Opinion Piece

Organic fertilizers and the future of sustainable farming

For farmers, soil is the most important natural resource, hence it is crucial to save and protect it considering the present and also, future challenges. It is the task of the farmer to preserve the humus topsoil and maintain its organic matter contents, in order to improve the nutrient providing ability and carry on an environment-friendly nutrient management.

In order to reach the above-mentioned goals, the usage of organic fertilizers should be considered as opposed to the excessive use of chemicals.  Organic fertilizers have a particular importance in ecological (organic) farming, where the use of chemicals is forbidden. The organic fertilizers might as well be considered as soil improving matters, since they increase the macro and micro element contents in the soil as well as the organic matter and humus contents, the biological activity and the overall improvement physical-chemical characteristics.

Making agricultural production more sustainable is an important part of a greener and more competitive economy. The materials that compose organic fertilizers, the beneficial natural processes they generate, and the ways in which they are produced contribute to the sustainable, resource efficient and low carbon economy that countries are committed to building for the future.

Organic fertilizers have a long history in agriculture and have been used in traditional methods way before they were popularised by agronomists who are dedicated to farming practices that respects the environment. Accelerating innovation has now brought these products to a new stage of development, where their contribution to sustainable agricultural production, whether organic or conventional, has the potential to be scaled up. Making sustainable agriculture is reality, not only in SA but globally, as it will require exactly the kind of innovative technologies, enlightened thinking and mindful farming practices that we all need to follow.

Organic fertilizers could help in tackling some of the most pressing challenges facing global agriculture. Feeding a global population that is projected to reach at least 9 billion by 2050 will require yield increases and enhanced crop quality. Organic fertilizers enhance the quality attributes of produce as well as yield, thereby contributing to both the food quality and security we need. An increasing population increases demand for food and increases stress on the soils in which we grow our food. With 40% of the planet’s surface being used for agriculture, it is crucial that we encourage technologies that respect soil biodiversity and are aligned with sustainable agricultural production.

The nutrients provided by organic fertilizers follow the natural cycle of nitrogen release in the soil and work in harmony with both climatic conditions and crop growth patterns. Organic fertilizers are rich in organic matter that enhances the biological activity of soils, thereby also improving and sustaining their biodiversity. In doing so, organic fertilizers help to perform a vital ecological service. Soil is the medium that sustains a wide range of beneficial organisms – such as essential bacteria, fungi and earthworms, among others. Without soil biodiversity, both agricultural productivity and the well-being of the wider biosphere would suffer.

Organic fertilizers will contribute to the development of a low-carbon economy as organic means carbon. Through their organic matter content, organic fertilizers help not only to transfer atmospheric carbon dioxide into the soil, but also impede its emission back into the atmosphere. As a result, beyond the obvious benefits they bring to agronomic productivity, organic fertilizers can help to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Extreme temperatures, water scarcity and other stressful growing conditions related to climate change will require increasingly resilient crops. Among other resilience-enhancing effects, organic fertilizers boost the efficiency of water use to render crops more robust and resistant to drought. Organic fertilizers help improve soil health by maintaining or increasing the soil’s organic matter content over the long term. Enhancing organic matter also enables the healthier soil to retain water more effectively, better resist erosion, and reduce losses through leaching. By minimizing leaching, organic-based fertilizers reduce the environmental impacts of farming and safeguard surrounding ecosystems. Organic fertilizers are rich sources of organic carbon, which enhances fertilizer efficiency.

Economic and social value from organic fertilizers

Organic fertilizers improve farmer incomes by helping farmers nurture sustainably fertilized soil that enables them to grow abundant, high-quality crops. Improved crop quality not only enables farmers to secure higher prices for their produce, but also prolongs crop conservation, which gives farmers more time to choose the best moment to sell their crops at advantageous prices.

Social value

With the global population growing and food security likely to remain a pressing concern, the role that organic fertilizers could play is fostering increased yields which may also help ensure that everyone can get enough to eat. In addition, by adding value to sustainably sourced plant and/or animal by-products which would otherwise be destined for waste streams, organic fertilizers help reduce waste throughout the agri-food chain. Less waste and abundant yields mean lower costs, which ultimately benefit the consumer who has access to sufficient, high-quality, affordable food.

This is how organic fertilizers could support national growth strategy post covid-19 on three pillars of the strategy, thus:

Smart growth – for an economy based on research, knowledge and innovation

By ensuring that agripreneurs are part of a research-based knowledge-intensive and innovation driven sector that is pioneering solutions to challenges throughout the value chain in agriculture, food and nutrition.

Sustainable growth – for a resource-efficient, greener and more competitive economy

The materials that compose organic-based fertilizers, the beneficial natural processes they generate, and the ways in which they are produced contribute to the sustainable, resource-efficient and low-carbon economy that the country needs to commit in building.

Inclusive growth – for a high-employment economy with social and territorial cohesion

The organic-based fertilizers industry will generate local employment opportunities and regional economic development across both rural and urban areas, nurturing more vibrant farming communities.

Benefits of organic fertilizers and why every farmer needs to start using them

They boost both nutrient efficiency and organic matter content in the soil; nurture the soil with organic matter that reduces dependency on chemical inputs; restore and maintain soil fertility to nurture plant growth; enhance the biological activity and biodiversity of soils; enhance the quality attributes of produce as well as yield; improve the efficiency of nutrient use to produce more robust crops; facilitate the slow release of nutrients in response to the dynamic needs of plants; boost the efficiency of water use to render crops more resilient and drought-resistant; reduce the impact of farming and safeguard ecosystems by minimizing leaching; enhance crop resistance to erosion by improving the soil’s organic matter content and improve the efficiency of resource use by incorporating natural raw materials.

Thapelo Jnr Phiri is an Agripreneur focusing on sustainable agriculture helping farmers with ways to mitigate climate change, he also helps with soil health issues using his product Dijo Tsa Mobu and he also helps farmers with soil testing services along with fertilizer recommendations.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Mzansi Agriculture Talk.

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