Sunday, December 23, 2012

What Has The American Academy of Pediatrics Said About Children Being Exposed To Pesticides?

Increasing evidence shows urban and rural children are regularly exposed to low levels of pesticides that can have serious long-term health effects, according to a report issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The technical report and an accompanying policy statement on pesticide exposure in children appear in the December 2012 issue of Pediatrics.

Dr. Catherine Karr, an environmental health pediatrician in the UW School of Public Health and the School of Medicine, co-authored both papers, which recommend public and professional approaches to the issue of childhood pesticide exposure.

Pediatricians don’t get this information or training in their routine medical education and are likely not aware of the wealth of studies that have been published up to now on the subject, said Karr, who served on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Environmental Health from 2005-2011. She believes doctors can play a significant role in protecting children’s health by recognizing, treating, and preventing exposure to pesticides.

The ubiquitous chemicals are as varied as their uses. For example, lawns are treated with weed killer, sprays or foggers kill fleas indoors, and pesticides control coddling moths that can destroy large-scale apple production.

Karr observed that the product label, “while providing some information on acute toxicity, doesn’t inform consumers or workers about chronic toxicity, such as whether the product contains a carcinogen or whether it is linked to reproductive or developmental toxicity.”

Epidemiological studies associate both acute and chronic pesticide exposures in children with pediatric cancer and neurodevelopmental disorders. Pesticide exposure has even been implicated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and low-birth weight.

Children are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of pesticides than are adults because of their smaller size and faster metabolism. Youngsters can be exposed by breathing the chemicals in the air, getting them on their skin, or unintentionally ingesting the pesticides. Kids crawl or play on surfaces that may have chemical residues, and they often put their fingers and other objects in their month.

The dietary contribution from food residues provides cumulative, chronic exposure.

“For most kids in the United States, it’s probably the major component,” said Karr. She pointed to a study on children’s diet by alumnus Chensheng Lu, who received a Ph.D., in 1996 from the UW in industrial hygiene and safety. He is now on faculty at Harvard University.  His study was conducted with researchers in the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center at the UW.

For five days, the researchers substituted most of children’s conventional diets with organic food items. They measured the metabolites for organophosphorus pesticides in the children’s urine and compared the levels before and after changes in diet. They found the metabolites disappeared after the organic diet was introduced and remained undetectable until the conventional diet was reintroduced.

These results shouldn’t be interpreted to mean non-organic food is bad. Karr notes a recent American Academy of Pediatrics review on organic foods found no evidence that the nutritional content varies, and the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables in children’s diet are clear.

“Given the often increased expense, some families might choose to be selective in choosing organic foods, she said. “The levels of pesticide residues tend to be lower in some conventionally grown fruits and vegetables and consumer guides are readily available on these topics.”

She also recommends thoroughly washing produce. Karr published tips for parents on reducing their child’s exposure to pesticides in food and from other common sources. Of the numerous recommendations to doctors and policymakers in the published statement, one resonates very clearly for Karr.

“I think we could make a big difference if all healthcare providers who take care of children felt they had a basic knowledge base on pesticides that enabled them to include pesticide safety counseling in routine health visits and to think about pesticide exposure in relevant sick visits,” said Karr, who also put together a guide for pediatricians on how to talk with parents about pesticides. It’s available on AAP’s website.

The technical report details the major classes of pesticides, their adverse health effects, and evaluation and treatment. Symptoms of pesticide exposure might not be easily recognized, explained Karr. In one case, a child might have a rash or a headache. In another case, a child might be vomiting or have diarrhea.

“Having pesticide exposure in your mind as a possibility,” she noted, “requires an index of suspicion which you develop only when you know a little bit about pesticides and what you can do.”

Healthcare providers might also be interested in a local resource. Karr directs the Northwest Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit  based at the UW.  The unit provides expertise and training for health professionals, trainees, and the public on environmentally related health effects in children, including pesticide exposure. In collaboration with the UW Center for Child Environmental Health Risks Research led by Elaine M. Faustman, professor of environmental health, and with corresponding research center partners in California, the Northwest Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit is creating an educational module on pesticides. It will be available in the next year. - Elizabeth Sharp, University Of Washington

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Has The Congressional Research Service Released A Report On The Role Of Pesticides Effecting Bee Populations?

The Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) issued its overview report, Bee Health: The Role of Pesticides, in response to a congressional request for more information on the connection between declines in bee populations, colony collapse disorder (CCD) and pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids. The 23-page report, dated December 11, 2012, summarizes the range of scientific studies and regulatory activities without offering a critique of what bee health advocates have identified as serious deficiencies in the regulatory review process and compliance with the pesticide registration law. The review gives equal standing to independent and industry science. 

The CRS report identifies a range of issues regarding:
1. Changes to managed and wild bee populations (indicating limited information);
2. Factors that are documented to impact bee health, including pesticides, pests and diseases, diet and nutrition, genetics, habitat loss, and beekeeper issues, highlighting that there are multiple exposure pathways that may work synergistically;
3. Scientific research on the role of pesticides; and,
4. Current research and regulatory activity regarding neonicotinoids, a neurotoxic insecticide impacting bees.

The report reviews the ’state of play’ on the issue of bee declines and finds that there are reported to be many factors that contribute to the decline in bee populations, noting that “pesticides are only one of the many influences on bee health.” It notes that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is revisiting its risk assessment review process to reflect advances in science on bee exposure to pesticides.

The report’s summary of the role of pesticides, and neonicotinoid pesticides in particular, notes that, “The focus of this report on bee exposure to pesticides is not intended to imply that pesticides are as important or more important in influencing health and wellness of bee colonies as compared with other identified factors.” The report cites the statutory framework for pesticide regulation, specifically EPA’s process of protecting against “unreasonable” adverse effects to health and the environment in registering an active pesticide ingredient, stating, “EPA specifically takes into account unintended harm to bees” by requiring information on the acute toxicity of a pesticides on exposed bees. The report’s authors identify bee exposures to the pesticides applied by beekeepers in managing diseases in their hives and accidental exposure, at the same time that it cites secondary impacts on bee health associated with the legally labeled pesticide uses.

Meanwhile, the report acknowledges the change in bee health and the sudden and mysterious disappearance of bees, described as CCD, that occurred shortly after the introduction of systemic neonicotinoid pesticides on the market worldwide. Many researchers have focused on this key factor -the introduction of a powerful systemic pesticide found in pollen, nectar, and gutation drops- that has changed among the constellation of possible contributors, as well as the failure of the regulatory review to obtain a required field study from the neonicotinoid pesticide manufacturer Bayer CropScience. In recognizing the sharp decline that occurred in the bee population, the CRS report states:

“In the United States, commercial migratory beekeepers along the East Coast of the United States began reporting sharp declines in 2006 in their honey bee colonies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that overwinter colony losses from 2006 to 2011 averaged more than 32% annually.” The CRS report cites previous work of the National Academy of Sciences, saying, “A 2007 report by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, Status of Pollinators in North America describes many of the factors affecting bee health and population effects.”

On neonicotinoids, CRS cites both the independent and industry science, giving equal weight to vastly different and often contradictory findings on the role of pesticides in bee declines. While CRS mentions imidacloprid’s role in bee-kills in Germany and clothianidin’s role in France, the report does not discuss the French moratorium on neonicotinoids or other regulatory actions that underline the true importance of neonicotinoids as an important contributor to CCD. The report cites industry studies that dismiss the importance of pesticide residues found in plants and bees. The CRS notes, however, that, “Krupke et al. [Christian Krupke, Ph.D., associate professor of entomology at Purdue University] found levels of neonicotinoids in bee-collected corn pollen that were similar to levels of imidacloprid determined by other scientists to have sublethal effects potentially affecting colony health.”

The CRS report also acknowledges research findings that have focused on the potential of neonicotinoids to “affect complex behaviors in insects, including flight, navigation, olfactory memory, recruitment, foraging, and coordination.” It finds, “One study has reported sublethal effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on honey bee foraging behavior that may impair the navigational and foraging abilities of honey bees.” The report goes on: “Other studies have found impaired brood development and increased rates of Nosema infection in honey bees exposed to sublethal pesticide levels. Imidacloprid ingestion by stingless bee larvae at rates above 0.0056 µg/bee decreased survival rates, negatively affected development of a specific region of the bee brain called the mushroom body, and impaired walking behavior of newly emerged adult worker bees.”

CRS identifies multiple pathways for exposure, including foraging during the planting season, bee kills from contaminated dust clouds, and hive exposure through pollen deposits, highlighting those studies that focus on crops that include corn, canola, sunflowers, squash and pumpkin flowers.

CRS references a Bayer CropScience report, which contradicts the independent findings it cites earlier that determined neonicotinoid pesticides affecs honey bee foraging behavior, saying that “scientists at Bayer CropScience argue that the dose of thiamethoxam delivered to bees in this case was not ‘field-relevant.’ The second time it references Bayer CropScience, CRS indicates that its scientists have “criticized one of the studies linking neonicotinoid exposure with Nosema infection because it was conducted in the laboratory and not under field conditions.”

The points here are based on an unpublished memo developed by Bayer CropScience, a company that profits from neonicotinoid sales, entitled “Overview of recent publications on neonicotinoids and pollinators.” Unfortunately, the CRS report neglects to include two pertinent rebuttals filed with EPA. Dr. Krupke and James Frazier, Ph.D, professor of entomology at Pennsylvania State University, stood behind the strength of their published studies connecting neociotinoids to bee declines. Indeed, Dr. Krupke responded to Bayer’s report, saying:

“The spurious claim that the concentrations of neonicotinoids we reported in stored pollen (2.9-10.7 ppb clothianidin and 6.2-20.4 ppb thiamethoxam, found co-occurring) were ‘not high enough to represent a significant risk for honey bees’ is not supported by data. Sublethal effects of these compounds remain an active area of research and what constitutes a ’significant risk’ is far from well defined.”

Similarly, Dr. Frazier pointedly indicated that Bayer’s report is flawed, saying, “Unlike a normal literature review, where the pros and cons of a given paper are presented along with all pertinent literature that bear on alternate interpretations or provide conflicting results, the authors here provide only material used to refute the chosen study.” CRS neglected to incorporate in its report this response to Bayer as well.

In sum, in attempting to strike a neutral tone, the report ends up downplaying the role of pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, on bee health. However, if the reader follows the references and teases out the vested industry interests from independent science, the report identifies important information that supports the need for urgent action, at the same time it identifies the need for more research. The report finds: “Pesticides are known to have some adverse local impacts to honey bees and some native bees… Widespread use of herbicides reduces habitat available to bees; many pesticides are known to be acutely toxic to bees, given sufficient levels of exposure; and some reports of local bee kill incidents have been well documented.” Accordingly, at the very least, the report supports the continued work of government regulators in focusing on pesticides, pathogens and parasites, and a combination of stressors in diminishing honey bee and colony health. At the same time, it identifies the crisis in honey bee declines and the need to take precautionary action in the face of dramatic independent scientific findings of neonicotinoid pesticides on the bees’ survival. Again, this is yet another call for the public to pressure public officials to act. - ePark News

Have German Scientist Proved The Pesticide Rotenone Causes Parkinson Disease?

Fruit and vegetables treated with pesticides can cause Parkinsons, say scientists from the German University Clinic Carl Gustav Carus. The researchers came to this conclusion after extensive testing with mice.

In Germany alone 400,000 people are suffering from Parkinsons disease. Scientists have now discovered that the insecticide rotenone doesn’t just cause the disease, but exacerbates the symptoms. Earlier, researchers confirmed the fact that Parkinsons can be triggered by outside influences. Already in an early stage, distinct correlations were found between Parkinsons and the use of pesticides. Scientific research involving subjects active in agriculture and farming, used to working with pesticides, showed that an above average percentage of the subjects suffered from the disease.

Staff at the University examined the responses of mice to rotenone. It was established that certain nerve cells in the intestines contained large doses of the protein alpha-synuclein. These in turn affected important brain cells. According to Francisco Pan-Montojo of the Dresden Institute for Anatomy the discovery is an important step forward in the understanding and possible treatment of Parkinsons. - Fresh Plaza

What Is The Kenya Institute of Organic Farming?

For nearly four years, Sally Niaisiae, an elderly mother of six does not remember making a trip to the local market to buy vegetables as she did before. Instead, she is sought after by vegetable vendors seeking organically grown supplies to the fresh food market at Kiserian Town.

Until four years ago, Niaisiae was regular at the local market, buying vegetables and other fresh food. Living in peri-urban area, the land left after putting up her house could not produce enough food to feed the family, or so she thought. Then in 2008, non profit organisation, Kenya Institute of Organic Farming (KIOF) officials happened to visit Kiserian to sell organic farming concept to farmers there.

“What struck me about the whole idea of organic farming is that with my little farm space, I could grow enough food to feed my family and supply to the market. And that is without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that are expensive these days,” she said.

“Only a few of us started the training because others wanted to see if it really works. Most of the people around here have small plots that produced just enough to feed the family and were therefore skeptical on how new farming methodology would enable them produce food enough to generate income. But with evidence of harvests, more farmers here got interested.”

“Today, we are about 100 organic farmers in a radius of about seven kilometers. We are able to supply the local food market with enough produce and sell to other markets unlike before when market vendors had to travel to the wholesale fresh food market in the city,” she said.

Niaisiae is a member of Ngong Organic Farmers Association, an umbrella community based organization (CBO) for small scale organic food farmers based at Kiserian, a sprawling peri-urban area about 30 km southwest of the capital Nairobi.

She is also the Chairperson of the Olonana Group, one of the six small welfare organic farming groups that combined to form the association. The impact of the 100 or so farmers in this area may not be felt until one visits the local market food market. At the Kiserian market, fresh food vendors interviewed spoke how popular organic grown vegetable, tubers and corn or organically raised chicken and rabbits.

Because of the fact that the organic farming does not follow rainfall cycles but rather farmers use simple irrigation methods, the farmers have been able to ensure a constant fresh food supply not only to the local market but also other markets like Karen Shopping Center where the farmers supply every Saturday throughout the year and the growing pool of large scale buyers especially those operating restaurants specializing in organic food in the capital Nairobi.

The case of Jennifer Kigunda, an organic farmer representing Puan Group is more illustrative of the transformation that organic farming has had. Her one acre land is divided into several portions, growing maize, various vegetables, and different potatoes varieties. Previously she would only grow maize and beans –the two most popular food crops with subsistence farmers in Kenya mainly grown using conventional farming methods.

“I would harvest on average six 90 kg bags of maize from the farm and on average three bags of beans,” she said. With her small family, she prefers to sell most of the harvest, fetching around 400 U.S. dollars per season, meaning she would make on average double that amount per year from the sale of surplus harvest.

But since the change to organic farming, Kigunda’s family income has increased tremendously as the sale of organic food from her farm brings in on averaged, 200 dollars per a three month season meaning that in a year, she now makes at least 3,600 dollars a year from her one acre farm, a 450 percent increase.

“We have a ready market for organic foods and we get a premium price for it at the market. What else would a farmer look for?” she asked.

Farmers divide their plots growing different crops allowing crop rotation and ensuring constant supply of fresh produce as they mature at different times. Kenya is among countries in the world where awareness on lifestyle diseases has increased tremendously in the last ten years partly because of improved diagnostics and availability of data indicating the number of deaths resulting from lifestyle diseases.

As one of the preventive measures, more Kenyans are choosing to eat healthy diet, preferring foods with less chemical and more natural, thus increasing the demand for organic foods. Among the key beneficiaries of this awareness is Jamlek Wagondu, also a member of the Ngong Organic Farmers Association. He is a specialty farmer in tomato. Two years ago, he decided to start exclusively growing organic tomatoes.

“First of all, I do not have to spend on the expensive pesticides which were contributing 70 percent of my costs. Then, these tomatoes have a ready market. Some of my customers even come to supervise if I follow organic model. I no longer have to sell to the main market in Nairobi through brokers and this means I fetch a much higher price, sometimes even three times the cost of comparable quantity of conventionally grown tomatoes,” said Wagondu.

“I have since concentrated on farming organic tomatoes because the earnings are enough to sustain my family including paying for the education of my four children,” he added.

Ngong Organic Farmers Association traces its roots to the year 2004 when the current chairman of the association Peter Melonye and friends decided to visit Nairobi International Trade Fair to learn some of the new farming technologies. The Kenya Institute of Organic Farming (KIOF) that pioneered expanded training and education in organic agriculture had an exhibition stand that Melonye and his friends got interested to visit.

Little did they know that they had just triggered an organic farming revolution that has now become one of the main economic activities for small scale farmers in Ngong. Melonye is perhaps the clearest manifestation of the strides small scale farmers with thirst for knowledge and the drive to put this knowledge to practice can achieve. His farm is a case study on integrated sustainable farming where every drop of livestock waste, felled branch and leaves, and other farm waste finds productive use. Although he has not achieved it yet, he is working towards ensuring his farm is fully organic; from the crops to the livestock.

Currently, he does half an acre of largely organic horticulture. All of his tens of chicken are also organic. He is working to ensure the cows and goats are organically certified. At his farm, he has overcome the challenge of water shortage with a system of harvesting rain water using the gutters that feed to his underground water reservoir that can provide water for his household use for one year.

He runs a drip irrigation system and when he uses the same water for the irrigation, it can take him four months, a big achievement considering the practice of rainwater harvesting is not very popular among Kenyan small scale farmers despite water shortages experienced in most parts of the country.

His home kitchen runs on biogas that is generated using livestock waste. He does not use firewood whatsoever. The grass that naturally grows in his farms, plus farm waste like maize stalks are pressed to make hay barns that can be stored for up to two years. In his granary, there are three metal silos that can hold 450 kg of maize each.

The maize can be stored there for two years without adding any chemicals. The silos use the vacuum concept to keep the maize dry. By this measure, Melonye has been able to cut his post harvest maize losses to zero. He sells the maize when the prices are high or just keeps it to feed the livestock.

At his backyard, he has started making briquettes; made from waster paper and charcoal dust mixture that is put water and then pressed into various shapes and then dried in the sun. Thereafter, the pieces are sold to the local community. The briquettes burn slowly but produced more heat that charcoal. The help households avoid use of charcoal and firewood. They are also more affordable.

Out of the 100 members of Ngong Organic Farmers Association, 70 are women. “The reason is that women are more interested in organic farming because its benefits are a sort of empowerment for us,” she said. 

For instance, women are happy that with the fact that with just a small size of land, organic farming is able to generate attractive revenue. The size also means that women, who provide 80 percent of farm labor in Sub-Sahara Africa, and do not have to sweat a lot on tilling the land. The money generated is actually enough to employ a temporally farmhand, therefore creating another income opportunity.

“When a woman is engaged in organic farming, she is liberated from borrowing money from the spouse or relatives. The family is also well fed,” said Carol Njema, the representative of Acacia Group, also an affiliate of the Ngong Organic Farmers Association.

Ngong area where the farmers operate does not receive much rainfall and has been classified as a semi arid area. Climate change effects has further dropped the amount of rainfall the area receives, to below the annual average of 500 mm according to data from the Kenya Meteorological Department. Farmers said lack of adequate water is the main challenge to expanding the size of the farm they used in practicing organic farming.

“If farmers were closer to each other, we can do a communal borehole by contributing to the cost, but this is not the case. What we are not happy about is that the demand for organic food is so high, yet we are not able to meet it just because of water shortage. The money that we could have made from higher sales from more production is then lost,” said Njema.

Melonye sees a long term solution for the group is buying a communal farm and developing water access systems within that land. The groups also plan to adapt drip irrigation system that uses minimal water. Farmers said they also face a problem of accessing certified organic seeds that are only available through a few outlets. While farmers said they have been trained to develop homemade pesticides, it is not effective on some pests yet very few agro-dealers sell recommended pesticides and when available, they are highly expensive.

The pest problem is becoming bigger because of the movement of pests from conventional farmers to organic farmers. Because organic farming is not a yet mass practice in Ngong, most farmers are very likely to border conventional farms facilitating the transfer of pests and crop diseases.

The organic farmers are certified through a process known as Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), based on East African Organic Products Standard requirement and the group internal procedures modeled as a peer review system.

International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) which is the only international umbrella organization for organic farming initiatives defines PGS as locally focused quality assurance systems that verify producers based on active participation of stakeholders and are built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange.

Key customers of the organic produce are involved through inspection of the farming processes practiced by supplier farmers, said Jack Juma of the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN), one of the non-profit organizations that coordinates organic farming in Kenya. When a farmer has a particular market that specifically demand third party certification, they apply for certification from authorized certifying companies like Encert, Nesvax Control,  Soil Association, and Ceres among others. - David Musyoka, Coast Week

Is Organic Food Becoming Popular In China?

With a growing number of organic farms around Shanghai, day trips to these rural retreats are becoming ever more popular with city dwellers. And considering the scandals that have emerged in China in recent years, food safety is of growing importance to the country's populace which is becoming increasingly health conscious. 

"People in Shanghai are definitely becoming more interested in organic farming," said Kimberly Ashton, founder of a new health food store and kitchen demonstration showroom, Sprout Lifestyle, (unit 412, 570 Yongjia Road, 3250-9103) and who has been organizing organic farm tours in Shanghai for almost two years.

"People are curious to see the farms, to order fresh vegetables and also they just want something fun and new to do on the weekends," she said. "And a farm excursion is a great way to get out of the city and to get some fresh air." 

Organic farms in Shanghai differ in the variety of produce they have to offer. But most of the farms provide the option of lunch for visitors, made with their own fresh produce. 

"It is important that people visit the farms and decide which ones they trust and want to buy from," said Ashton, who is also a volunteer for Slow Food Shanghai a global movement that promotes fair trade goods. People also need to consider the pricing and delivery options that suit their family's needs." 

Opened in 2004, the 33-acre BioFarm is close to Pudong International Airport and is one of the oldest organic farms in Shanghai (visit for details). The business hosts a monthly farmers' market, workshops on organic farming and also cookery classes. 

"In the classes we teach participants how to wash produce properly because some don't even realize that organic vegetables don't have to be soaked," said BioFarm PR director Jane Tsao. 

A one day tour to the farm is available by appointment for members only. The day trip is 120 yuan ($19) for adults and 80 yuan for children under 12 (transport not included). Membership costs 1,188 yuan for three months which entitles holders to a weekly delivery of food during that period. Alternatively members can buy a pre paid card with credit of 1,200 yuan and which can be spent over the following 12 months. Members are also entitled to order home delivery vegetables from the farm's online shop. 

The Mahota Farm ( is a new 106-acre organic farm on Chongming Island. And apart from vegetables, Mahota also boasts a pig breeding farm, Chongming white goats and an aquarium. A day trip to the farm costs 280 yuan and 140 yuan for children under 12 which includes a guided tour, lunch and grow-your-own-vegetable activities and animal feeding. Transport is not included. Mahota also has a store and a hotpot restaurant.

There are also a number of smaller farms in the city. Shanghai native Li Weinan opened Yunjian Daziran (meaning "nature in the clouds" in Chinese) in July in Songjiang district. The site was originally a demonstration area to teach farming techniques. Li rents 6.3 acres of land for 100,000 yuan a year and hires nine local farmers to work there. "There are less and less farmers in Songjiang, so the local government agreed to rent this to me," Li told the Global Times. "And working on this organic farm gives me the joy of laboring and a peace of mind." 

And all of these farms are an ideal way for children to learn more about nature and to appreciate the food on their dinner table. At BioFarm, children are shown how the roots of vegetables can be made into nutritious soups, and how apples that have been kept in the fridge too long can be turned into apple pies. 

Organic vegetables at farms also cost less than many people imagine, with Tsao pointing out that an average bag of 250g of vegetables at BioFarm costs between 6 and 7 yuan. She added that the prices of vegetables from organic farms are competitive with supermarkets because they don't have the extra costs of packaging, promotion and transportation. 

While most of the visitors to organic farms are foreigners, Ashton says the number of interested locals is growing all the time. Tony Lu, marketing supervisor from the Mahota Farm said that during weekdays tours of pupils from international schools are becoming a regular fixture. And for the past eight years a team at BioFarm has been teaching students from 300 schools in Shanghai on how to carry out organic farming as part of project organized with Roots & Shoots, an conservation organization started by the British conservationist Jane Goodall.

"We want to teach the next generation how to lead an organic life," said Tsao.

Choosing an organic farm
Study the background of the founders. Why did they start the farm, and is their produce really organic? Make sure the surrounding area is not polluted as this will affect the air, soil and water. What is their water source? Do they filter the water they use? Composting and recycling. Do they practice either or both? And if they have animals, do they use natural fertilizers? Consider the variety of vegetables and other produce on offer. -  Louise Ho, Global Times

Friday, December 7, 2012

Are GMO Orange Trees The Answer To A Disease Effecting Orange Groves?

The curtain is slowly parting on the Huanglongbing (HLB) citrus drama in California.

Three Asian citrus psyllids have been discovered this year in Tulare County, the heart of the San Joaquin Valley citrus belt the third only recently. They join the cast of 43,000 similar psyllids detected in Southern California since 2008, mostly in ornamental or backyard trees. Two of the three SJV cousins, possible hitchhikers from the southland, were too beat up to evaluate if they were carrying the Huanglongbing or citrus greening disease. No word if the third carried the disease. County agricultural officials are looking at the boundaries for quarantine, which will regulate and restrict the movement of fruit and plant material.

Asian citrus psyllid injects a bacterium which causes greening that spreads when other psyllids feed on infected trees. Only one tree so far has been confirmed infected in a Southern California backyard. However, grower Dan Dreyer of Exeter, Calif., and most others like him agree it is only a matter of time until many more trees are infected and a full-scale war breaks out to contain the spread.

California cannot escape the disease, says Dreyer. “It will eventually get here, if it’s not here already, since we have found the psyllid.” 

California growers have a pretty good idea what the future will hold because the story has featured in Florida for seven years. The psyllid and disease cost Florida growers $331 million annually from 2006 through 2011. That’s a $1.66 billion hit to the industry for five years, according to a recent study released by University of Florida agricultural economists Thomas Spreen and Alan Hodges.

Total economic impact of the disease, including indirect effects, was $4.54 billion, or $908 million annually, over those five years. An estimated 8,257 jobs were lost in Florida due to greening during that period. California wants to win skirmishes and eventually the war by going to school on what Florida and perhaps Brazilian growers have done to save their citrus industries.

However, the general consensus is that it will take a big bazooka to end it all and that means trees resistant to the disease. This could lead to uncharted waters for a food crop like citrus. It may take a genetically modified tree to turn back perhaps the biggest threat to the U.S. citrus industry. California producers were given a closer look at Florida through the eyes of Rick Cress, president of Southern Gardens Citrus in south Florida. Cress spoke at the California Citrus Conference at the Porterville Fairgrounds sponsored by the Citrus Research Board.

Southern Gardens Citrus’ processing plant in Clewiston, Fla., processes more juice in a day, 25,000 tons, than all of California in a year. It produces more than 50 percent of the private label not-from-concentrate orange juice in America. It processes 900,000 tons of oranges annually into juice. Florida’s citrus industry is primarily a juice business, while California is mostly fresh market. Owned by U.S. Sugar, Southern Gardens owns and/or manages 16,500 net acres of citrus groves in Southern Hendry County. These groves contain 1.8 million trees.

HLB is the “worst challenge we have ever faced,” greater than the citrus canker that took out 4,500 acres of the 32,000 acres Southern Gardens was farming before the canker came in.

Cress said four things are grown in southern Florida: “Citrus, sugar cane, cattle and alligators.” Southern Gardens must continue to grow citrus. It has no other farming options.

“We had to find a solution,” after HLB was found on the property in 2005.

The first step was to identify diseased trees and destroy them quickly. That has been a $1 million per year expense. Infected groves quickly disappeared to be replanted. Older trees take longer to die. “I have seen four-year-old trees literally die before my eyes,” he said. Typically, it takes two to two and a half years for an HLB-infected tree to die. “It looks like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree,” he added.

One of the approaches used to battle back has been nutritional. Growers heavily fertilized to keep diseased trees alive. This is expensive and does not save trees in the long run, said Cress. It just prolongs productivity of infected fruit.

Cress said this approach to counter HLB has improved the understanding of the nutritional needs of citrus. “No nutritional program has ever cured a disease.” Besides, “There is no hard data to support,” that the nutritional approach is winning the battle, even temporarily.

The yield per tree is less than healthy trees, even with the nutritional approach. This is a disease effect, not inadequate fertility. These trees also do not handle stress well. He adds this may keep the tree green, but the fruit is tainted. Fruit from an HLB tree is very bad tasting, he says.

Overall, the psyllid and the disease have increased Florida growing costs by 50 percent. Typically, most Florida growers aggressively treat to control the psyllid to protect the new plant after taking out an infected tree. Pesticides to control the disease vector are not economical in the long run, and there are environmental challenges as well as spraying to kill the psyllid. Resistance is another issue after continually treating with a limited number of registered pesticides.

Another approach is to take out infected groves and replant with high density groves, hoping to make money quickly before trees die. A normal planting is about 145 trees per acre. Southern Garden has one trial of 600 trees per acre. In Brazil growers are moving far away from infected areas and planting densities of 200 to 300 trees per acre, figuring to get 15 to 16 years of high production before infections kill trees.

It will take an integrated solution with plant resistance as the cornerstone. That could come down to genetically modified (GMO) citrus trees, which would be a challenge to educate consumers about the safety of the fruit and juice from trees in the highly charged anti-GMO atmosphere.

Dr. Erik Mirkov, a Texas AgriLife Research plant pathologist at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco, Texas, has transferred two genes from spinach into citrus trees, apparently providing resistance to HLB. The transgenic trees have shown resistance in greenhouse trials and will soon be planted in Florida for field testing, he said. The research is funded by Southern Gardens Citrus.

“This project started with a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture when the interest was to find resistance to citrus canker,” Mirkov said. “But then citrus greening moved into Florida. Both are bacterial diseases, but citrus greening devastated the industry far worse than canker did.”

Mirkov knew that spinach proteins had broad-spectrum resistance against multiple bacteria and fungi, and started testing his transgenic trees against greening.

“We injected canker into the leaves of transgenic plants with one spinach gene and found that the bacterial lesions didn’t spread,” he said. “But we also showed that transgenic plants infected in the rootstock with citrus greening disease flourished and produced lots of leaves, while the non-transgenic trees produced just one leaf.”

With good greenhouse results, those first-generation transgenic trees were taken to the field in 2009, Mirkov said. After 25 months of growth, some of the transgenic trees never showed infection, while 70 percent of the non-transgenic control trees did. In the meantime, Mirkov developed improved second-, third- and fourth-generation transgenic trees by adding a second spinach gene and improving how and where the genes expressed themselves.

“Citrus greening basically shuts off the tree’s ability to take up and use water and nutrients, causing the tree to die,” Mirkov says. ”We were able to improve the transgenic trees by having the genes express themselves in the vascular system.”

Mirkov also found that while one spinach gene is more effective than the other, they work better together than they do alone.

“The first field trial involved transgenic trees using only the weaker of the two genes, but it worked; it gave us encouragement” he said. “By using both genes, we’re hoping to get immunity so that trees are never infected in the field.” - Harry Cline, West Farm Press

Have You Heard Of The Bowman vs Monsanto Case?

The farmer Vernon Bowman has filed his opening merits brief explaining his exhaustion defense against Monsanto's patent infringement charges. The case involves Monsanto's patented soybeans that have been genetically modified to be resistant to the broadleaf herbicide glyphosate, i.e., RoundUp Ready. U.S. Patent Nos. 5,352,605 and RE 39,247.

According to the statement of facts, Bowman purchased genetically modified soybeans on the commodity markets from a third party vender. It is assumed for the case that those seeds were grown and sold by farmers pursuant to a contract with Monsanto. As such, under traditional patent exhaustion principles, Monsanto's patents conferred no more control over the use, destruction, or distribution of those soybeans. This would have allowed Bowman to use the soybeans as feed or for biodiesel. However, Bowman chose to use the soybeans as seeds to grow a second generation of soybeans. Because soybeans self-fertilize, beans from the second and subsequent generations are genetically identical to the first generation and thus fit within the scope of Monsanto's patents. Although perhaps irrelevant to this case, Bowman admittedly purchased the commodity seeds with the hope that they were glyphosate resistant and then relied upon glyphosate resistance in the growing process. At the same time, he took pains to ensure that he was not violating any contract with Monsanto or pushing the grain dealer to violate such a contract.

Monsanto sued Bowman for patent infringement and won.

Exhaustion: Both the district court and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the exhaustion doctrine does not apply to new copies of a patented product created by the accused infringer. Monsanto sees its seed patents as akin to a book covered by copyright. When the publisher sells copies of the book, the copyright in those copies is exhausted -- allowing the purchaser to resell or distribute the copies without reprisal. However, there is a major limitation to the exhaustion doctrine -- copyright still protects against using the legitimate copy to make further unauthorized copies. For Monsanto, the fact that the patent is exhausted vis-à-vis a first generation of seeds says nothing about whether the patent is exhausted for the second or subsequent generation. Unlike the copyright laws, the patent law of exhaustion has not been codified, but the two doctrines are largely in step. The Supreme Court is currently considering a copyright exhaustion case, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. However, the outcome of that case is unlikely to impact Bowman's.

Monsanto also relies upon a property-law defense that limitations-on-use placed on the sale of patented goods operate as conditions that also bind subsequent purchasers. Here the original farmers were bound by contract not to replant the soybeans. Following the rule of derivative title, Monsanto argued (and the lower courts agreed) that "farmers could not convey to the grain dealers what they did not possess themselves." And further, that the grain dealers could only transfer to Bowman as much right as they possessed that right being ownership of the soybeans without the right to use them as seed.

Pathway to Victory: Bowman's pathway to a Supreme Court victory seems to rest on two necessary holdings: (1) that the patent rights were fully exhausted in the seeds Bowman purchased and (2) that the exhaustion applies to subsequent generations of seeds. In my view, the first principle is will be easier to accomplish. The second is more difficult.

In Quanta Computer, Inc. v. LG Electronics, Inc., 553 U.S. 617 (2008), the Supreme Court confirmed that "[t]he longstanding doctrine of patent exhaustion provides that the initial authorized sale of a patented item terminates all patent rights to that item." The correct view is here is that a condition on use does not bind subsequent purchasers of personalty unless those buyers agree by contract to be so bound. This is the ordinary rule that courts follow involving personal property and I see no reason to change that rule based upon the fact that the personal property happens to be covered by a patent.

Subsequent Copies: The fact that a patented product is the subject of a legitimate sale that exhausts the patent rights does not give the purchaser the right to use that original as the source for generating subsequent copies. Rather, the creation of those additional copies will be deemed counterfeit and infringing. Bowman does not challenge these basic principles. Rather, Bowman argues that soybeans are different because they are self-replicating seeds. Bowman writes:

If patent rights in seeds sold in an authorized sale are exhausted, patent rights in seeds grown by lawful planting must be exhausted as well. Due to the self-replicating nature of the invention, subsequent generations of seeds are embodied in previous generations . . . because seeds will self-replicate by normal use.

The farmers that I know largely side with Bowman on the issues, but they would quarrel with the idea of self-replication. In fact, farmers do an incredible about of work to grow a commercially viable crop. At a minimum for a good crop, the seeds need to be planted in sufficiently fertilized soil, watered (hopefully by rain), weeded (perhaps with glyphosate), and harvested. The timing must be right to ensure sufficient light and heat, and the fields must be protected from invading wildlife. In this sense, Bowman's statement that "Roundup Ready® seeds have been engineered to include everything one needs to practice the invention" is disingenuous. In any event, it takes much more outside input to grow a second generation of soybeans than it does to distribute electronic copies of my copyrighted writings or deliver electronic copies of non-patent prior art to the USPTO. In fact, we teach in law school that the ease of replication is an important factor in understanding the role of intellectual property rights. In an e-mail, David Snively, executive vice president and general counsel for Monsanto agrees with this point, writing that the "patent system protects – and should protect – the rights to easily replicated technologies like herbicide-tolerant seeds, just as it does for those who invent computers or life-saving medicines."

Perhaps the self-replication difference is not about energy input, but more about the nature of the product (a living organism in the form of a seed) and the fact that living organisms reproduce as part of their natural life cycle. Monsanto added an important element to its soybeans (glyphosate resistance), but Monsanto started with an incredible life form with the ability to reproduce in our natural world. Monsanto did not change or enhance any of those reproductive abilities and its attempt to control reproduction is could be seen as akin to the improper tying arguments. The fact that Monsanto made a big claim (the seed itself) doesn't change the fact that its contribution is far less than 1% of the genetic material important for a soybean's life cycle.

Finally, the hook on the argument may be that self-replication is the "normal use" of a product. This market expectation is important and could win the day. In the brief, Bowman takes pains to establish that replanting is an important normal use of commodity seeds. It is unclear to me whether the court will buy this factual argument and would be an important gap that could be filled by an amicus filing.

Growing not Making: Bowman also suggests an interesting additional argument – that growing the seeds does not constitute "making" seeds under 35 U.S.C. § 271(a). Bowman writes:

The seeds at issue here will self-replicate or "sprout" unless stored in a controlled manner to prevent this natural occurrence. Humans can (and most often do) assist in the process of self-replication. For instance, Bowman planted Roundup Ready® seeds and treated them with glyphosate. This activity led in part to the creation of new soybeans having the patented Roundup Ready® trait. But it was the planted soybean, not Bowman, that "physically connected" all elements of the claimed invention into an "operable whole."

Referencing and quoting Deepsouth Packing Co. v. Laitram Corp., 406 U.S. 518 (1972). While important, this argument seemingly would not offer a complete win for Bowman because he may also be liable for using or selling the second generation.

One interesting rhetorical element of Bowman's brief is the way that it claims the middle ground by arguing that the court "should not create an exception to the traditional exhaustion doctrine for self-replicating technologies." (Bold in original). The starting point depends upon your perspective and I suspect that Monsanto will have a similar statement arguing that Bowman is asking for the exception.

Monsanto's brief of the merits is due January 16, 2013. Oral arguments and a decision will follow. - Dennis Crouch, Patentlyo

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Will The UK Begin Investigating The Banning Of A Bee Killing Pesticide?

The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is examining the possibility of banning the controversial nerve-agent pesticides increasingly implicated in the decline of bees and other pollinating insects.

Mr Paterson has asked officials of his Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to examine the practical consequences of restricting the use of neonicotinoids, which are now widely deployed across British agriculture, The Independent has learnt.

He wants to know about the likely effects on farming of a ban, and  what alternatives might be available. This is the first sign that the Government may shift its stance on neonicotinoids, which, it was disclosed yesterday, have been implicated in problems with bee health in more than 30 scientific research papers in the last three years alone.

Mr Paterson’s action will send shockwaves through the immensely profitable agro-chemical industry. Any ban on neonicotinoids would mean many millions of pounds in lost profits for the multinational companies which manufacture them, such as Bayer and Syngenta, and would be vigorously resisted by the industry, and possibly by farmers as well.

But Defra is coming under increasing criticism for not adopting a precautionary approach towards the chemicals in the face of the rapidly mounting body of research implicating them in environmental problems, especially the widespread declines of honey bees and bumble bees. 

So far, Government advisers have insisted there is no “unequivocal evidence” that they  are harmful and have refused to recommend a ban, although they have been banned in other countries, including France and Germany.

Mr Paterson said today: “The health of our bees is a real concern and we have always been open-minded about the results of any new science that links bee decline with the use of certain pesticides.

“There has been a lot of research into the effect of neonicotinoids on bees in laboratories but.crucially we still don’t really know what impact they are having in the wild. That is why I have asked the Food and Environment  Research Agency  to speed up the field studies they are doing. Once we have the full picture in the New Year I will be asking independent experts to give us an up to date view on the safety of neonicotinoids.”

Mr Paterson’s independent experts will be the members of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides, who have twice stated recently that evidence against neonicotinoids does not justify banning them. - Michael McCarthy, The Independent 

Has The Crop Protection Association Dismissed Claims That RoundUp Could Be Harmful To Humans?

Roundup from Scotts Miracle-Gro defended by Crop Protection Association after being called into question by study paper. The Crop Protection Association (CPA) has dismissed claims that glyphosate regulators have understated the importance of research showing birth defects in experimental animals.

The Soil Association last week highlighted a paper published in The Journal of Environmental & Analytical Toxicology that discusses what the association called "wide-ranging problems in regulation of the pesticide glyphosate over many years".

The organic farming charity said the study finds that by discounting data showing negative impacts and relying on industry-funded studies, the product has been under-regulated. The paper calls into question the regulators' conclusion that glyphosate and Roundup are safe. It calls for pesticide regulators to take a precautionary approach and undertake a new risk assessment.

Meanwhile, the Soil Association said a Government study published on the Health & Safety Executive website found an average of 24 per cent of bread samples in the latest (2011) surveys contained glyphosate.

The charity added that the paper follows a French study by Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini in Food & Chemical Toxicology, which reported increased levels of tumours and other health problems in rats fed on GM Roundup Ready maize.

But the CPA said there is no new health or toxicological evidence on glyphosate. "Regulatory authorities and independent experts agree that glyphosate does not cause adverse reproductive effects in adult animals or birth defects in offspring of adults exposed to glyphosate.

"The authors of the report create an account of glyphosate toxicity from a selected set of scientific studies, while they ignored much of the comprehensive data establishing the safety of the product. Regulatory agencies have concluded that glyphosate is not a reproductive toxin or teratogen based on in-depth review of comprehensive data sets. Additionally, we have anecdotal results from first-hand experience of millions of farmers and home gardeners who have used this product for decades. 

"To understand the active ingredient, it helps to know that glyphosate inhibits an enzyme that is essential to plant growth. This enzyme is not found in humans or other animals, contributing to the low risk to human health from the use of glyphosate according to label directions.

"In respect of the Seralini study, the claims are no more than scaremongering. It has been very widely discredited by credible scientists." - Matthew Appleby, Horticulture Weekly

What Are The Sustainable Organic Farming & Development Initiatives of Kenya?

Sustainable Organic Farming & Development Initiatives (SOFDI) is a charitable organization based in Western Kenya region by a Switzerland woman has largely been praised by the Kenyan government and area residents who are the beneficiaries of the undertaken development activities.

SOFDI which was started way back in 2002 as a Community Based Organization (CBO) is purely based on improving the lives of communities through various farming methods and trainings on how to improve their daily earning and food production.

Mrs Brigitte Frey, the Founder of SOFDI from Switzerland told African Press International (API) that she had a dream and passion to transform the livelihood of poor communities who have difficulties in accessing food, clean water, health facilities and schools among others.

According to Mrs Frey the organization does this through the development of essential facilities such as organic farming, water conservation and protection of streams, agro- forestry, goat rearing, promotion of additional traditional food, schools programs and student sponsorship & internship as well as environmental conservation.

The Founder attest that she also has a lot of passion in changing the lives of women, youths and vulnerable children who usually bears the greatest challenges in their daily lives especially some of the African countries.

To start with, SOFDI supports the training of farmers on various farming methods such as organic farming techniques to increase their food production. This has enabled farmers to produce various indigenous vegetables, soya beans, potatoes, cassava and millet among others.

This is said to have greatly reduced the cases of food insecurity in the regions especially where the programs are being undertaken. As you take a walk to testify the development activities supported by the organization, the evidence is clearly visible in various farms of Emuhaya, Vihiga and Khwishero district in Vihiga and Kakamega County respectively, Western Province.

A farmer, Florence Jandi testified saying that they no longer purchase vegetables after undergoing organic farming trainings which has also improved their earnings. She also said that SOFDI programs have enabled them to educate and provide efficiently for the families in terms food with some being sold.

Jandi who is practicing organic farming, soya production and goat keeping especially the Togenburg variety revealed that her monthly earning has drastically increased from 15% to 60%. She is one of the most successful farmers who underwent the organization trainings.

She is also one of the most recognized hardworking farmers in their group currently headed by Chariet Mugasia as the team leader. The farmers trained by SOFDI are constituted in various demo groups before they embark on farming activities on their own.

The other farmer who has also made the organization proud is Shaban Otweche who is undertaking organic farming, African leafy vegetables, soya production and tissue culture bananas. According to Otweche, he now has the capacity to pay school fees and provide enough food to the family, a thing he could not afford before the coming of the charitable organization.

Soya Beans
The charitable organization are seriously undertaking farming of soya beans which is rich in protein just like eggs, beans, milk, meat and fish among others which doctors now recommend resident to consume in their daily diets.

Mrs Frey told the API that SOFDI supports largely, the growing of soya beans with 600 farmers trained on soya farming to increase its production in the Western Kenya. Farmers are also practicing Mandela gardening where varieties of crops are grown in a circle kind of a farm that reduces chances of soil erosion in sloppy areas.

This is because soya beans have high content of proteins which medics recommend that residents need to eat as it helps in building and repair of body muscle and tissues as well as the production of amino acids.

“We want to produce soya beans in large scale for domestic use and export as a long term project. SOFDI is currently planning to train another 600 farmers on various modern methods to oversee high productions of the beans,” Mrs Frey said.

Farmers are also being provided with farm inputs to facilitate early preparation of their farms mostly during the long rains. Over 970 kilograms of soya seeds were distributed to farmers in the month of January with a total of 9700 kgs bags of soya beans harvested.

The organization is also keen in value addition of the beans. It has put in place a soya processing machine plant in Emuhaya district enabling farmers to process their produce thereby increasing the rate of profit from the readily available market.

Some of the products that are produced out of soya include yoghurt, milk, chapati, mandazi, nuts and variety of floors which has high protein content. “Soya products are very nice that one needs to have a taste,” says one of the farmers adding that the floor is used in preparing porridge that is very healthy to babies.

“We have 34 people working in the processing plants. This has increased the income to farmers,” said Mrs Frey adding that farmers are provided with four types of soya varieties with huge tract of yields according to agricultural experts.

However, among the 600 farmers trained so far, 229 are planting soya beans with others involved in various farming activities in a bid to enhance food security and have money in their pockets.

But according to Ben Mwasamu an agricultural expert, farmers have to demonstrate the skills gained during the training in various groups of between 19 -25 people each headed by an expert after which they then embark on soya farming on their own.

Mwasamu and Mrs Frey also revealed that currently SOFDI is working on ways with the Ministry of Cooperatives and Marketing to have a Soya Beans Cooperatives that will enhance its production in the Western Kenya region. This will also ease the marketing of the products that is currently a challenge to the farmers.

Another area that SOFDI has put a lot of effort is to ensure farmers are well equipped with vast knowledge and skills. To achieve this, it collaborate with various ministries such Livestock, Agriculture and Forestry among other stakeholders. The organization is also partnering with Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and other stakeholders to advice on various farm inputs that increased the production.

Goats project
Production of milk is not left to chance by SOFDI, the farmers have embraced goat keeping especially the Togenburg variety from Switzerland. The goats are currently purchased from Meru Breeding Center, Central region and given to farmers of Ebunagwe in Emuhaya district.

“The goats are rich in milk production which is good for children consumption due to nutrients. The goats also provide organic manure used in farming as most farmers barely afford fertilizer,” Mrs Frey revealed.

So far there are 5 groups of farmers rearing goats availed to them by SOFDI. The goat projects are meant to establish a breeding center for the Togenburg varieties that is highly demanded in Western Kenya. They were also awarded certificate by Mrs Frey during her tour of the farmers’ demo.

“The goats are very profitable in milk production. A goat goes for Shs. 25,000 to Shs.30, 000 depending with the market demand,” Mrs Frey revealed saying that in future farmers will no longer travel to Meru to purchase of goats.

Currently there are 16 goats in three groups-12 does and 4 bucks aiming to upgrade the local goats to increase milk production. There is further plan to establish 3 more breeding does in each breeding units in every districts.

Loans advanced to farmers
Farmers also have access to loans which is not in cash but farm inputs to enhance agricultural activities in the region. So far they have been loaned soya beans, millet, sorghum, tissue culture bananas, cassava and sweet potato’ vines all costing Shs. 118,280. The farmers are also given Shs 1,200 to pay monthly rent for their offices.

School programs
The organization also targets schools in partnership with the Ministry of Education in undertaking growing of soya beans, organic farming and agro-forestry to improve the environment conservation.

Under the school programs, the students are taken through organic farming courses among others to compliment school teachings through practical activities.

It is aimed at having young people’s audience to change their lives in and out of the schools. Mrs. Frey said currently the programs are carried in 7 schools. She said that 6 are in primary and secondary with one in Polytechnic College with hopes to expand the exercise.

SOFDI have also given cookies and solar drier to schools to train the students in various ways of preparing meals and plans to undertake lighting programs in various schools in Vihiga and Kakamega Counties will soon kick off. Another institution that has benefited from the program includes Tigoi Girls Secondary School with 750 students who have embraced organic farming, soya processing and farming of African vegetables.

“Kudos for the sacrifice of Mrs Frey in giving the disadvantaged children and community access to food, improved living condition and learning conditions,” said the farmers who have benefited from the SOFDI projects.

Water conservation and springs
However, construction of the springs, conservation of water and protection of the streams have also been the crucial flagship of SOFDI Founder in ensuring the availability of clean water, improved hygiene and reduction of water bone diseases which was rampant in the region.

A total of 147 water springs have been constructed in Emuhaya, Khwishero and Vihiga districts a move that has seen the availability of water to the community whose face are now bright because of the generosity from Mrs. Frey.

The springs are constructed along the water streams especially in the identified sites to conserve the water source. According to Simon Kikanga, who is in charge of the springs and Mrs. Frey the springs are only being constructed in areas identified by the local administrative such as Chiefs and Districts Commissioners who understands the areas well. They further stated that 360 sites were identified and SOFDI are yet to put in place more springs along the streams within the communities.

A spring is constructed at a cost of between Shs. 25,000 to 40,000 with community participation in mobilizing the available resources and offering of the unskilled labour which they duo said contributes to the success of the projects implementation.

Mrs Frey further revealed that the development activities is done in collaboration with area residents and other partners that oversaw implementation of the projects while local community mobilized resources such as ballast, sand and unskilled labour as part of sharing arrangement to enable them own the springs.

One of such springs is currently providing clean water for over 70 households and 600 pupils. This has reduced time that the community used to take before the construction of the springs.

“Over 200 people used to line up to fetch the untreated water for up to 2 hours. But this has since reduced drastically. With the springs in place, it take 20 litres of jerican 20 seconds to get filled up, meaning two people are able to fetch water in 2 minutes,” says the duo.

They said that the springs have also reduces chances of communities from contracting diseases such as bilharzia, typhoid and cholera as compared to those days that they were using untreated water. It has also given pupils enough time to study. This is because parents use to send them to fetch water from the streams, at times over a long walking distance making them skip classes.

Food Security
The organization has managed to improve food security in western region by about 60 % with over 600 people trained on various farming activities. This is due to the introduction of soya beans, indigenous vegetables with the community no longer purchasing but simply get from their farms both for sale and consumption.

“My family no longer spend money to buy vegetables from the market,” says one of the farmers adding that they harvest their produce for consumption and sell some to customers from other regions with some dried using solar drier for future use especially during the drought.

SOFDI have too ensured the availability of food provision by providing farmers with seeds of various crops such as bananas, cassava, millet, sorghum, soya beans and variety of vegetables such sukuma-wiki, kales and spinach.

However, after the harvest the organization buys seeds from farmers to distribute to other newly trained farmers. According to SOFDI Team Leader, Rodgers Namasaka, 30 farmers are trained monthly on indigenous vegetables among other crops that have increased food production in the region.

There are also additional traditional foods which have been embraced seriously by the organization to curb the usual food insecurity especially in areas that bears high poverty index. A total of 200 bananas suckers were given out to the farmers some even used in making wine. SOFDI work in collaboration with KARI to ensure farmers get the right seeds depending with their soil texture and additional required expertise.

Some of the traditional crops being promoted by Mrs. Frey include tissue cultured bananas, finger millet, sorghum, cassava and sweet potatoes with100kgs of sorghum, 10 sacks of potatoes vine and 60 kgs of millet with cassava and sweet potatoes distributed to farmers and are being planted on demo plot for multiplication before members’ plant in their fields.

Argo-forestry and environmental conservation
The non governmental organization is also promoting tree planting within the communities by engaging them and schools in tree nursery projects. In facilitating this, SOFDI provides farmers with agro- forestry kits such as seeds, wheelbarrows, jembes (Hoes) and poly tubes that enhanced the community involvement.

“So far more than 20,000 seedlings have been distributed to revamp the encroached hill of Ekwe that is over 24 hectors in the region,” said Mrs Frey adding that another 20,000 seedlings have been produced between the months of January and November, 2012 which are yet to be distributed to schools.

Another reforestation of Misango hill is also in progress by establishing Grevilla nurseries at Emukunzi polytechnic with 1500 seedlings and other 10 nurseries of different agro-forestry tree species. The organization has further set up a commercial tree nursery at Eshikwata farmers demo site to be used for reforestation of various encroached hills in the regions. They have also introduced more tree medicinal plants in various nurseries in most of the homesteads.

A total of 9 nine trees and fruits species have been set up in nurseries. This include Kei apples 42,316, Avocado 5,932, pawpaw 128, Loguards 432, Mangoes 543,Grevillia 5,318, Calliandra 14,890,Eucalyptus 32,089,Passion fruits and Markhamia lutea 2,345.The species are grouped according to the type, number of fruits trees nurseries established in various districts in a bid to conserve the environment.

However, the Founder revealed that SOFDI is dedicated to the reduction of suffering and working towards the ultimate elimination of extreme poverty and improve the lives of the community in the world’s poorest countries through education.

“We want activities that impact positively on the community through education, hygiene, food security, clean provision of water and health facilities,” said Mrs. Frey.

She said that the organization also engages the communities to participate, dialogue and address poor education outcomes in their districts. The involvement of communities has enabled residents to appreciate developments and embrace child protection initiatives.

This has seen improvement of education among the community as they say “education is power”. SOFDI is currently promoting learning activities through student sponsorships programs especially to the needy children.

However, she revealed that 4 students are in college undertaking organic farming courses at Diploma level with another one doing masters with hopes that more will join various institution. SOFDI also give room for internship programs to college students to enhance their field experience for 3 months with a monthly incentive of Shs. 3,000 for sustainability.

The move has drastically reduced criminal activities. This is according to one of the area chiefs due to youths being engaged since the inception of SOFDI development activities. Talk of Moses Ochieng’ who is currently undertaking soya beans farming and processing. He said before the coming of the organization he was idle, a thing he said forced youths to engage in various criminal activities.

“I am now able to earn money out of the farming to sustain myself and provide for my family,” Ochieng’ said.

The development activities supported by the organization have greatly improved the living standard of the communities with basic needs such as food, clothes and shelter among others. This is because they are now able to provide for their families with ease.

“When you compare the community before the inception of SOFDI and now there is 90% improvement in living standard than it used to be. This can easily be told by the community themselves,” said Mrs. Frey during her to various farmers demo’s day.

She said that people’s earning have doubled making them have money in their pockets. Food insecurity is no more worrying the community which is also blessed with rains. Health facilities is not left behind amongst the improved sectors due to reduction of water bone diseases that was rampant following usage of direct water fro the streams. Even the lives of HIV and AIDS patients have changed since they are busy tilling their farm making the relieved of the stigmatization.

Mrs. Frey further recommended the youth for embarking on agricultural activities contrary to the believes that farming practices was only left to old people of about 65 years old, a move that have engaged and increased their earnings.

She further urged the government to focus on agricultural activities to reduce cases of food insecurity. Mrs Frey further promised the communities that more development will soon be witnessed in future to change more lives. - Maurice Alal, Africa News