It is a widely held view that the boom in global agriculture productivity which followed the Second World War was achieved largely through the intensive use of agro-inputs like pesticides and chemical fertilisers.
Some basic statistics that give an indication of the extent of agro-chemical use has it that since 1960 the use of mineral fertiliser has grown ten-fold, while since the 1970s global sales of pesticides climbed from around one billion dollars to 35 billion dollars a year.
At the same time, the intensification of livestock production has also seen a new class of pollutants like hormonal growth promoters travel from farms through water into ecosystems and our drinking water. Therefore, indiscriminate deployment of agro-chemicals in the manner they are presently employed has debilitating consequences for humans and animals once they enter the ecosystem.
Hence, in the more developed economies health-conscious consumers are targetting organically-produced fruits, vegetables and other food sources – and this is a huge opportunity and market for those in agro-production. Foods grown organically attract premium prices, and since we have the environment to plant in large quantities farmers can take advantage of this niche market and make good returns.
Also, we are concerned about the inadequate number of agriculture extension officers who are crucial to educate the peasant farmer on the right agronomic practices, particularly in the use of agro-chemicals.
It is important that the farmers apply the chemicals in the right doses and that they also wear protective clothing in the application of such agro-chemicals; but since the extension officer ratio is an appalling 1:3,000, it is difficult to reach most farmers and instruct them on the right application of such chemicals.
Most of the extension officers lack vehicles or motorbikes to reach inaccessible parts to the country to coach farmers in good agronomic practices, and the farmers are virtually left on their own to apply the chemicals as they see fit.
We suggest more evidence-based regulations should be in place to regulate the use of these agro-chemicals so that they will be applied properly – but we should be aiming to phase them out and go all-organic for the sake our own health, environment and export markets which put a premium on organic products.