Farmers in Benin City, the Edo State capital, have said that the solution to climate change and food crises is agroecology.
The submission was made at a dialogue and practical agroecological training organised by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) for over 50 farmers on how to improve the quality of their farmlands and have a healthy farming system.
Chemical intensive agriculture is not only harmful to the soil but contributes to climate change and endangers the health of farmers and the environment.
On the quest to increase soil fertility and boost yields with the use of chemicals, farmers unknowingly endanger their economic future and further sign into a lifetime of health problems. Frequent exposure to chemical pesticides can cause cancer and other neurological, immunologic, respiratory and reproductive diseases, according to scientists.
Joyce Brown, programmes manager, HOMEF, stated that the essence of the training was to highlight the challenges farmers face and to train them on how to produce and use organic farming inputs.
She stated that “the use of harmful chemicals and GMOs do not solve the problems we have faced with food scarcity, rather it damages the soils and beneficial organisms.’’
Natural fertilisers do not pose any harm to the soil, rather they nourish the soil, she added.
Other experts at the training noted that there are some elements found on the farm which work in harmony with the crops to withstand disease and destroy pests.
John Baaki, deputy executive director, Women Environmental Programme (WEP), noted that “agriculture production has suffered intensive use of chemicals which is poisoning the environment, contaminating the air and water bodies as well as the health of farmers.’’
He added: ‘’By teaching farmers to go organic, we are addressing the problem of chemical pollution in Nigeria’s agricultural sector.’’
Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, deputy director, Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), in her presentation stated that farmers should not be excited when they receive unknown seeds or while using certain fertilisers which have proven to be harmful.
“We are encouraging the use of organic methods. Let us begin to ask some questions. Are we sick because of what we consume? Farmers help to protect nature, environment and our health. We need to consciously grow our foods in manners that are healthy and that do not inflict harm on the soils. To our farmers in Nigeria, we plead that we go back to our roots and say no to GMOs.”
During the practical session, farmers were trained on the production of organic fertilisers and how to improve soil fertility for optimum productivity.
They also learned farming practices that would reduce erosion and leaching and increasing the nutrient holding capacity of the soil.
Farmers were taught to differentiate between the different types of organic fertilisers (manure, compost, rock phosphate, chicken droppings) and the role each could play on their farmlands.
Some farmers shared stories of having short-term and chronic sicknesses arising from the use of chemicals on their farmlands.
The farmers also spoke about how they are impacted by changing climatic conditions which reduce their capacity to cater for their families. Some of the farmers shared experiences they have had in the past with the use of chemicals and some natural methods.
Frederick Ekrebe-Thomas, a cocoa farmer, shared his experience from both methods.
He said: “The cassavas in my farm went bad after spraying with pesticides and herbicides. When I tried it on separate farms, I noticed that the one with chemical all went bad but the one I used natural methods produced greatly. I have seen it from experience that a farm that is cultivated with organic inputs produces more than those using chemicals.
“We farmers do not always admit that chemicals are harmful to us. I have been trained in the past on the harmful use of chemicals and I appreciate this training because it has further opened my eyes and added to my knowledge.”
Madam Angela Victor, a rice farmer, expressed her excitement over the training, saying: “I have been into local rice farming. The government once gave us rice which they call ‘Sparrow 44’ with fertilisers to make it grow.
“At the end instead of making profit, I lost much. At the next planting season, I decided to go back to my old rice seeds and method of farming before now. I have learned a lot from this training, and I will put the knowledge to use.”
James Osarobo-sehende, who has always been into natural methods of production, stated that he would continue to remain in that method of farming.
“I used chicken dropping when I planted pumpkins. The growth rate was impressive. I use machine to clear weeds not the chemical to clear like the others and I have seen the difference in our farmlands.”
The farmers urged government to support farmers by providing indigenous seeds rather than contaminating GMOs and chemicals that would destroy their soils and harm their economies. They also asked for improvement of rural infrastructure which will enable their products get to final consumers and also improve their farm gate prices.
The training also addressed the issue of climate change, land degradation and conservation of ecological systems. Ecological farming alternatives were shown to be money saving, simple to implement and simple to share generated knowledge.