Mini, Bio-Intensive Farms Providing Organic Food in the Middle of a Seven Year Drought*
By Christina Sarich
Big Ag models of farming thousands of acres of mono-crops, planted with copious herbicides and petroleum-based fertilizers have depleted our soil, and made arable, non-toxic land hard to come by, but low-cost and low-tech mini-farms sprinkled across America’s landscape are providing sustainable, organic food to millions as we continue into the future. Their model? Farms in Africa and Latin America (among over 150 countries) that are growing food under the harshest conditions imaginable.
Companies like Monsanto have a repulsive habit of pushing their patented seeds, infused with infertility or harmful genetic material, onto communities in crisis. Terminator seeds have become famous in India, and linked to thousands of farmer suicides, while Monsanto’s cross-pollination (like it or not) of crops in Hungary and Haiti have also devastated entire communities.
In Mexico, farmers and activists recently won a huge battle against Monsanto, who was trying to cultivate GM corn in an area known for growing more than 36 varieties of indigenous corn that took thousands of years to develop. Mexico’s Supreme Court blocked a move that would allow the cultivation of GMO soy in the Mexican states of Campeche and Yucatan, and in a separate appeals court decision, a federal judge upheld a 2013 ruling that barred companies such as Monsanto and DuPont/Pioneer from planting or selling GM corn within Mexico’s borders.
Likewise, a very patronizing attitude toward African farmers has been carried by Big Ag and Biotech companies desirous of insinuating their GM seed into the continent, too, but ‘terminator’ seeds are not wanted there. Monsanto has been out to monopolize the African continent with their seed, but there is a better way, and small-scale farmers are proving it so.
It is clear that GM seed has devastated entire countries, let alone communities, but are there other alternatives to providing food for the 7.4 billion people on this planet?
The answer is, simply – YES. Farmers like Olawumi Benedict are happily tending to her “little babies” – kale seeds growing in wooden flats just prior to being transplanted, and Jonnes Mlegwah is double-digging a plot of soil meant for potatoes.
These farmers are from Africa now working in America, but are representative of a few thousand small-farm workers that have turned to bio-intensive practices from San Francisco to Maine in the US, as a means to generate income, and feed the hungry masses.
Small-scale, bio-intensive farming is already happening throughout Latin American and African countries because it works. Its cheap, and effective, and doesn’t require any reliance on biotech’s patented seeds and cancer-causing chemicals. It has been gaining popularity in the States for similar reasons.
Take Samuel Nderitu and his wife Peris Wanjiru as an example of what an education in bio-intensive farming can do. Both are graduates of a 2-Year bio-intensive training program offered at Manor House Agricultural Centre in Kenya, sponsored by the Kilili Self-Help Project. They are successfully growing sustainable, organic food in an area of Kenya that has been subjected to a seven-year drought and a high rate of HIV/AIDS. Many refugees from Kenya’s political struggles reside in Thika, where poverty is the norm. Many are living under the most vulnerable circumstances there.
Nderitu now helps to run a small bio-intensive farm and classroom which has created a ripple effect. Farmers around the region who were once in the choke-hold of poverty are now learning to grow more food with fewer resources, build soil fertility, conserve water, and create community food security.
Bio-intensive farms use 50 to 75 percent less land and 94 to 99 percent less energy to produce the same amount of food as a comparable conventional farm.
What’s more is that during the height of the drought in Thika, Kenya, the bio-intensive farm created by Nderitu and his wife was one of very few in the area still able to produce food, proof to many that these methods are more hard-wearing than those that rely on chemicals and genetically modified or “improved” seeds.
Farmers in the U.S. are now seeing similar results by utilizing key bio-intensive strategies:
- transplanting and double-digging
- on-site composting
- close plant spacing
- the use of seeds from plants that have been naturally pollinated
- and specific food-to-compost crop ratios.
These methods are rarely practiced on large farms, where mechanization and chemical use is more profitable for a few multi-national companies, but bio-intensive farming can be life-changing for the 90% of the world’s farmers who work 4 acres (2 hectares) or less by helping them to make the most of a given plot of land. Since ‘organic’ land in the U.S. is increasingly disappearing, it works for small farmers here, too.
One farmer from Kenya wrote in a letter to Kilili Self-Help, a U.S. group that helps raise funds for GBIACK, the farm run by Nderitu:
“We didn’t know that farming can be done without spending so much money. We always thought that without money we cannot do farming. We have found out that we can make our own fertilizers and also grow our own seeds.”
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