Organic farming for food security and health

Organic agriculture is defined as “a holistic food production management system, which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It emphasises the use of management practices in preference to the use of off-farm inputs, taking into account that regional conditions require locally adapted systems.

“This is accomplished by using, where possible, agronomic, biological and mechanical methods, as opposed to using synthetic materials, to fulfill any specific function within the system.” (FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission).

Through its holistic nature, organic farming integrates wild biodiversity, agro-biodiversity and soil conservation, and takes low-intensity, extensive farming one step further by eliminating the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which is not only an improvement for human health, but also for the fauna and flora associated with the farm and farm environment.

Organic farming enhances soil structures, conserves water and ensures the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Agricultural contaminants such as inorganic fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides from conventional agriculture are a major concern all over the world.

Eutrophication, the suffocation of aquatic plants and animals due to rapid growth of algae, referred to as “algae blooms”, are literally killing lakes, rivers and other bodies of water.

Persistent herbicides and insecticides can extend beyond target weeds and insects when introduced into aquatic environments.

These chemicals have accumulated up the food chain whereby top predators often consume toxic dosages.

Organic agriculture restores the environmental balance and has none of these or other such deleterious effects on the environment.

Pesticides have been in use in agriculture since the Second World War and, from the very beginning, there have been concerns about the commercialisation of chemical pesticides.

Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring published in 1964, brought out the scientific certainties of the impacts of pesticides on environment. The very first insecticide of World War-II vintage, DDT was banned in the developed world in the 1970s but continued to be used in India till the 1990s.

Petroleum-based chemicals are being found to cause significant effects to the nervous system and immune system after prolonged exposure.

Illnesses identified in the medical research include adult and child cancers, numerous neurological disorders, immune system weakening, autoimmune disorders, asthma, allergies, infertility, miscarriage, and child behaviour disorders including learning disabilities, mental retardation, hyperactivity and ADD (attention deficit disorders).

Petroleum-based chemicals are believed to cause these problems by a variety of routes including — impairing proper DNA (gene) expression, weakening DNA repair, accelerating gene loss, degeneration of the body’s detoxification defences (liver and kidneys) as well as gradual weakening of the brain’s primary defences. (the blood-brain barrier) (

For nearly 5 decades, the public and farmers have been told that chemical pesticides are essential for modern farming and to feed the world’s population, when this isn’t true.

Pesticides weaken the ecosystem which had sustained human agriculture for thousands of years, damaging soil microbes and eliminating beneficial insects and predators. In addition, pests continually mutate to become pesticide resistant.

Despite a 10-fold increase in insecticide use in recent years, studies have shown a proliferation in different types of pests by 30%. Moreover the yield per hectare in crop production generally is on the decline in many agricultural systems due to decline in organic matter content in the soils.

It would be too late if we do not, at this point of time, plan proper policies to recharge our soils with organic matter. For organic matter, what we need is good manure.

The question frequently asked is, where does one get this quantity of manure. The answer here lies in composting.

Large quantities of organic wastes from agriculture as well as market wastes can easily be converted to manure, without much investment costs. This promotes local-based industry for composting.

Organic foliar sprays as well as pest repellents can also be prepared at the local level. It can also generate opportunities for a large number of youth and women at the rural centres.

Governments are marking heavy budgets towards medical expenditures when concentrating on healthy food can be an answer. “Prevention is better than cure” and hence the policy of the Governments towards agriculture should be suitably modified to promote as well as protect organic farming.

Organic agriculture contributes to food and environment security by a combination of many features, most notably by:

  • Increasing yields in low-input areas
  • Conserving biodiversity & nature resources on the farm and in surrounding areas
  • Increasing income and/or reducing costs
  • Recycle organic wastes for manure production, solving waste management
  • Micro-enterprises in rural economy
  • Protect the health of the farmer and the consumer
  • Producing safe and varied food
  • Being sustainable in the long term

Organic agriculture should therefore be an integral part of any agricultural policy aiming for food security, and it is time that Malaysian Government takes action in this direction.

Find out how you too can farm organically for your health and food security in the CAP Manual, Organic Farming