IRS vs Organic Farmers in Uganda

Nine companies engaged in organic farming in Lango sub-region’s districts of Oyam, Apac and Lira are suing the government of Uganda over the use of DDT for indoor residual spraying according to the Monitor. The Monitor reports the case as filed states that, “The decision by the government to introduce DDT in the districts is illegal as it contravenes the provisions of the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants of 2001.” WHO does clarify that the Convention says DDT can be used for public health purposes, but the question is, who defines the public’s health?

The farmers have logical fear that if DDT spraying inside houses is not done with proper precautions, their crops and livelihoods as organic farmers could be imperiled. Those pressing the suit claim that the agency contracted to do the work is in fact not following precautions and thus opening the potential to contaminate their crops. Let’s look at what is at stake.

In an overview of organic farming in Uganda, the International Trade Center explains that, “Uganda has the most developed sector of certified organic production in Africa. About 33,900 farmers manage 122,000 hectares of land using organic methods, an area that accounts for 1% of Uganda’s arable land (IFOAM & FiBL, 2006). Although still small and far below the increasing global demand, the country’s export of organic agricultural produce has been growing substantially in recent years. In Uganda, which has one of the lowest agro-chemical usages in Africa, the majority of farmers practice de facto organic agriculture without being certified yet (ACODE, 2006). Since no significant domestic market exists, certified organic agriculture targets mainly export markets in Europe and North America.”

In fact, the Monitor reported in 2007 that, “Organic farming has become a means of generating income for farmers and consequently fighting poverty.” Furthermore, “On the world market, Uganda’s export share of organic products has increased considerably and is the highest in Africa. The coordinator of Nogamu, Mr Moses Muwanga says 38 percent of organic agricultural production in Africa is from Uganda, with over 50,000 certified organic farmers. This makes Uganda one of the countries with the highest comparative advantage for organic production in Africa.”

Tiki-OneWorld.net takes us to an organic farm in Tororo District and with pictures and text concludes that a Tororo farmer could, “teach farmers in Europe or America a thing or two. His type of farming — sustainable and organic — produces lots of food and lots of varieties of food. And it doesn’t need huge tractors, diesel fuel, artificial fertilisers and chemical poisons. As I said earlier, nothing is wasted.”

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The Kulika Charitable Trust Uganda “has set up a sh800 million agricultural training institute at Lutisi, 37km on the Kampala-Hoima highway,” (AllAfrica.com). In short, there have been major investments in capacity building for organic farming in Uganda. “The core of Kulika’s Community Development Programme is training of farmers in sustainable organic agriculture which focuses on experiential learning, practical work, on-farm experimentation and demonstrations to improve the skills of farmers (see photo from Kulika).”

The economic issue here may be confusing – a chicken and egg debate. Does malaria control promote economic development or does economic development strengthen societies to control malaria. Assuming it is the latter scenario, we need to think twice about interventions that will affect the livelihoods of thousands of Ugandan farmers, specially when alternative control measures are available.

WHO recognizes that, “When implementing IRS, it is critical to ensure that adequate regulatory control is in place to prevent unauthorized and un-recommended use of public health pesticides in agriculture, and thus contamination of agricultural products. Pesticide contamination can have serious ramifications for trade and commerce for countries exporting agricultural products.” The organic farmers in Uganda question whether adequate control is possible.

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