By Rutendo Matinyarare
How exactly does the nation go organic?
THE first step in going organic is changing the mentality of our farmers and citizens by reminding them that farmers are curators of life.
Their responsibility is to nurture living soils that support healthy, nutritious crops and livestock in a thriving ecosystem that produces quality food and drink to foster a healthy and prosperous nation.
Farmers need to be reminded that they are the doctors, pharmacists and economic engine of any nation. Once good farming practices are employed, we have a thriving environment that supports healthy crops, animals and minds that can build prosperous and sustainable economies.
Nature holds all the solutions
From this follows the elimination of synthetic fertilisers, chemicals, plastics, hybrids and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from the farming cycle, to a reliance on open-pollinated variety (OPV) or (heirloom) seeds; healthy living soils; organic manure; and a stable ecosystem.
Weeds must be managed by natural methods, like mulching with grass or intercropping with ground-covering crops like the world renowned threesome of maize, pumpkin and beans.
In some cases we have seen mulching done by plastic, however, it’s doubtful that non-biodegradable plastics made from synthetic petro-chemicals form part of a natural or organic farming cycle.
It’s also important to note that many plants that we consider weeds today are actually very nutritious traditional spices and herbs which need to be rediscovered and reintroduced into our diet.
This way we can improve our diet and health by cultivating these herbs for consumption and establishing a natural control for them.
Pests and parasites can be managed sustainably by reintroducing natural predators of common or exotic pests. These may come in the form of wasps, ladybirds, mice, mosquitoes, rats, snails, millipedes, worms and other such insects.
This is why it’s critical for farmers not to fumigate ponds or fields holding mosquitoes, insects and rats that are natural predators to many pests and parasites.
It’s important to promote the development of colonies and hives of insects naturally found in the region to develop a natural ecosystem for balance.
Bigger creatures like guinea fowl, pigeons and chickens should be allowed to free range on the property as they eat weeds and make good predators of parasites and insects that normally feed on crops.
It’s important to create natural sources of fertiliser on the farm by building composts upon which organic material and kitchen waste are discarded to decompose over time. Thus developing rich manure for fertilising smaller gardens.
Animal urine and bird droppings or guano are some of the most effective forms of organic fertilisers and pesticides suited for large-scale farming projects.
Note that animal manure can only be organic when the animals are not inoculated, given steroids and only when fed organic feed.
Bat and bird guano or droppings
Inherent in bat droppings are greater benefits than synthetic fertilisers which are infamous for killing insects and soil microbes, burning root systems, leaching nutrients, nitrites causing algae in water bodies, deconstructing soil structure, weakening the immunity of crops and making them susceptible to disease.
Guano is a plant super food consisting of bat or bird droppings, broken eggs and urine that’s rich in the major NKP: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium elements which are found in synthetic fertilisers.
These major elements aid in stem, flower, root, fruit and yield development and are accompanied by the trace elements calcium, zinc, magnesium, copper and manganese. These aid in the absorption and processing of the major elements to make plants strong and immune to parasites.
In it are also microbes that feed on parasites, pests and bad bacteria in the soil. They also diet on the bird droppings, digesting it and releasing their own excretion which provides the mineral salts required by plants. In the process increasing soil life, improving soil structure, water retention and fertility.
Bat guano is non-toxic
Unlike synthetic fertilisers, bat droppings are not toxic and do not burn plants like the petro-chemicals found in synthetic fertilisers that are associated with ever increasing health issues in humans and animals.
Even when too much droppings are applied on crops, the manure is degraded slowly by microbes that ingest them and excrete mineral salts in quantities that can be absorbed by the plant.
This makes bat guano (droppings) a slow release nutrition mechanism that benefits the crop with just enough minerals without overdosing the plant.
As a result, the natural benefits of organic fertiliser produce healthy, wholesome crops and when coupled with organic open variety seeds, it can produce food with nutritious and medicinal benefits for both animals and humans.
From a cost perspective, a farmer needs anything from six to 12 bags of top and basal fertiliser to cultivate a hectare of maize at a cost of anything between US$270-$790/hectare. This is before adding the cost of hybrid seeds that have to be bought every season.
The result is a non-organic, substitutable harvest that will fetch low market prices, influenced by the volume of the product available from local and foreign markets.
With bat or bird guano, one only needs 50-150kg/hectare, which works out to about US$20-US$60/hectare. This produces an organic crop that will collect twice or three times the price of a generic product.
Not to mention that if it’s an heirloom seed, you don’t have to buy it once you have inherited seeds from neighbours or your family because the seeds can be replanted.
A study in the Academia Journal in 2017 showed that using 20kg of bird manure on a hectare of wheat improved the yield by six percent in the first year and up to 50 percent in comparison to synthetic fertilisers over periods of 5 years. The land where synthetic fertilisers were used became less fertile over time, while that where organic bat manure was used improved over time.
Certification for export
More importantly, using this organic fertiliser on a field without any other chemicals for three years can clean up a field and qualify it for organic certification. This opens the door for preferential export licences of organic produce to other African countries, Asia, Japan, Singapore and Europe, where high prices of up to four times the prices paid for generic produce are attainable.
Land value appreciation
Additionally, as bat manure is used in conjunction with other sustainable farming techniques like crop rotation, it improves soil quality, water retention, water quality, increases plant immunity, fosters living micro-organisms in the soil, enhances fertility, bolsters insect populations and boosts yield. In turn, this reduces the cost of growing crops and increases returns in the long run and, in turn, this increases the value of the land.
Organic farming is Zimbabwe’s niche to leapfrog it back into making farming profitable and sustainable for wheat, maize, horticulture, cotton, meat and cash crop products.
It is also a very smart means of busting sanctions, which have mainly targeted Zimbabwe’s fertiliser and chemical industries, rendering Zimbabwean farmers uncompetitive because of high input costs.
With a hectare of maize costing anything from US$370-US$1 200 to produce today, it has become unattractive for most Zimbabwean farmers to produce maize and cotton as they can’t compete against industrial farming nations.
However, organic farming, aided by organic fertilisers, will be a game changer for local farmers, holding the propensity to position Zimbabwe as a leader in producing quality organic animal feed, meat, dairy, horticulture, aquaculture and cash-crop products at a competitive cost.
We can also become leaders in downstream industries like organic fertiliser production, pest and herbicide control, while we turn our weeds and herbs into power foods and medicines.
Let’s start on the journey of this organic farming revolution now as nations like Zambia and Malawi are all working on strategies to position themselves in this niche.
If anyone is interested in this organic revolution and wants to start using organic manure, please get in touch with me in my inbox.
Rutendo Bereza Matinyarare is Chairman of the Zimbabwe Anti-Sanctions Movement (ZASM) and CEO of Frontline Strat Marketing Consultancy. He writes in his personal capacity.