Poor farmers escape poverty by going organic, says Progressio

As debate rages in Britain about the relative benefits of organic food, international development charity Progressio says that 'going organic' is changing the lives of poor farmers and their families across the developing world.

Following a recent report by the UK's Food Standards Agency, which suggested that organic food has little difference in nutritional value and "no health benefits", debate has been raging about whether organically grown produce is superior to non-organic food.

But Progressio's work with poor farmers shows that a key aspect of organic food has been forgotten - how the use of natural pesticides, fertilisers and seeds is leading to bigger harvests, less indebtedness and higher standards of living in the developing world.

"I recently returned from visiting organic farmers in Ecuador - where 40% of the population live on less than $2 a day - and it seems a vital group of people are being forgotten in the debate about the relative benefits of organic food", said Progressio's Campaigns Officer, Brie O'Keefe.

Brie continued: "Poor farmers around the world are lifting themselves out of poverty by going organic. Farmers like Alfredo Ruiz and his fellow villagers in the tiny hamlet of El Cristal in the Andean foothills told me how they have stopped forking out for expensive chemicals in favour of traditional methods of growing which they haven't used for decades."

She concluded: "Communities are re-learning how to manage their natural resources and producing more reliable, bigger crops and a better living wage".

Alfredo now sells his produce at the local market and has even started converting his neighbours to organics.

In Malawi, another farmer, Angelina Ngoza, is also reaping the rewards of going organic.

"Before I knew about organic farming I was forced to buy high-priced chemical fertilisers to make my crops grow. But I could never afford all I needed. I was taught to use pesticides and herbicides too, but they killed small animals and left burns on my arms. I always worried that these chemicals might one day kill me", Angelina said.

A year ago Progressio helped Angelina and 40 of her neighbours switch to organic production. So instead of spending most of the profit from their crops paying for the fertilisers and chemicals used to grow them, they became self-sufficient.

Angelina said: "After only one year of being organic, I am already harvesting one extra bag of maize for my family and I know my harvests will get bigger in future. Organic farming doesn't harm the soil, it is healthier and I can charge more for my vegetables in the market."

One of Angelina's neighbours, Grace, added: "We are now in control of our farming. It means we have more food to eat, more food to sell, it is disease free and nutritious."

Tim Aldred, Progressio's Advocacy Manager, said: "For many of the world's 1.4bn small-scale farmers, the benefit of organics is clear: better food security and a better life. It is really important that the public debate on organics takes note of positive stories like Alfredo's and Angelina's."

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