THERE is no doubt any longer that our food from our once natural farms now to our kitchens and lining tablets in Nigeria with killer poisons in the forms of Pesticides and herbicides. All the thanks for this go to agriculture practices from Europe and America. As we battle cancers and other degenerative disease caused by these poisons news of the fight against them can be exciting such was the news that, like some people in her generation, lawyer OLUSOLA OWEMIMO has set up an organic farm in Nigeria when only natural forms of agriculture will be done. Recently, she attended a conference of organic farming in the United Kingdom. Today, she shares her experiences with readers of this column…

My Experience At The 10th Organic Producer’s Conference January 27-28 2016

I went into organic farming as a choice because I have my personal ideals, one of which is to endeavour to eat healthy. I grew up with parents who ate healthy and we always had an edible garden at the back of every home we lived. I have therefore always preferred organic food where possible.

You may ask why organic?

Organically grown foods have no pesticides with chemicals or any toxic ingredients, and even the manure from cows and chickens cannot be used without curing. No cruelty is allowed to animals so a truly organic farm will allow its chickens to roam about as some of us knew when we were growing up.
There are many researches that prove organic is more beneficial. For example, an international team led by Newcastle University has shown that organic crops are up to 69% higher in a number of key antioxidants than conventionally-grown crops.

Numerous studies have linked antioxidants to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers.

The study found that a switch to eating organic fruit, vegetable and cereals – and food made from them – would provide additional antioxidants equivalent to eating between one to two extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Our mission statement at Ope Farms is to grow and supply organically grown foods from rich mineral soils that truly nourish the body for healthy lifestyles and our vision is to be a trusted foremost organic food producer for healthy living.

When Ope Farms commence operation a little over a year ago, I discovered that there is a non-governmental body in Nigeria known as Nigerian Organic Agriculture Network (NOAN). It is a non-governmental organization created to serve as an umbrella body for all stakeholders involved in organic agriculture in Nigeria. The secretariat of NOAN is at the Department of Agronomy, University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria.

Membership is drawn from scientists, farmers, processors, exporters, individuals, Institutions, NGOs and organizations that are key players in the organic agriculture sector in Nigeria. NOAN also serves as a link body between organic agriculture stakeholders in Nigeria and international bodies interested in organic agriculture. They hosted the highly successful 3rd African Organic Agriculture conference last year October. The conference made us appreciate that organic agriculture is here to stay in Africa.

I was therefore excited to stumble on the advertisement for the 10th Organic Producer’s Conference online. The conference was for Producers. The two day conference was attended by about 240 growers and it was held at Novotel. One of the major sponsors was Accor Hotels. I was highly impressed to learn of the many things Accor Hotels has been doing for Agriculture in the UK. Accor Hotels supports innovative and sustainable agroforestry models, bringing many benefits to their ecosystems. It initiated a ‘Plant for the Planet in the U.K.’ Programme. Since 2012, it has planted 37,298 trees, invested £240,000 in agroforestry and supported 29 innovative farmers in all the country.

In Accor Hotels, guests are invited to reuse their towels for more than one night so that 50% of the laundry savings can then be used to fund restoration projects.

Another sponsor was Triodos Bank which has been helping farmers grow their businesses for almost 30 years. For example, the bank helped Wheatland Farm in Devon purchase and install an 11kw turbine. Triodos supports another customer Jamie’s Farm in their family run-project that supports the development of vulnerable young people by providing opportunities for achievement and well-being in an agricultural setting. A Triodos loan helped Tom Mattyear and Mark Sparrow to buy Haddon Copse Farm, a 30 acre organic smallholding in the heart of Dorset.

Some of the other supporters of the conference are Organic Growers Alliance, Soil Association, Ernest Cook Trust and Greenham Common Trust.

The theme for the programme was ‘Common ground – Agroecology, food sovereignty and organic farming in practice’. There were presentations, discussions, Question and Answer Sessions.
The theme for the first day was ‘A shared vision for future – bringing different traditions together’ The discussion centre red on movement for change in Agriculture embraces a wide range of agroecological traditions, from integrated pest/crop management to permaculture, from organic farming to agroforestry and holistic management. The big question is ‘Are they really all uniquely different, or is the common ground they share, in terms of ideas and history, more important?

Topics such as ‘Rejuvenating Our Landscape – The Allerton Approach by Phil Jarvis who shared his personal vision for the future of farming and food. One of which is ‘Innovation that combines well researched technology and sound agricultural husbandry, that can be transferred with the skills required, to our next generation of land managers and another of his visions is ‘A farming landscape that embraces the environment, rejuvenates our souls and continues to support our rural communities.

Christine Gosling of Berkeley Farm, as an organic dairy farmer said her vision of the future of farming and food is one balance where:
– everything that is borrowed or taken from nature is paid back or compensated for
– every person is fed adequately with a balanced, nourishing diet, relieving the pressure on the earth to produce higher yields of resource
– there is balance of respect for biodiversity and our need to produce food.

Iyoti Fernandes(Land Workers’ Alliance and Organic Smallholder Fivepenny Farm, Dorset) said as a small-scale producer and representative of the Land Workers Alliance, their vision for the future of agriculture is:
– A much higher percentage of land in the UK is farmed sustainably with a large proportion of food being produced on small and medium scale farms primarily for British markets to contribute towards greater food security
– Research undertaken illustrates that it is possible to feed the projected population of the UK with small and medium scale farms using sustainable agriculture.
– the alliance envisions that this model of agricultural development would have greater benefits to the UK in the long run than a food and farming strategy based on sustainable intensification of larger scale industrial agriculture and the export economy

Jonty Brunyee of The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association and Cotsworld Organic Farmer said his vision for the future of farming is:
– a farming system that provides nutritious food from high welfare ruminants, positive economic returns for farming families and environmental regeneration.
– I believe that beef, sheep and diary systems based on a natural diet of 100% pasture consisting of grasses, herbs and legumes offers a sustainable solution to many of the problems associated with the livestock industry today.
– highlights the benefits of dropping the damaging inefficient grain habit and embracing the pasture for Life ethos which rebuilds soil, soaks up rainwater, provides pollinator and farmland bird habitat, improving animal welfare and rearing livestock that produce great tasting meat and milk with enhanced nutritional profiles.
– High outputs and reduced costs are possible and exciting opportunities exist for branding and added value sales. It’s a no grainier!

The workshops included topics such as: Business tools and support for new entrants/converters. The session was chaired by Susan Padel of Organic Research Centre (ORC). The aim is to ensure financial viability for new businesses and for those entering conversion. The tools available for planning and benchmarking and how the support mechanism can be used for business success.
Phil Sumption of Organic Centre (ORC) spoke about Business tools for growers including horticultural costings.

– making financial data, ‘fit for purpose’ for small growers was the mission they set for themselves as part of the Organic Centre Wales’s Better Organic Business Links (BOBL) project. There is an absence of tailored information on the viability and productivity of market gardens and small scale horticultural holding growing in Wales.
– the problem is exacerbated by lack of financial skills/knowledge of new entrants, for example setting prices, estimating the cost of production and uncertainty about choosing a business model.
– the ORC has designed a horticultural costing tool to try and account for the complexities of complex systems in an easy to use step by step format that should allow the grower to compare the cost of different crops/crop groups and their margins, in a meaningful way.

Tony Little of Sustainable Farming Consultancy: spoke about the support mechanisms for conversion in England and Wales. He notes that Organic conversion (that is converting from conventional farming to organic farming) can be a challenging time both in terms of the farming system and the farm business. He outlined the key resources and support schemes to help farmers and growers through the tricky period including government support schemes, conversion planning tools, sources of information and support.

Laura Creen (School Farm CSA) Struggles and successes of a new grower. She shared her struggles and needs of new growers, and also about where she found the help she needed to continue.

There was an interactive workshop chaired by Steven Jacobs ‘Eyes on the prize: the long view on weed control and soil maintenance. It looked at new options for mechanical weed control and ecological strategies, focusing on farmer experience.
Jonathan Storkey of Rothamsted Research spoke on why the world needs Weed Biologists.
– The discipline of weed biology has suffered a steady decline in funding and support over the past three decades beginning with the closure of the Weed Research Organisation in 1985.
– Part of the reason for the decline has been the efficacy of modern herbicides in conventional systems, as long as you can read pesticide labels weeds can easily be controlled.
– The loss of active ingredients due to European Legislation and the evolution of herbicide resistance have highlighted the need for inter grated weed management that that relies on knowledge of weed biology and the response of different species to alternative management scenarios
– In addition, increasing recognition of the positive role weeds play in the agro- ecosystem as a food source for invertebrates and birds has further highlighted the need to understand weed biology.

From personal experience, I say many of what we call weeds are medicinal. I have a firsthand experience when someone who knows a lot about herbs visited our farm and could not contain her excitement at seeing what we thought were weeds as herbs, calling them by their names. We had decided from start up that we were not going to disturb the ecosystem drastically and this decision has been a blessing.

– The UK has recently invested £1million in a large project to improve the control of herbicide resistant black-grass. The current activity at Rothamsted will be reviewed with an emphasis on how the tools being developed are relevant to organic systems.

There was a workshop on Succession and Innovative land access schemes. Ed Golf a retiring farmer spoke about how he explored the possibility of share farming and contract farming and chose the option of contract farming with a local organic farmer as contractor. On a lighter note I met Ed who in his eighties married his childhood sweetheart …….about six months ago. They were both fun to be with and they invited me to visit their farm in the near future.

Helen Kearney of Greenham Reach, Ecological Land Cooperative Lessee gave the perspectives of a new entrant, she and her family are on 5.5 acres of leased land with a 25 year lease. The arrangement has made it a cheaper option for the family. Helen is a Medical Herbalist and their small holding grows medicinal herbs that are processed in to medicines and herbal products.

Martin Sobler of Carey Organic set up the 70 acre farm with Rachel, his wife in 2004 and the farm supplies the Box schemes. He spoke about how the changing weather patterns and market demands has affected the business. The soft fruit business has proven productive but it is demanding of labour and logistic resources.

There were several other workshops, some of which are on technology and supply chains, John Cant of Marumarket spoke about the results from the UK Veg Box Survey and how the findings is to be used to improve online presence and digital marketing for farmers.

Another one I really enjoyed is learning how Homoeopathy helps with livestock. Homoeopathy is rated as an unrecognised success. Christine Gosling of Berkeley Farm run an organic 375 acre diary and arable farm in Wiltshire. They have successfully used homoeopathy for nearly 10 years. While Tim Downes, a Shropshire dairy farmer with 300 herds has used homoeopathy for over 16 years and John Newman of Abbey Home Farm has used homoeopathy successfully for over 20 years. The three speakers shared their experiences and knowledge of using homoeopathy remedies. With the threat of greater antibiotic resistance in the future, farmers need to look into this and adopt it.

There were many talks also on seeds. Making seeds sovereignty happen in the UK was the theme. Speakers looked at the future of organic seed production. What can be done to ensure resilience, diversity and security in their seed systems They looked at initiatives and networks working towards change and m

At the Customer satisfaction workshop, how to ensure that there is consistent supply and quality organic produce was discussed. The take home for me was, as farmers we must ensure we plan cropping schedules for continuity and variety, get the basics of soil fertility and agronomy right and storing and we ought to pack and present for optimal freshness and appearance while also minimising waste. Alan Schofield of Growining with Nature, in his presentaion, ‘Variety is the spice of life’ spoke about how since1992, they have been supplying organically grown vegetables direct to people’s homes. They work with 4 other organic growers planning crop timings and sharing out the growing of crops for the box scheme which he runs from his own holding they shared the production between growers in a fair and an amicable manner. They undertake cleaning and processing by themselves and then undertake germination to ensure viability. Their long term plan is to reverse the decline of seed production in UK providing a resilient base on which to build a sustainable farming future.

Roger Hutchings of RHMH consulting spoke of the importance of the soil for consistent quality production. He showed different types of soil to enable farmer appreciate that their crops need soil that can deliver the required level of fertility and manageability year in, year out for the business to survive for the long term. He emphasised the fundamental organic techniques of rotation, fertility crops, on-farm composting, careful cultivation etc are key to getting the best from soils considered to be marginal.

There were more talks on energy, soil carbon and tree planting. Carlo Leifert spoke on the effects of organic farming practices on food composition and human health. From recent meta-analysis of published data on the nutritional crops and livestock products have identified substantial and nutritionally relevant differences between organic and conventional crops and livestock production. Organic crops have a higher concentration of a wide range of antioxidants, 50% lower concentration of the toxic metal cadmium and pesticide residues more than 4 times more frequently found in conventional compared to organic crops. Organic Milk and beef were shown to have higher concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids and organic milk also contained higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and certain antioxidants/vitamins (carotenoids, vitamin E). From a 4 human cohort study, focused on the health of mothers and newborn children or infants, it was reported that organic vegetable and/or dairy consumption is associated with a reduced incidence in male genital deformation at birth, eczema in infants and/or pre-eclampsia in mothers.

Bennan Tong spoke on the subject: Is Organic Better? For some positively-rated substances seem to show higher levels than conventional food. The evaluation of well over 300 comparative studies (Baransky et al 2014) revealed an increase of up to 69% in the content of certain antioxidants like polyphenols in organic crops antioxidants could have a positive impact on health. It has been proved antioxidants could have a positive impact on health, Organic products need to be authentic and processed with care. Therefore, only essential additives and processing aids are allowed and the number and extent of the interventions are reduced to a practical minimum.

The programme rounded up with a presentation about Canaan model for a sustainable crop value chain approach in Palestine by Dr Samer Jarrar and The UN Ten Year Framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production by Charles Arden-Clarke (UNEP)

Tea breaks had options of organic fruits and pastries while lunch was organic food from organic farms.

There was something that completely surprised me; I learnt that Organic Farming came from Africa. At the conference, I met Dr. Phillip Conford, a Historian of Organic Agriculture who when I showed surprise at his profession and also asked him about his work, he told me that an English man, Sir Richard St Barbe Baker, a forester, environmental activist and author, who contributed greatly to worldwide reforestation efforts. As a leader, he founded an organization called Men of the Trees which is still active today. He was a forerunner of organic agriculture having lived in Kenya. Thereafter Sir Albert Howard influenced Asia and India on soil improvement and also developed a certain composting for them.

From the lessons from this conference, I believe organic has come to stay and it is definitely the new present!

Olusola Sowemimo

image source: organicconsumers