Recently I did an article on business prospects in sustainable agriculture in Zimbabwe. Organic farming is an integral part of sustainable agriculture. Organic farming entails farming approaches and techniques that are bent on protecting humans, animals, and their environment. FAO defines it perfectly as, a holistic production management system that promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. Organic farming is not that new since it came onto the scene around the early 20th century. Sir Albert Howard is credited with being the pioneer of organic agriculture. It is now getting more advanced and sophisticated due to marked technological progress. In this article, I discuss some of the important things to know in setting up an organic farming business in Zimbabwe.
Why Organic Farming?
There are several reasons why organic farming is beneficial. Organic farming largely promotes sustainable agriculture which is characterised by several advantages of global significance. Organic farming leads to a reduction or elimination of environmental pollution. Organic farming also promotes water conservation through the reduction of water usage intensity. Reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is also another benefit of organic farming.
Organic farming also promotes biodiversity and genetic diversity. It also increases yields and quality which boosts food security. Organic farming also protects human and animal health. Organic farming is also responsible for reducing agricultural waste. It can even make good use of agricultural waste by recycling or reclaiming it. These are some of the many reasons why organic farming is highly recommended.
The major distinguishing factor here is the organic aspect. It is basically your usual farming but just done differently i.e. organically. So it can be crop production or livestock production but using organic methods or approaches. Here you must appreciate the many different types of organic farming available. Some of them are polyculture – which is the simultaneous or concurrent cultivation of several crops on the same piece of land.
Then there is the biological control of weeds and pests. The idea is to eliminate the use of chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides. There is also the use of green manure or compost in substituting the use of synthetic fertilizers. There is also more inclination on using biological and mechanical approaches or inputs as opposed to synthetic ones. These are some of the most basic but it goes way beyond that.
Let us break it down further; starting an organic farming business is not just confined to actual production. There are 3 other segments that you can focus on but with emphasis on organic farming. These are production resources, the actual raw or processed organic produce, and services. So it is apparent that there are many options you can choose from as your focal area.
Organic Farming Checklist
Some of you might be wondering how exactly you can be sure you are practising organic farming. So I have decided to share with you some of the core features you should tick in what I can call your organic checklist. Here they are:
- No synthetic fertilizers or chemicals used – use biofertilizers instead
- No genetically modified organisms used
- Use of biological methods for weed and pest control
- Agricultural waste is either recycled or reclaimed
- Crop rotation and polyculture (or intercropping) practised
- Biodiversity and genetic diversity are promoted
- Human and animal welfare are prioritized
- Natural living and feeding for livestock
- Minimal soil tillage
- Use of local and renewable resources – e.g. greenleaf or animal waste manure
Market For Organic Products
People are increasingly becoming health conscious. Most of the foods people eat nowadays are heavily processed. Most of them are treated with synthetic chemicals which are harmful to health. Most of them are carcinogenic which is why there are so many cases of cancer these days. Thus the demand for organic foods is on a perpetual spike. In Zimbabwe, not that many people appreciate the importance of organic foods. That is why you will find that the market for organic products in Zimbabwe tends to be somewhat elitist. Regardless there is a good market and it can expand by giving more awareness on healthy eating. Not also forgetting that there is an export market especially in places like Europe. They are big on producing and eating organic foods.
Important Things To Note
Maybe you are wondering what are the best crops or livestock to produce organically. Well, any crop that can be cultivated in a greenhouse is a good organic farming investment. Fruit and vegetables can be organically produced with exceptional returns on investment. Note that greenhouse and hydroponic systems are vital for organic farming. The protein segment is also another strategic organic farming focus. Wise niches would be poultry, piggery, and aquaculture. Products or produce from organic farming tends to be more expensive than conventional farming. That can be both a good and a bad thing. It is a good thing in that you good revenues but a bad thing in that some might not afford them. However, due to health benefits more and more people are choosing to buy organic foods regardless.
Organic Farming – Strategic Niche For Possible Funding
There are a lot of investment firms that are eager to finance organic farming initiatives. There are certain metrics they would usually want to measure for you to qualify for funding. Some of them are water usage intensity, greenhouse emissions, and waste management amongst others. I personally know of a US$200 million fund that is about to be unveiled by a certain investment firm. Enterprises specializing in organic farming would definitely stand a good chance of accessing that funding. In other countries, there are subsidies and tax exemptions for organic farming enterprises. This is something that we could see becoming commonplace in Zimbabwe in due course.
By the end of this year, the global organic food market is projected to surpass US$220 billion. This is a potentially lucrative segment that you can enter if farming is your passion.