxicology that discusses what the association called "wide-ranging problems in regulation of the pesticide glyphosate over many years".

The organic farming charity said the study finds that by discounting data showing negative impacts and relying on industry-funded studies, the product has been under-regulated. The paper calls into question the regulators' conclusion that glyphosate and Roundup are safe. It calls for pesticide regulators to take a precautionary approach and undertake a new risk assessment.

Meanwhile, the Soil Association said a Government study published on the Health & Safety Executive website found an average of 24 per cent of bread samples in the latest (2011) surveys contained glyphosate.

The charity added that the paper follows a French study by Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini in Food & Chemical Toxicology, which reported increased levels of tumours and other health problems in rats fed on GM Roundup Ready maize.

But the CPA said there is no new health or toxicological evidence on glyphosate. "Regulatory authorities and independent experts agree that glyphosate does not cause adverse reproductive effects in adult animals or birth defects in offspring of adults exposed to glyphosate.

"The authors of the report create an account of glyphosate toxicity from a selected set of scientific studies, while they ignored much of the comprehensive data establishing the safety of the product. Regulatory agencies have concluded that glyphosate is not a reproductive toxin or teratogen based on in-depth review of comprehensive data sets. Additionally, we have anecdotal results from first-hand experience of millions of farmers and home gardeners who have used this product for decades. 

"To understand the active ingredient, it helps to know that glyphosate inhibits an enzyme that is essential to plant growth. This enzyme is not found in humans or other animals, contributing to the low risk to human health from the use of glyphosate according to label directions.

"In respect of the Seralini study, the claims are no more than scaremongering. It has been very widely discredited by credible scientists." - Matthew Appleby, Horticulture Weekly

What Are The Sustainable Organic Farming & Development Initiatives of Kenya?

Sustainable Organic Farming & Development Initiatives (SOFDI) is a charitable organization based in Western Kenya region by a Switzerland woman has largely been praised by the Kenyan government and area residents who are the beneficiaries of the undertaken development activities.

SOFDI which was started way back in 2002 as a Community Based Organization (CBO) is purely based on improving the lives of communities through various farming methods and trainings on how to improve their daily earning and food production.

Mrs Brigitte Frey, the Founder of SOFDI from Switzerland told African Press International (API) that she had a dream and passion to transform the livelihood of poor communities who have difficulties in accessing food, clean water, health facilities and schools among others.

According to Mrs Frey the organization does this through the development of essential facilities such as organic farming, water conservation and protection of streams, agro- forestry, goat rearing, promotion of additional traditional food, schools programs and student sponsorship & internship as well as environmental conservation.

The Founder attest that she also has a lot of passion in changing the lives of women, youths and vulnerable children who usually bears the greatest challenges in their daily lives especially some of the African countries.

To start with, SOFDI supports the training of farmers on various farming methods such as organic farming techniques to increase their food production. This has enabled farmers to produce various indigenous vegetables, soya beans, potatoes, cassava and millet among others.

This is said to have greatly reduced the cases of food insecurity in the regions especially where the programs are being undertaken. As you take a walk to testify the development activities supported by the organization, the evidence is clearly visible in various farms of Emuhaya, Vihiga and Khwishero district in Vihiga and Kakamega County respectively, Western Province.

A farmer, Florence Jandi testified saying that they no longer purchase vegetables after undergoing organic farming trainings which has also improved their earnings. She also said that SOFDI programs have enabled them to educate and provide efficiently for the families in terms food with some being sold.

Jandi who is practicing organic farming, soya production and goat keeping especially the Togenburg variety revealed that her monthly earning has drastically increased from 15% to 60%. She is one of the most successful farmers who underwent the organization trainings.

She is also one of the most recognized hardworking farmers in their group currently headed by Chariet Mugasia as the team leader. The farmers trained by SOFDI are constituted in various demo groups before they embark on farming activities on their own.

The other farmer who has also made the organization proud is Shaban Otweche who is undertaking organic farming, African leafy vegetables, soya production and tissue culture bananas. According to Otweche, he now has the capacity to pay school fees and provide enough food to the family, a thing he could not afford before the coming of the charitable organization.

Soya Beans
The charitable organization are seriously undertaking farming of soya beans which is rich in protein just like eggs, beans, milk, meat and fish among others which doctors now recommend resident to consume in their daily diets.

Mrs Frey told the API that SOFDI supports largely, the growing of soya beans with 600 farmers trained on soya farming to increase its production in the Western Kenya. Farmers are also practicing Mandela gardening where varieties of crops are grown in a circle kind of a farm that reduces chances of soil erosion in sloppy areas.

This is because soya beans have high content of proteins which medics recommend that residents need to eat as it helps in building and repair of body muscle and tissues as well as the production of amino acids.

“We want to produce soya beans in large scale for domestic use and export as a long term project. SOFDI is currently planning to train another 600 farmers on various modern methods to oversee high productions of the beans,” Mrs Frey said.

Farmers are also being provided with farm inputs to facilitate early preparation of their farms mostly during the long rains. Over 970 kilograms of soya seeds were distributed to farmers in the month of January with a total of 9700 kgs bags of soya beans harvested.

The organization is also keen in value addition of the beans. It has put in place a soya processing machine plant in Emuhaya district enabling farmers to process their produce thereby increasing the rate of profit from the readily available market.

Some of the products that are produced out of soya include yoghurt, milk, chapati, mandazi, nuts and variety of floors which has high protein content. “Soya products are very nice that one needs to have a taste,” says one of the farmers adding that the floor is used in preparing porridge that is very healthy to babies.

“We have 34 people working in the processing plants. This has increased the income to farmers,” said Mrs Frey adding that farmers are provided with four types of soya varieties with huge tract of yields according to agricultural experts.

However, among the 600 farmers trained so far, 229 are planting soya beans with others involved in various farming activities in a bid to enhance food security and have money in their pockets.

But according to Ben Mwasamu an agricultural expert, farmers have to demonstrate the skills gained during the training in various groups of between 19 -25 people each headed by an expert after which they then embark on soya farming on their own.

Mwasamu and Mrs Frey also revealed that currently SOFDI is working on ways with the Ministry of Cooperatives and Marketing to have a Soya Beans Cooperatives that will enhance its production in the Western Kenya region. This will also ease the marketing of the products that is currently a challenge to the farmers.

Another area that SOFDI has put a lot of effort is to ensure farmers are well equipped with vast knowledge and skills. To achieve this, it collaborate with various ministries such Livestock, Agriculture and Forestry among other stakeholders. The organization is also partnering with Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and other stakeholders to advice on various farm inputs that increased the production.

Goats project
Production of milk is not left to chance by SOFDI, the farmers have embraced goat keeping especially the Togenburg variety from Switzerland. The goats are currently purchased from Meru Breeding Center, Central region and given to farmers of Ebunagwe in Emuhaya district.

“The goats are rich in milk production which is good for children consumption due to nutrients. The goats also provide organic manure used in farming as most farmers barely afford fertilizer,” Mrs Frey revealed.

So far there are 5 groups of farmers rearing goats availed to them by SOFDI. The goat projects are meant to establish a breeding center for the Togenburg varieties that is highly demanded in Western Kenya. They were also awarded certificate by Mrs Frey during her tour of the farmers’ demo.

“The goats are very profitable in milk production. A goat goes for Shs. 25,000 to Shs.30, 000 depending with the market demand,” Mrs Frey revealed saying that in future farmers will no longer travel to Meru to purchase of goats.

Currently there are 16 goats in three groups-12 does and 4 bucks aiming to upgrade the local goats to increase milk production. There is further plan to establish 3 more breeding does in each breeding units in every districts.

Loans advanced to farmers
Farmers also have access to loans which is not in cash but farm inputs to enhance agricultural activities in the region. So far they have been loaned soya beans, millet, sorghum, tissue culture bananas, cassava and sweet potato’ vines all costing Shs. 118,280. The farmers are also given Shs 1,200 to pay monthly rent for their offices.

School programs
The organization also targets schools in partnership with the Ministry of Education in undertaking growing of soya beans, organic farming and agro-forestry to improve the environment conservation.

Under the school programs, the students are taken through organic farming courses among others to compliment school teachings through practical activities.

It is aimed at having young people’s audience to change their lives in and out of the schools. Mrs. Frey said currently the programs are carried in 7 schools. She said that 6 are in primary and secondary with one in Polytechnic College with hopes to expand the exercise.

SOFDI have also given cookies and solar drier to schools to train the students in various ways of preparing meals and plans to undertake lighting programs in various schools in Vihiga and Kakamega Counties will soon kick off. Another institution that has benefited from the program includes Tigoi Girls Secondary School with 750 students who have embraced organic farming, soya processing and farming of African vegetables.

“Kudos for the sacrifice of Mrs Frey in giving the disadvantaged children and community access to food, improved living condition and learning conditions,” said the farmers who have benefited from the SOFDI projects.

Water conservation and springs
However, construction of the springs, conservation of water and protection of the streams have also been the crucial flagship of SOFDI Founder in ensuring the availability of clean water, improved hygiene and reduction of water bone diseases which was rampant in the region.

A total of 147 water springs have been constructed in Emuhaya, Khwishero and Vihiga districts a move that has seen the availability of water to the community whose face are now bright because of the generosity from Mrs. Frey.

The springs are constructed along the water streams especially in the identified sites to conserve the water source. According to Simon Kikanga, who is in charge of the springs and Mrs. Frey the springs are only being constructed in areas identified by the local administrative such as Chiefs and Districts Commissioners who understands the areas well. They further stated that 360 sites were identified and SOFDI are yet to put in place more springs along the streams within the communities.

A spring is constructed at a cost of between Shs. 25,000 to 40,000 with community participation in mobilizing the available resources and offering of the unskilled labour which they duo said contributes to the success of the projects implementation.

Mrs Frey further revealed that the development activities is done in collaboration with area residents and other partners that oversaw implementation of the projects while local community mobilized resources such as ballast, sand and unskilled labour as part of sharing arrangement to enable them own the springs.

One of such springs is currently providing clean water for over 70 households and 600 pupils. This has reduced time that the community used to take before the construction of the springs.

“Over 200 people used to line up to fetch the untreated water for up to 2 hours. But this has since reduced drastically. With the springs in place, it take 20 litres of jerican 20 seconds to get filled up, meaning two people are able to fetch water in 2 minutes,” says the duo.

They said that the springs have also reduces chances of communities from contracting diseases such as bilharzia, typhoid and cholera as compared to those days that they were using untreated water. It has also given pupils enough time to study. This is because parents use to send them to fetch water from the streams, at times over a long walking distance making them skip classes.

Food Security
The organization has managed to improve food security in western region by about 60 % with over 600 people trained on various farming activities. This is due to the introduction of soya beans, indigenous vegetables with the community no longer purchasing but simply get from their farms both for sale and consumption.

“My family no longer spend money to buy vegetables from the market,” says one of the farmers adding that they harvest their produce for consumption and sell some to customers from other regions with some dried using solar drier for future use especially during the drought.

SOFDI have too ensured the availability of food provision by providing farmers with seeds of various crops such as bananas, cassava, millet, sorghum, soya beans and variety of vegetables such sukuma-wiki, kales and spinach.

However, after the harvest the organization buys seeds from farmers to distribute to other newly trained farmers. According to SOFDI Team Leader, Rodgers Namasaka, 30 farmers are trained monthly on indigenous vegetables among other crops that have increased food production in the region.

There are also additional traditional foods which have been embraced seriously by the organization to curb the usual food insecurity especially in areas that bears high poverty index. A total of 200 bananas suckers were given out to the farmers some even used in making wine. SOFDI work in collaboration with KARI to ensure farmers get the right seeds depending with their soil texture and additional required expertise.

Some of the traditional crops being promoted by Mrs. Frey include tissue cultured bananas, finger millet, sorghum, cassava and sweet potatoes with100kgs of sorghum, 10 sacks of potatoes vine and 60 kgs of millet with cassava and sweet potatoes distributed to farmers and are being planted on demo plot for multiplication before members’ plant in their fields.

Argo-forestry and environmental conservation
The non governmental organization is also promoting tree planting within the communities by engaging them and schools in tree nursery projects. In facilitating this, SOFDI provides farmers with agro- forestry kits such as seeds, wheelbarrows, jembes (Hoes) and poly tubes that enhanced the community involvement.

“So far more than 20,000 seedlings have been distributed to revamp the encroached hill of Ekwe that is over 24 hectors in the region,” said Mrs Frey adding that another 20,000 seedlings have been produced between the months of January and November, 2012 which are yet to be distributed to schools.

Another reforestation of Misango hill is also in progress by establishing Grevilla nurseries at Emukunzi polytechnic with 1500 seedlings and other 10 nurseries of different agro-forestry tree species. The organization has further set up a commercial tree nursery at Eshikwata farmers demo site to be used for reforestation of various encroached hills in the regions. They have also introduced more tree medicinal plants in various nurseries in most of the homesteads.

A total of 9 nine trees and fruits species have been set up in nurseries. This include Kei apples 42,316, Avocado 5,932, pawpaw 128, Loguards 432, Mangoes 543,Grevillia 5,318, Calliandra 14,890,Eucalyptus 32,089,Passion fruits and Markhamia lutea 2,345.The species are grouped according to the type, number of fruits trees nurseries established in various districts in a bid to conserve the environment.

However, the Founder revealed that SOFDI is dedicated to the reduction of suffering and working towards the ultimate elimination of extreme poverty and improve the lives of the community in the world’s poorest countries through education.

“We want activities that impact positively on the community through education, hygiene, food security, clean provision of water and health facilities,” said Mrs. Frey.

She said that the organization also engages the communities to participate, dialogue and address poor education outcomes in their districts. The involvement of communities has enabled residents to appreciate developments and embrace child protection initiatives.

This has seen improvement of education among the community as they say “education is power”. SOFDI is currently promoting learning activities through student sponsorships programs especially to the needy children.

However, she revealed that 4 students are in college undertaking organic farming courses at Diploma level with another one doing masters with hopes that more will join various institution. SOFDI also give room for internship programs to college students to enhance their field experience for 3 months with a monthly incentive of Shs. 3,000 for sustainability.

The move has drastically reduced criminal activities. This is according to one of the area chiefs due to youths being engaged since the inception of SOFDI development activities. Talk of Moses Ochieng’ who is currently undertaking soya beans farming and processing. He said before the coming of the organization he was idle, a thing he said forced youths to engage in various criminal activities.

“I am now able to earn money out of the farming to sustain myself and provide for my family,” Ochieng’ said.

The development activities supported by the organization have greatly improved the living standard of the communities with basic needs such as food, clothes and shelter among others. This is because they are now able to provide for their families with ease.

“When you compare the community before the inception of SOFDI and now there is 90% improvement in living standard than it used to be. This can easily be told by the community themselves,” said Mrs. Frey during her to various farmers demo’s day.

She said that people’s earning have doubled making them have money in their pockets. Food insecurity is no more worrying the community which is also blessed with rains. Health facilities is not left behind amongst the improved sectors due to reduction of water bone diseases that was rampant following usage of direct water fro the streams. Even the lives of HIV and AIDS patients have changed since they are busy tilling their farm making the relieved of the stigmatization.

Mrs. Frey further recommended the youth for embarking on agricultural activities contrary to the believes that farming practices was only left to old people of about 65 years old, a move that have engaged and increased their earnings.

She further urged the government to focus on agricultural activities to reduce cases of food insecurity. Mrs Frey further promised the communities that more development will soon be witnessed in future to change more lives. - Maurice Alal, Africa News 

Are There Flaws In The New USDA Organic Certification Testing Rules?

A new rule designed to bolster the integrity of next year’s organic holiday food by testing for pesticides and contaminants may be too weak to be effective.

Beginning in January, food inspectors in the U.S. will be required to test for at least one prohibited substance in one out of every 20 certified farms and processing facilities certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Decisions about the products and facilities to be tested will be made by outside inspectors, who are paid by farmers and processors for organic certifications. Because the USDA doesn’t plan to track the results, consumers -- who pay a premium for food assumed to be free of additives will be less able to make informed judgments about food purity, according to Charles Benbrook, member of a USDA advisory committee on biotechnology and agriculture.

“It’s an opportunity missed to do something meaningful on the question of pesticides in organic food and food in general,” said Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources. “It’s the kind of behavior you might expect from an accountant who’s trying to protect the client rather than solve a problem.”

The flaws in the testing regime reveal the challenges faced by the USDA’s National Organic Program, which serves as both a booster of organic food and a guarantor of standards in the sector. The program relies on third-party certifiers an amalgamation of private businesses, non-profits and local government agencies to make sure that farmers and food processors follow record-keeping and production requirements needed to meet organic standards.

USDA Report
Most certifiers currently don’t survey farms for pesticides or other substances prohibited by the organic program, which include genetically modified foodstuffs, synthetic hormones, arsenic, herbicides and antibiotics, unless there are suspicions of non-compliance.

The rollout of the new testing mandate was triggered by a 2010 USDA report which found that none of four certifiers visited by agency investigators conducted periodic testing on the approximately 5,000 farms and processing facilities they inspected, even though such tests are required by a 1990 law governing the production of organic food.

“There was no assurance that certifying agents performed regular periodic testing at any of the approximately 28,000 certified organic operations worldwide,” the report found. “Without such testing, the potential exists that an operation’s products may contain substances that are prohibited for use in organic products.”

Worldwide Scope
The number of operations worldwide covered by the testing requirement has increased to more than 30,000 since the report was issued. About 60 percent of those facilities are in the U.S.

The new inspection rule was published “to further ensure organic integrity,” Soo Kim, a spokeswoman for USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, which includes the NOP, said in an e-mailed statement. “It wasn’t the intent to draw broad- based conclusions across specific commodities or category of products.”

The organic industry is among the fastest growing segments in agriculture. Sales in 2011 totaled $29.2 billion, compared with $6.1 billion in 2000, and now account for about 4.2 percent of all food sales, according to the Brattleboro, Vermont-based Organic Trade Association.

Purity Premium
Consumers typically pay 30 percent to 100 percent more for organic food products, according to David Sprinkle, publisher of Packaged Facts, a Rockville, Maryland-based market research service.

The USDA estimates that tests of soil, water, waste or food products will cost about $500 each, with a total annual expense to certifiers of $750,000.

The testing program invites conflict of interest because certifiers who have a financial relationship with producers pick which operations and products will be examined as well as which prohibited substances will be tested for, said Arthur Harvey, a blueberry farmer in Hartford, Maine. In 2005, Harvey successfully sued the USDA to restrict synthetic additives in organic food.

“Do you think they’re going to test the ones that are doubtful?” Harvey said. “The selection of which products to test should be done by an independent consumer group.”

There’s also a danger that certifiers will test for items they know aren’t present, he said.

“That’s such a tiny, tiny program,” Harvey said. “It’s as minimal as it’s possible to make it.” 

Client Base
Patricia Kane, coordinator of the Port Crane, New York- based Accredited Certifiers Association Inc., a trade group for organic inspection companies, said the growth of the industry blunts concerns about certifiers being motivated to look the other way out of concerns they’ll lose business.

“There’s no shortage of clients,” said Kane, whose group represents 44 of 93 certifiers accredited by the USDA.

The rule requires inspectors to report pesticide residues or other contaminants that exceed limits set by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to federal authorities. Otherwise, inspectors are supposed to keep results on file, available to the public if requested. By failing to collect the data, the agriculture department is falling short of its obligation to continuously improve organic standards, Benbrook said.

“It’s going to be more difficult to focus on the few residues that do pose risk,” Benbrook said. “Organic food is far safer than conventional when it comes to pesticide levels, but USDA still owes it to the organic consumer to do everything it can to bring the risk level as close to zero as possible.” - Andrew Zajac, Bloomberg News

Friday, November 23, 2012

Has An Appeal Been Filed In An Organic Farmer vs. Monsanto Case?

A closely watched lawsuit against chemical giant Monsanto by a group of organic farmers is headed for court again. The case questions Monsanto’s legal basis for genetically modified seed patents and seeks blanket protection from patent-infringement lawsuits for farmers should their crops become contaminated through unwanted pollination by Monsanto’s genetically altered plants.

By law, certified organic crops cannot contain genetically modified material.

While most of the plaintiffs in the case are organic farmers, some are conventional farmers who choose to farm with seed that hasn’t been genetically modified and face the same risks of contamination. Genetically modified seeds are protected by patents and farmers who grow genetically modified crops must buy new seeds each year and are barred from employing traditional seed saving practices.

In February, U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald of the Southern District of New York dismissed the case brought by the national Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, which is based in Washington, Maine, and whose board president is Maine potato-seed farmer Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater. OSGATA seeks to have the judgment reversed and the case sent back to federal district court. Monsanto will argue that Buchwald’s decision should stand.

The lawsuit was originally filed in March 2011 by OSGATA and more than 70 agricultural and consumer groups, with legal backing from the Public Patent Foundation, a nonprofit group that works to reduce abuses of the U.S. patent system.

In dismissing the case, Buchwald acknowledged that some of the plaintiffs had stopped growing certain crops for fear of being sued, but ruled the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the lawsuit and called the farmers’ claims that they could be subject to patent-infringement lawsuits “unsubstantiated” because “not one single plaintiff claims to have been so threatened.”

Legal briefs were filed by both parties this summer, and joined by a number of friend of the court briefs. Each side will have 15 minutes to present its case and the three-judge panel can then question the attorneys, if it chooses.

Calling the case one of basic property rights, Gerritsen said, “what our briefs show is that (Buchwald) committed certain legal and factual errors that led her to the wrong conclusion and led her to dismiss the case.”

OSGATA’s brief names specific farmers who have stopped growing certain crops because of fear of contamination and subsequent lawsuits by Monsanto. The brief also names plaintiffs, including Maine-based Fedco Seeds, that have discovered unwanted genetic contamination when they’ve sent their seed out for third-party testing. The plaintiffs claim Buchwald ignored Supreme Court precedent relating to intellectual property law and patent infringement litigation in rendering her decision.

Dan Ravicher, founder and executive director of the Public Patent Foundation, will agrue on behalf of OSGATA. The nonprofit seed association is currently raising money to allow its member farmers to travel to Washington, D.C., to hear the oral arguments. During oral arguments in January in New York, 60 farmers from more than 20 states and Canadian provinces filled the courtroom.

St. Louis-based Monsanto filed the motion that led to the dismissal of the case and has maintained throughout the case that it doesn’t sue farmers whose crops are inadvertently contaminated by its genetically modified seeds. Representatives of Monsanto did not return calls seeking comment before deadline.

In a statement issued after Buchwald dismissed the lawsuit, Monsanto said the judge’s ruling “makes it clear that there was neither a history of behavior nor a reasonable likelihood that Monsanto would pursue patent infringement matters against farmers who have no interest in using the company’s patented seed products.”

Each year, Monsanto investigates roughly 500 farmers for possible patent infringement. Monsanto sued 144 farmers between 1997 and 2010 and settled 700 cases out of court during the same period. The Court of Appeals should return a verdict within three months of the hearing. -  Avery Yale Kamila, 
Morning Sentinel

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How Much Are South Africa's Organic Farms Worth?

As the battle for the soul of the organic food sector continues to rage across the world, South Africans have not been spared from the conflicting data and inflamed exchanges that have underpinned the debate.
As in much of the world, the food sector in South Africa has been sharply divided over whether organic production methods offer benefits. Both sides are now hoping that they can find more common ground as the country moves closer to developing a national policy. 

With so many vested interests, especially those of big fertilizer companies and large-scale commercial farmers, it has been a difficult road to negotiate. And this has not been helped in recent months by a series of conflicting reports and marketing data on organic foods. These have not cleared the uncertainty of an industry said to be worth over $50 billion globally and which is expected to grow to $104,5 billion by 2015. 

Organic foods are produced without using synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers or animal antibiotics. Many countries now require strict food labeling to distinguish organic food from those produced by large commercial farmers using synthetic methods. 

Raymond Auerbach, professor of soil science and plant production at the George campus of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, is one of the few academics in South Africa working in this field and is founder of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association of South Africa. 

Auerbach says the country has a long history of producing organic foods, largely because in the rural areas most of the food comes from smallholdings and the private gardens maintained by subsistence farmers. 

According to Auerbach, South Africa had only about a hundred large-scale commercial farmers until the late 1990s and, even though there appears to be a strong consumer demand for organically produced foods, the country has been slow to catch on. 

"There is the common misconception that organic farming doesn't work on a big scale," says Auerbach. "But with fertilizer becoming so expensive, organic farming is becoming more mainstream." 

According to the organisation Inspired Evolution Investment Management, South Africa's organic sector comprises about 250 certified farms and 45,000 hectares of certified organic land. It accounts for just a fraction of the land used for agriculture. Yet this area remains one of the fastest-growing sectors in the food market, driven mostly by the private, independent organisations. 

Government has developed a policy for the organic food market that was launched earlier this year. Now a number of private organisations are attempting to draft a set of protocols and standards that will regulate the sector. 

"We have more than 100 farmers who farm organically but the certification process remains a headache," says Auerbach. 

And because only a few supermarket chains, such as Woolworths and Pick n Pay, have dedicated organic food sections, South African consumers are mostly buying organic food at private markets. This could be detrimental for large food stores as research shows that South Africa has the potential to be one of the largest markets for organic foods on the continent. 

A market survey by the African Organic Farming Foundation undertaken in 2005 estimated the South Africa's organic food market was worth $100 million across all categories of produce, and predicted that this would grow by 30% by 2010. 

But the sketchy data and poor policies may also have cost South Africa a foothold in a expanding global market. Uganda is now the world's leading organic food-producing nation, with Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia featuring in the top 10 alongside India, Mexico and Peru. 

In the US, organic food and drink sales totaled more than $27 billion (4% of the overall market) and market research shows that customers are prepared to pay higher prices for organic produce. 

One of the chief selling points of organic food is that because of the way it is produced it tastes better and may offer some health benefits although this has been disputed by research from Stanford University that found organic produce, including meat, isn't any better when it comes to vitamin and nutrient content. 

It does reduce exposure to pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria but the risks of these are minimal in mass produced foods. 

Using the data from more than 200 studies comparing organic and regular food, researchers found that the latter did not have more nutrients or minerals, nor did it have any significant effect in preventing infections or diseases. 

However, Auerbach says there are reasons beyond the nutritional benefits for organic foods to remain a better choice. 

"The environmental factors alone should be cause for concern," Auerbach says. "We can show that just because of the use of chemicals there are 15% fewer proteins [in meats] and 15% more calories in vegetables and grains," he added. 

The main problem, he says, both in South Africa and in the rest of the world, is that there should be better marketing, research and training around the production of organic foods. 

The question is - can organic farming be commercially viable? 

Just a fraction of those farmers producing organic products is doing so commercially. Production by small emerging farmers could have a significant impact on the demand for their produce. A study undertaken three years ago by the Department of Trade and Industry found that there was enormous potential for the development of small-scale organic farmers. It said this could be extended to large-scale ventures. 

In Europe and the US, organic foods can cost between 30% and 50% more than those using major production methods whereas in South Africa the price differential is closer to 50%. For many people a major concern is that because of its limited scale organic farming cannot address the serious challenges of food security and world hunger. - Biz Community