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Opinion

Biodiversity The Essential Ingredient For Sustainable Agriculture

John R Ridley

John Ridley highlights the importance of biodiversity, not just in farming but as an important variant for good economics.

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arthworms, bees, wild barley, orchids, mangrove swamps, tropical rain forests and human beings may seem unconnected, but they represent the diverse and fragile nature of life on earth in which the survival of every species is interconnected. About one-third of the food we eat can be attributed, directly or indirectly, to honeybee pollination, yet across the world honeybees are dying in record numbers and no one knows why. Any significant loss of the bee population will have an effect on ours and other life on Earth. Riffa Views International School, through it’s pioneering teaching of biodiversity, gardening and the health benefits of eating fresh vegetables, are helping the children of Bahrain understand the issue and the challenges we all face. Ali Al-Khalifa of Organic Foods and Café in Seef Mall is an advocate of

70 | Bahrain Confidential | February 2013

the programme, he introduced me to Sandra Carden, the teacher behind the initiative. Sandra’s aim is to make gardening a part of the curriculum and not just an extracurricula activity. “Children learn a respect for nature by seeing, touching and working with nature; the largely organic gardens have become part of our classroom,” she told me. As the children quickly discover, there is an unexpected benefit to participating in the lessons - their “classroom is edible” - and nothing can match the taste of organic fruit and vegetables, prepared and eaten only minutes after picking. The long term health benefits of fresh organic fruit and vegetables

are part of the teaching. “But how,” Sandra asks, “can you eat healthily if you don’t know how to grow food?” The soil in Bahrain is generally poor and needs to be conditioned and cared for. Plants are grown in mounds, allowing salt from the “de-salinated” water and alkaline soil to collect in trenches below the vegetables. Compost made from garden and kitchen waste is mixed with the soil and additional nutrients come from a fertiliser made by the children, using animal manure, sugar and neem leaves mixed with water. Whilst farming depends on biodiversity, intensive farming is a major contributor to its loss. Different crop varieties can withstand diseases and climatic conditions, so we should be growing as wide range as possible for our own food security. The intensification of farming (and maybe our taste palettes) has led to the decline in crop varieties, wild plants and animal species. Ali gave an example of how 100 years ago there were 350 varieties

“The soil in Bahrain is generally poor and needs to be conditioned and cared for.” of grapes, today there are only 20 to 30 and only three are mass produced. Sandra teaches the importance of insects, aphids, worms and soil microorganisms, and how they play a critical part in maintaining soil fertility; their presence indicates good, healthy soil. Many big commercial gardens are likely to be largely free from insects - either the soil is polluted with insecticide, or it is dead and the only nutrients come from chemical fertilisers. In the Riffa Views International School gardens, natural deterrents, such as herbs planted alongside the crops, control insects, but they are allowed to thrive in the gardens; birds in turn feed on them, and so the cycle of life continues. Diverse, organic farming is not just about preserving wild birds or flowers, nurturing the land is about ensuring food security and hard, sustainable, economics too

Visit www.ghostwriting.me to read the full version of this article and send me your feedback. John Ridley is a Bahrain based journalist, broadcaster and writer, he can be contacted at john@johnridley.nu or john@ghostwriting.me

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