Organic farming has long been a buzzword used by industry officials to promote the benefits of environmentally friendly and healthier crop production, that is, the growing and sale of crops which are free from harmful chemicals and pesticides.
With an increasing number of consumers concerned about the impact of chemicals on their health, organic agriculture represents a viable and safer alternative. It refers to the use of environmentally friendly or biologically safe?? techniques such as mulching and composting in the cultivation of crops, the maintenance of soil and in the control of pests, weeds and crop diseases.
Locally, the practice is making its way into mainstream agricultural production, with some farmers and agriculturalists exploring these techniques in the planting, growing and harvesting of their produce. Oils from local plants have also been utilised for biological pest and disease control.
Substituting imported products for local organic agricultural inputs can have a significant impact on the cost of production, human health, the environment and save valuable foreign exchange. Additionally, it can promote the creation of local small businesses to facilitate the production of such goods.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries, Industry and Small Business Development recently took the opportunity to introduce some farmers to the benefits of organic farming with a seminar entitled ???Organic Agriculture: A Sustainable Local Alternative, at the Ministry’s headquarters, Graeme Hall, Christ Church.
Agronomist at the Ministry, David Bynoe, explained that the objective of the half-day seminar was to explore local biological alternatives which could be used to boost agricultural production.
One such example, he noted, was the process of mulching. This refers to a protective layer that could be placed over the soil in a garden to reduce the level of weed infestation, provide nutrients, reduce erosion and soil temperature and retain moisture. Varying materials can be used for mulching, including leaves, grass clippings, hay and straw.
"It reduces soil temperature and allows the soil to hold more moisture since the sun is not hitting it directly, so there is less evaporation. Mulch is something we have been importing for years and when we do this, not only is there a cost attached but [you have to] look at its impact on climate change since to transport it here, you have to deal with carbon emissions. So if we can have a local alternative, that’s ideal. If we have a local organic alternative, that is even better," Mr. Bynoe said.
The Agronomist pointed out that organic waste produced in Barbados was being converted into compost and various mulches. The coconut is one such fruit which is being used in this regard and the Ministry of Agriculture has been conducting some research into the best usage for such products for increased crop yields.
"We look at the various mulches being produced such as coconut fibre, green waste and wood chip and design experiments to identify how much to apply, such as the thickness and quantity, and see how it affects yields and soil temperature…we found that in a tropical environment, anything you can do to reduce the temperature of the soil would lead to increased productivity," he added.
Mr. Bynoe also noted that some types of mulches such as green waste and wood chip attracted certain beneficial microorganisms which would assist in the control of pests and diseases.
The emphasis on organic farming by the Ministry of Agriculture forms part of its ongoing campaign to educate Barbadians about the link between health and agriculture.