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HomeFood and Farming ScienceGone are days when we feasted on wild mushrooms

Gone are days when we feasted on wild mushrooms

Having grown up in the village, I enjoyed doing farm work with my siblings. We loved milking the cows, feeding the poultry, taking care of rabbits and best of all was the search for mushrooms. Everything was simple and people would not go hungry because there was plenty that the farms could give for free. All these seem to be in the past now. The mushrooms which were a delicacy that competed with beef when roasted or even fried and would make a good accompaniment for ugali, traditional vegetables, widely known as ‘mboga za kienyeji’ that sprung from the earth and wild fruits are no more. This remains a dream for now.

Can this scenario be changed? Yes. Most people might think that it’s irreversible because of climate and weather pattern changes, reduction in soil fertility and loss of biodiversity. We quickly forget that the reasons mentioned are caused by human activities and the use of toxic chemicals, such as fertilizers and pesticides. To change these, we need to change our form of farming and adopt more eco-friendly practices.

One of these approaches is organic farming. According to FAO, organic farming is an integrated production management system, which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It emphasizes the use of natural inputs and the renunciation of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Many farmers across the country are recording poor yields after engaging knowingly or unknowingly in farming practices that affect the organic matter of the soil, hence reducing the soil fertility. In most parts of the country, farmers do prepare their land for cultivation by setting it ablaze. This particular practice reduces soil organic matter as and kills the living organisms in the soil leading to weakened soil structure, reduced soil fertility and the cycle goes on. We also need to ask ourselves why farmers have to put on protective gear while spraying pesticides, yet the same crops/produce is eaten by us, some other humans somewhere else. In recent years, scientific research has attributed increase of some diseases like cancer to the use of chemicals in food production.

However, not all is lost. We can change this by adopting alternative forms of farming such as organic farming. while organic farming could be more labor intensive, not appear to be profitable in the short-run, research has shown that this form of farming yields more productivity in the long-run while ensuring production of safe and more nutrient dense food compared to industrial forms of agriculture.

Monocropping leads to soil deterioration over time due imbalance in nutrient uptake from the soil, overuse of chemical inputs/fertilizer. Organic farming on the other hand incorporates the use of crop rotation, companion planting, use of compost and not to forget the use of seedlings (raised without fertilizers and chemicals) that are best suited for the location. In most cases, farmers do not need to use toxic chemicals into their farms.

Use livestock waste and manure in mixed farming systems as well as crop waste is helps to replenish the soil and these materials can be very rich in nitrogen amongst other nutrients. ‘Nothing goes to waste in farming systems that are designed to mimic nature.’ For example, with a few rabbits on the farm, one enjoys multiple benefits. One, rabbit droppings and urine are very rich in Nitrogen. The same urine, can also be used for pest and disease control.

Organic farming has a long and strong tradition of addressing and positively contributing to important and interrelated issues, such as poverty, food security, gender, social and environmental vulnerable farm environments. To realise this potential, we need to support organic farming through the right financing and conducive policy environment. This is important to ensure that those already involved in organic farming can create and benefit from their farming and related enterprises while also encouraging more producers to consider organic farming as a viable option.

Farmers across the country should be encouraged and empowered to embrace organic farming, through education on organic farming practices, how to respond positively to climate change and to research on the untapped information about organic farming. Small-scale organic farmers should also be firmly included in the value-chain – we need a bottom up approach to our food and farming systems. I cannot wait to feast on naturally growing mushrooms again.

Article written by Emmanuela Mulaa; Route to Food Alliance Member

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