Sunday, February 10, 2013

Is The Future Bright For Tanzanian Organic Farmers?

Executive Director of Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (TOAM) explained to me, that about 70% of Tanzanian farmers use traditional methods. In a way they are de facto organic farmers.

But at TOAM they want to separate organic from traditional farming. Gama explained that many sub-optimal practices are used by many traditional farmers. For examples, "Many burn their fields and others do not rotate their crops properly." 

Traditional farming has the potential to convert to organic farming using locally made inputs. "Organic agriculture (kilimo hai)," he continued, "is the best mix of traditional knowledge and skills and science.

The knowledge and skills are best practices of many different successful farmers. But no one group of farmers has all the skills. Organic farming brings all the best practices together. It is about adding and improving quickly the quality of the soil using biological and mechanical methods as well as medicinal plants.

Inputs such as compost, livestock manure and other agro ecological best practices create a productive environment." I learned that organic means more than just not being genetically modified and being grown without pesticides. Organic is about knowledge of the environment, soil, consumer/social responsibilities, and workers' conditions.

On the TOAM website they explain that the Organic Agriculture Movement is based on four principles: health, ecology, fairness, and care. In the principle of health, organic agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.

In the principle of ecology, organic agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them. In the principle of fairness, organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.

In the principle of care, organic agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment. To eat food grown within such an environment is definitely something I would like to partake in.

But is it possible? It seems like a dream. It could be a dream coming true. It shimmers in my mind as seemingly far away, but Gama assured me that in Tanzania there might already be 450,000 certified organic producers!! He explained, "For instance, Biolands International alone has over 21,000 certified cocoa farmers in Kyela." Biolands engages in the production and export of certified organic cocoa.

It offers organic smallholder cocoa programmes. The company provides farmers with training in cocoa growing, and technical advice and supplies, as well as supplies cocoa seedlings to help improve farms. It also works with smallholders in Mbeya and Ruvuma regions of Tanzania to improve income from other crops, such as coffee, paprika, and sesame.

This is not counting KDCU (Karagwe District Co-operative Union Ltd.), KCU (Kagera Coffee Union), KNCU (Kilimanjaro Native Co-Operative Union Ltd.). And others. He continued, "There is certified organic cotton, coffee, cocoa, vegetables, tea and spices." I complained, "If there are so many organic products and I want to buy them, where are they?" He said, " Most organic products are exported.

For example the pyrethrum is all exported. The pharmacists, Mansoor Daya, want to formulate a compound for pest control using the organic pyrethrum but they can't get four kilograms." Instead of using the organic pyrethrum being grown in Tanzania for pest control we are offered imported chemical inputs! Organic cotton and organic coffee is almost all exported. There is organic instant TANICA coffee mostly for export markets.

I asked him, "How do you see the future?' Gama said, "The future looks bright. It is now clear that the policy and political will are there. The Heads of State at the Africa Union have decided to go with organic. In the Tanzanian Livestock Policy there is provision for organic practices as well as in the draft national agricultural policy.

The challenge is that our experts need to update themselves. We need extension training. We need to promote and increase domestic consumption for organic products. We need competent researchers who understand the system...." He paused for a moment as if thinking about the situation and then he said, "But we have confidence that the researchers are coming up. At Sokoine University for example they offered an elective course on organic agriculture and 100 students signed up. The future is bright." - Anne Outwater, Tanzania Daily News

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