Best Agricultural Practices - Recommendations
Converting from conventional to organic production does not simply mean replacing chemical fertilizers and pesticides with organic elements. Food and cash crops must be grown in a balanced farming system including other crops. Instead of troubleshooting, organic farmers should try to prevent problems and avoid substitutes to conventional inputs as far as possible. It requires an in depth understanding of nutrient and pest management, and the ability to continuously observe and learn.
For farmers to get satisfactory yields and income in organic farming it is necessary to adopt a number of integrated measures in a system approach, ensuring that interaction among soil, plants, environment and people is well balanced. The following factors need to be applied simultaneously:
- Site selection including climatic and soil conditions. Suitable measures to improve and maintain soil fertility and avoiding soil erosion. Cover crops or lay out mulches in perennial crops provide protection to the soil. The ideal soil is a well-drained, light, loose, finely grained, sandy loam with plenty of lime and sufficient organic matter. It is also possible to achieve good yields on soils which neither harden nor crust over, nor create water-logging;
- Landraces selection. Selecting local varieties suitable to agro-ecological conditions. Varieties are selected according to specific factors such as climatic conditions, yield potential, resistance to infections or duration of growing period to maturity. If farmers plant the wrong cultivar for a given area, the crops may not have adequate soil moisture for proper growth, especially if the rainy period is much shorter than the growing period of the variety;
- Planting and other agricultural practices. Use types and amounts of manures, such as green manure or cow dung, at the right time. Start recycling valuable farm by-products. Establish on-farm compost production based on harvest residues and manure, if available, and mix the compost with the topsoil. This will bring stable organic matter into the soil and improve its structure and its capacity to feed the plants and store water. Green manures can provide plant material to feed soil organisms and build up soil fertility. Establishment of crop rotation and crop diversity for fostering natural balance. Diversify the farming system. Select appropriate annual crops for the area and rotate them in a planned sequence. Include legume crops such as beans or leguminous feed crops in the rotation to provide nitrogen to the subsequent crops. Plant hedges and flower strips to encourage natural enemies and to control pests. Crop diversity reduces a farmer’s risk, making farmers less vulnerable to crop failure and prices fluctuation. Further, it prevents shortage of labour in peak seasons, as labour requirements are more evenly distributed throughout the year.
- Harvesting. Timely harvest to avoid storage losses of food and cash crops;
- Post-harvesting. Monitoring of crops and protection against pests according to the concept of economic threshold levels;
- Technical assistance. Capacity building for farmers, testing for continuous improvement;
- Markets including road networking. Market and commercial infrastructures availability and development;
- Food Security. Policy development at country and regional levels. Sufficient documentation for inspection and certification, where present and required.
Priority organic recommendations for conversion include:
- Improving the soil fertility through the application of quality compost. Compost is a highly valuable fertilizer in organic farming. Instead of burning the crop residues after harvest, collect them for compost production, or work them into the soil. Animal manures and plant materials should be regularly collected for compost making. Additional measures to control soil erosion such as digging trenches and planting trees along the hillside, and covering the soil with living or dead plant material should be considered;
- Implement planned crop rotation and intercropping systems. A combination of annual and perennial crops including leguminous green manure cover crops is needed. Combine selected or improved crop varieties;
- Growing nitrogen-fixing legumes between annual crops to feed soil and crops;
- Integration of livestock into the farming system. Planting rows of nitrogen-fixing trees between annual crops and fodder improves growing conditions for crops and encourages growth, while providing additional feed for the ruminant animals. Better housing is also needed to facilitate collection of animal manure for field use.
General aspects of organic vegetable production
Organic vegetable production requires flexibility and the application of new technologies from the producers. In addition to the general challenges related to vegetable production, farmers in tropical and subtropical regions are confronted with the following production constrains:
- Poor soils with low content of organic matter;
- Climate stress (floods, cyclones, drought);
- Lack of locally adapted production technologies and slow technology transfer;
- Lack of locally adapted varieties and good quality of seeds;
- Fast development of pest and disease infestations;
- High post harvest losses;
- Lack of adequate logistic and marketing facilities.
Organic agriculture is an alternative for vegetable growers in Sub-Saharan Africa and a valid contribution to food security at household level.