Organic farmers in Africa face an arduous journey getting cropland certified, limiting exports and frustrating farmers who say ecological practices could increase food security while protecting the land.
Fighting Hunger<p>Conventional farming uses artificial fertilizers and pesticides, some of which kill wildlife and may damage human health, particularly in countries where they are poorly regulated or overused.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/why-biodiversity-loss-hurts-humans-as-much-as-climate-change/a-48579014" target="_blank">A landmark report on biodiversity</a> published by UN-backed scientists last year found that converting land for intensive agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of wildlife loss and degradation of nature — and that this, in turn, endangers the global food system through the less of healthy soil, clean waterways and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/insect-apocalypse-dying-ecosystem-species-loss-a-52160360/a-52160360" target="_blank">insects that pollinate plants</a>.</p>
Access to Finance<p>The area of organic farmland in Africa has doubled in the last decade to 2.1 million hectares, FiBL data shows, with the biggest organic centers in North and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/feeding-east-africa-locals-skeptical-of-gm-crops/a-42385062" target="_blank">East Africa</a> and the crops they grow enjoyed the world over. In Kenya, nuts and coconuts dominate organic output. In Tunisia it is olives. Ethiopia and Tanzania are big coffee-growers, while in Uganda, home to the most organic producers in Africa, the crop of choice is cacao.</p><p>Despite some successes, farmers such as Nashera and Koleta, in Kenya, are caught in a bind between domestic markets not willing to pay a premium for organic food and wealthier regions to which they cannot export without expensive certification. A survey of African farmers by UNCTAD in 2016 found that a quarter of stakeholders thought access to finance had gotten more restrictive in the last five years. Only 13 percent said it had become more efficient.</p><p>But the industry is held back by more than just money, said Okisegere Ojepat, CEO of trade association Fresh Produce Kenya. A lack of crop-specific research and equipment, including understanding of weather patterns and pest control, is keeping farmers from innovating. Pushing for more organic farming without building technical capacity would not be sustainable in the long run, said Ojepat. "It is a double-edged sword."</p><p>Organic farmers looking to reach markets abroad are trying short-term fixes. To reduce the cost of certification — which requires paying auditors from Europe and North America to fly in and inspect farms — organic farmers could apply to be certified together, said Claire Nasike, founder of environmental educational charity the Hummingbird Foundation and an agroecologist at Greenpeace Africa, which has trained a network of farmers who are now applying to be certified as a group.</p><p>"The farmers are able to hold each other accountable," said Nasike. "If one person messes it up, the entire group's certification is cancelled."</p>
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Hanging on a gate is a sign reading: "Potatoes — healthy and delicious." The slogan, to which the word "rare" could justifiably be added, is in line with Cornel Lindemann-Berk's philosophy of quality over quantity. "We don't have enough rain in the summer," he tells DW. "And since we don't want to water them, we've turned this weakness into a strength."
This Is Conventional Organic Farming<p>This family-run business in Germany's Rhineland region is one of 10 farms across the country taking part in a project to test and implement practical and economically viable conservation measures alongside traditional agriculture.</p><p>By taking part in the project, which is known as F.R.A.N.Z. (Future Resources, Agriculture & Nature Conservation) and runs from 2017 to 2027, Lindemann-Berk is on his way to becoming an organic farmer.</p><p>"As part of this project, we don't use liquid manure or crop protection agents," he says. "The yield is sometimes zero, because weeds such as thistles and burdock are rampant here." For every crop plant, around 30 unwanted herbs and grass also push through the ground.</p><p>Lindemann-Berk has been making losses on grain and rapeseed for years. But when he took over the Gut Neu-Hemmerich farm three decades ago he converted several disused buildings into flats and offices, and so he doesn't have to rely on agriculture alone to make a living. Nonetheless, it's still important to him to plant a diversity of grains. He doesn't cultivate monocultures but practices crop rotation, just as farmers did centuries ago. Varying what he grows each year helps to regenerate the soil, while also reducing disease and pests.</p><p>As part of other experiments for F.R.A.N.Z, Lindemann-Berk has sown corn and runner beans together. The beans grow up the corn plants and prevent light from reaching the soil, thereby significantly reducing the growth of weeds. Because the beans are rich in protein and the corn contains starch, the mix also lends itself to cattle feed.</p><p>"Skylark-windows" — rectangular strips in the shape of windows which are cut into the crops — were also introduced in the fields. This allowed the heavily decimated bird population to breed undisturbed on the ground among the dense grain.</p><p>Lindemann-Berk only uses fertilizers and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/deadly-pesticides-in-eu-produce-from-turkey/a-52142826" target="_blank">pesticides</a> in an emergency — and even then in homeopathic doses.</p><p>"Too much fertilizer can even cause unwanted weeds to multiply. We've been calculating the requirements for more than 40 years. Using soil samples, we examine the amount of nutrients in the soil and calculate exactly how much fertilizer we need to use in order to get a good yield. Only then do we buy what we need," he says.</p>
High Tech in the Fields<p>He also prefers to use organic fertilizer made of animal excrement. "It's delivered from the Netherlands, because there's hardly any livestock nearby," he says. His farm supplies grain for the Dutch cattle. "So why shouldn't we get the animal's excrement back?" he asks wryly. "Organisms in the soil digest the valuable liquid fertilizer and excrete minerals like nitrogen, which the plants then absorb through their roots."</p><p>This liquid crop protection mixture can be applied to troublesome plants using a satellite-navigated and digitally controlled syringe. This kind of work is particularly effective after sunset.</p><p>With the help of his own weather station, data collected from the soil and the meteorological service, Lindemann-Berk can make forecasts in order to calculate the risk of attack from fungus. Even then, pesticides should only be used if the plant isn't able to help itself.</p><p>By using lactic acid bacteria, Lindemann-Berk was able to dramatically reduce his use of chemical fungicides.</p><p>Once the harvest is complete, he takes soil samples again. "So far, the measurements have shown no <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/defending-glyphosate-a-roundup-of-german-agribusiness-sentiments/a-48841453" target="_blank">residues of glyphosate</a> and its breakdown products within the grain," he says.</p><p>He points to the shelf behind him, which is full of files, explaining how he has to keep his records for five years. Although <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/germany-sets-new-restrictions-on-glyphosate/a-46172338" target="_blank">fertilizer regulations have been tightening for many years</a> now — <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/german-farmers-overregulation-is-the-last-thing-we-need/a-51418355" target="_blank">causing many farmers to give up on agriculture</a> — he says the positive impacts won't show up in groundwater for 30 years.</p>
Not an Organic Farm — but Still Environmentally Friendly<p>Organic farms can only treat their plants with copper formulations, which stimulate growth and act as deterrents against fungus. Although it's a heavy metal, people still need copper in small doses to help with blood formation and to support a functioning nervous system.</p><p>"We do everything we can to be environmentally friendly, and do what the organic farms do so well," says Lindemann-Berk. "Because no one wants to harm the environment. Agribusinesses have been working in the same places for hundreds of years."</p><p>Sustainable practice is a priority here. But in order to be certified as an organic farm, he would need to pluck the weeds by hand and — as was done centuries ago — regularly rake the soil around the plants to uproot unwanted herbs and grasses.</p><p>"No one wants to do this job, not even young people doing an internship," he says. And so the job is left to machines, in the age of industrial agriculture in Germany.</p><p>Lindemann-Berk gives his plants plenty of space to grow, which allows them to absorb enough nutrients from the soil, and in turn leads to well-aerated earth that is less susceptible to fungal diseases. He also calls on customers who pay too much attention to the appearance of their fruits and vegetables to reconsider.</p><p>"If I offer my customers tasty and untreated apples from the orchards, you'll always get complaints about a few marks on the fruit," he says, adding that people want produce that is both organic and flawless. "Those two things don't go together."</p>
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No longer will the options when we die be a choice between just burial or cremation. Soon it will be possible to compost your remains and leave your loved ones with rich soil, thanks to a new funeral service opening in Seattle in 2021 that will convert humans into soil in just 30 days, as The Independent reported.
Olson Kundig<p>The project has been in the works since 2016 when Recompose founder and CEO Katrina Spade and her team collaborated with architects to create a prototype facility, according to <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90434525/the-worlds-first-human-composting-facility-could-help-us-recycle-ourselves" target="_blank">Fast Company</a>.</p> <p>However, the project only got off the ground after Washington became the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/washington-human-body-composting-2637805371.html" rel="noopener noreferrer">first state to explicitly allow natural organic reduction for human remains</a>, or human composting. The law, which will go into effect in May 2020, allows funeral homes to accelerate the process of turning human remains into soil, which allows for environmentally friendly burials in urban and suburban areas that do not have wide-open tracts of land available for burial, according to <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/funeral-green-burial-climate-change-environment-soil-composting-recompose-seattle-a9238896.html?utm_source=reddit.com" target="_blank">The Independent</a>. </p> <p>Recompose uses stacked hexagonal vessels, resembling a honeycomb, to store dead bodies. The bodies sealed in the hexagonal tubes are covered in woodchips, alfalfa and hay. There the temperature is regulated, the dirt is aerated, and conditions are optimized for bacteria to breakdown organic matter over the course of several weeks, as <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/funeral-green-burial-climate-change-environment-soil-composting-recompose-seattle-a9238896.html?utm_source=reddit.com" target="_blank">The Independent</a> reported.</p> <p>"We asked ourselves how we could use nature – which has perfected the life/death cycle – as a model for human death care," said Katrina Spade, as <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/funeral-green-burial-climate-change-environment-soil-composting-recompose-seattle-a9238896.html?utm_source=reddit.com" target="_blank">The Independent</a> reported. "We saw an opportunity for this profound moment to both give back to the earth and reconnect us with these natural cycles."</p> <p>A single body plus the woodchips, alfalfa and hay will net one cubic yard of soil, or several wheelbarrows full. Some families will take the soil home to use, while others can donate it to conservation projects on the slopes of Bells Mountain in Washington, according to the <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/life/recompose-the-human-composting-project-finds-a-home-in-seattles-sodo/" target="_blank">Seattle Times.</a></p> <p>"These days, some families regard even ashes from cremation as a burden, not a joy," Spade said to the <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/life/recompose-the-human-composting-project-finds-a-home-in-seattles-sodo/" target="_blank">Seattle Times.</a>. "As in, 'we've had these ashes in the garage for six years.' And we're creating a cubic yard of soil."</p>
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An extensive collection of permissible food additives includes several known or suspected carcinogens. Pixabay
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When my daughter was in preschool, she told me that instead of washing hands before lunch, the children used hand sanitizer. The thinking behind this was probably that hand sanitizer kills bacteria and viruses and therefore — presto! — problem solved. Hands are clean, and it's so much quicker.
1. Do the kids wash their hands before they eat?<p>Requiring hand washing with soap and water, especially after kids have been outside and before they eat, is arguably the easiest change schools can make to reduce kids' exposure to chemical pollutants from dust and other sources.</p>
2. What cleaning products does the school use?<p>We recommend schools use cleaning products that are <a href="https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/content/faq#q41" target="_blank">third-party green certified</a>, which means their ingredients are safer for everyone, especially children, or products with an A, or green, rating in our <a href="https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners" target="_blank">Guide to Healthy Cleaning</a>. For institutional cleaning supplies, schools should choose Green Seal, EcoLogo or EPA's Safer Choice-certified products only.</p>
3. Has the school had its drinking water tested for lead?<p>There's no safe level of lead exposure, but most states don't require schools and child care centers to <a href="https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/prc/projects/school-research/early-adopters/" target="_blank">test their drinking water for lead</a>. If the water hasn't been tested at your kids' school, urge administrators to contact the local health department to start the process. Since lead levels in a single building can vary, all faucets and drinking fountains should be tested. In California, <a href="https://www.ewg.org/release/lead-detected-drinking-water-almost-1-5-california-schools" target="_blank">one in five schools</a> has found at least one faucet on their campus with water containing lead.</p>
4. What landscaping chemicals are used?<p>Chances are good your school uses chemical fertilizers, weedkillers and other pesticides for playground and grounds maintenance. Many of them, especially pesticides, are toxic and linked to <a href="https://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2015/09/important-new-reason-keep-pesticides-away-children" target="_blank">childhood cancer</a> and <a href="https://www.ewg.org/childrenshealth/22674/it-s-personal-pesticide-exposures-come-cost" target="_blank">autism</a>. <a href="https://www.ewg.org/childrenshealth/22740/roundup-recess-how-get-cancer-causing-pesticides-your-local-playground" target="_blank">Talk to your school about safer landscaping alternatives</a>, with EWG's guide and collection of resources as a starting point.</p>
5. Does the school serve organic foods?<p>A good first step is to focus on foods where switching from conventional to organic will make the biggest impact: milk and <a href="https://www.ewg.org/childrenshealth/22109/ask-ewg/organic-hot-dogs" target="_blank">meat</a>, fruits, and veggies with <a href="https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php" target="_blank">the most pesticides</a>; foods grown with particularly toxic pesticides; and snacks with the <a href="https://www.ewg.org/childrenshealth/22626/five-kids-snacks-you-should-always-buy-organic" target="_blank">worst food additives</a>.</p>
Questions to ask your kid’s child care center or preschool:
6. Are the nap mats made without flame retardants?<p>A study conducted by the Washington state-based nonprofit <a href="https://toxicfreefuture.org/" target="_blank">Toxic-Free Future</a> found that when child care providers replaced <a href="https://www.ewg.org/childrenshealth/22050/advice-parents-find-nap-mats-without-flame-retardant-chemicals" target="_blank">nap mats</a> with chemical-free versions, the levels of flame retardants polluting children's bodies <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0269749118302690?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decreased by 40 to 90 percent</a>. It's a safe guess that mats made in 2014 and earlier were treated with chemical flame retardants; <a href="https://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2014/09/california-makes-it-law-label-toxic-flame-retardants-furniture" target="_blank">2015 or newer</a> mats are more likely to be untreated and are required to bear a label stating whether they have added flame retardants.</p>
7. What kind of laundry detergent does the facility use?<p>To avoid fragrances, allergens and other ingredients that can irritate children's skin, we recommend child care providers choose detergent with a green A rating in our <a href="https://www.ewg.org/guides/categories/9-Laundry" target="_blank">Guide to Healthy Cleaning</a>.</p>
8. What kind of sunscreen do care providers use?<p>Sunscreen is especially important for kids, who are more susceptible to the ill effects of the sun. We recommend care providers avoid chemical sunscreens and instead choose a broad spectrum <a href="https://www.ewg.org/childrenshealth/22673/ask-ewg-how-choose-best-sunscreen-your-kids" target="_blank">mineral sunscreen</a> with active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Use <a href="https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/" target="_blank">EWG's Guide to Sunscreens</a> to find products that offer adequate protection from both UVA and UVB rays without the addition of hazardous chemicals.</p>
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By Jake Johnson
The rapid and dangerous decline of the insect population in the United States — often called an "insect apocalypse" by scientists — has largely been driven by an increase in the toxicity of U.S. agriculture caused by the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal PLOS One.