Misconception Number 37: Organic agriculture is labor intensive, which means that an increased burden is placed on families affected by HIV/AIDS or war in developing countries when they practice organic agriculture.
Summary of Counter-Arguments:
Details of Counter-Arguments:
It is true that Organic Agriculture is often more labor intensive than conventional agriculture. For instance, Organic Agriculture encourages the maintenance of soil fertility through methods (such as compost and manure application and anti-soil erosion landscaping) that are labor intensive. In developing countries, these practices are generally performed by hand or with limited technologies, which imply the availability of an adequate workforce. However, in many areas of the world, land and capital (rather than labor) are the limiting factors (except in the peak labor periods of the seasons, but these generally correspond to periods of ploughing and harvesting, which require labor regardless of whether the crops are conventional or organic). In most developing countries labor tends to be cheaper than chemical inputs (such as fertilizers and pesticides), which is one reason why a switch to organic farming in developing countries is typically a profitable option. A labor intensive agricultural system, when it creates surplus income, which is the case for Organic Agriculture, helps generate both employment and income opportunities for rural populations and help control massive emigration towards urban centers. Increased income helps AIDS-affected populations purchase medicine and, thereby, improve their health condition.
There are a range of labor saving technologies and methods that can be applied in Organic Agriculture in developing countries. These include the use of cover crops to control weeds and protect against soil erosion, the use of direct mulching with crop residues, and reduced tillage. For example, if properly managed, green manure/cover crops can produce from 50 to 140 T/Ha (green weight) of organic matter with limited work (i.e., no transporting of material and no layering or turning over of compost heaps). In fact, in some cases, the green manure/cover crops' success in controlling weeds results in a decrease in net labor costs. In addition, the above mentioned practices often represent an investment in the land that leads to higher productivity in subsequent years. This means that higher yields can be obtained as a result of these practices and the improved incomes can be used to compensate the additional labor by helping the family pay farm workers.
Finally, Organic Agriculture has several attributes that benefit HIV/AIDS-affected populations. Nutrition is key to strengthening and maintaining a healthy human immune system in the face of infection with HIV to delay the onset of AIDS, provide the adequate foundation for any pharmaceutical treatment and reduce its negative side-effects, and generally enable maintenance of an active life. Organic farming is specifically designed to produce quality foodstuffs and diversified organic farming systems are the best basis for balanced nutrition. Organic foods contain more nutritious properties and fewer health-damaging properties than conventional food (see counter-arguments to misconception number 2). Organic Agriculture also preserves water resources from nutrient leaching. In conventional agriculture, pesticides, fertilizers, and maladapted soil and nutrient management practices are main factors that contribute to drinking water contamination, which, in turn, is a major cause of infection and disease (to which immunodeficient people are particularly vulnerable. The misuse of antibiotics in livestock rearing in conventional agriculture is another problem, as it leads to increased antibiotic resistance in humans, which reduces the effectiveness of antibiotics used to treat infectious diseases. Organic Agriculture prevents agricultural workers from handling pesticide and also prevents subsequent pesticides exposure and poisoning that exacerbate the already weakened immune systems of farm workers who are living with HIV or AIDS.
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