Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture took the opportunity to introduce local farmers to the benefits of organic farming, that is, the growing and sale of crops which are free from harmful chemicals.

The seminar entitled Organic Agriculture: A Sustainable Local Alternative, was facilitated by Agronomist, David Bynoe, who introduced the participants to some local alternatives in crop production and pest control.

Using the cabbage as example, Mr. Bynoe illustrated to farmers how to grow the vegetable without any synthetic pesticides or chemicals.

According to him, some farmers can spray cabbage up to three times a week since it is a very profitable crop, with some varieties maturing within two months.

"There are organic alternatives we can use. We have the Neem [plant] and we also have BT- Bacillus thuringiensis. This is a naturally occurring bacteria in the soil that you can isolate and spray. One of the main pests for cabbage is the Diamondback Moth but BT is excellent for that," Mr. Bynoe explained.

The Agronomist added that garlic was another household item which could be used for pest control. "It acts as a stealth…you mask the field with the smell of garlic and the insects are not able to pick up exactly where the [crop] that they want to attack is," he added.

While some farmers have claimed that organic agriculture does not deliver such high yields as with conventional production, Mr. Bynoe disagrees, noting that if fertility management is carried out correctly, the results could be just as rewarding.

He stressed that if the most suitable organic fertiliser was used, then the yields could be quite good. "If you use the right organic fertiliser for the [right] crop because there are different organic fertilisers that suit particular crops, [then you can have higher crop yields]. We found …that chicken manure is well suited for the production of cabbage because it is a high nitrogen feeder and chicken manure is very high in the concentration of nitrogen. We found that we had a 10 to 20 per cent increase in yields when we used chicken manure as opposed to conventional fertiliser," Mr. Bynoe surmised.

Iridologist and Herbal Specialist, Chantel Selman, who was also a presenter at the Ministry’s seminar, said there were many products "in and around the home" which farmers could use as biological pesticides and insecticides, such as Neem leaves or berries and garlic.

The Neem Plant or Azadirachta indica is native to several countries in Asia including India, Burma, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Pakistan. It is well known for its medicinal properties, and its leaves, flowers, bark and seeds are used for a variety of purposesThere are two ways to derive a biological pesticide and insecticide from the Neem plant – a cold extraction where the leaves are left overnight in water or an oil-based extraction, with the kernel of the Neem berry being placed in a base oil.??

With a cold extraction, the leaves are bruised, either in a blender or food processor, so the chemicals can enter the water. The solution should be left for 12 to 24 hours and, depending on the pest being targeted, a double extraction may be necessary to make it more potent.

The mixture is made stronger by doubling the amount of leaves and leaving the solution to mature for another 12 hours. It can them be strained and sprayed on the crops every two weeks. Two teaspoons per gallon of water should be used, however, householders and farmers should monitor their food crops when spraying, since the mixture can make crops taste bitter.

The water-based extraction tends to evaporate quicker as opposed to oil and the berries only grow once a year in April. The solution has been successful in dealing with ants, snails, aphids and leafminers.

Ms. Selman also reiterated the benefits of using organic farming for crop production.?? "Using a natural pesticide or insecticide… is a better way to control such pests. In this way, farmers and even homeowners would not have to worry about inhaling or ingesting any chemicals into their system. The more natural the spray you are using, the better. So you want it to be the highest standard which would be organic. Organic farming with such [natural and environmentally friendly] pesticides is definitely the way to go," the Herbal Specialist concluded.??????


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