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«JM Thamaga-Chitja March 2008 Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for degree: Doctor of Philosophy (Food Security), African Centre for Food ...»

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JM Thamaga-Chitja

March 2008

Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for degree:

Doctor of Philosophy (Food Security), African Centre for Food Security, School of Agricultural Sciences and Agribusiness, Faculty of Science and Agriculture, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.


Organic farming is increasingly viewed as a plausible production system for sustainable agriculture for smallholder farmers. However, there is not enough scientific evidence and knowledge to advocate certified organic farming for African smallholder farmers who face several constraints related to production, storage and marketing. The potential for organic farming for smallholder farmers, faced by these constraints, is not clearly defined. As a result, this study set out to evaluate the production potential of organic agriculture among three smallholder farmer groups.

Production questions were used to investigate and evaluate the potential for organic agriculture among three smallholder farmer groups and constituted the following sub-


• What crops can be grown in the three study areas, based on climatic data ?

• Do farmers concur that these are the most suitable potential organic crops?

• How useful do the farmers find the decision making tool?

• What constraints threaten commercial production of the identified crops for these farmers?

Participatory methodologies that included the use of Force Field Analysis, discussions and workshops were used to identify organic production constraints related to production decisions. Farmers faced constraints related to finance, capacity enhancement, technical knowledge, fencing, irrigation, and a lack of, or inappropriately trained extension officers. As a response to identified production constraints, a decision support tool was developed.

Natural resource data, including climatic and agronomic data, was used to create a specially calibrated Microsoft Excel spreadsheet interface that functions as an empirical organic production decision support tool for organic and aspirant organic smallholder farmers, by providing answers for farmer-prioritised production constraints. A list of potential crops for each of the three study areas was subjected to a series of checks against suitability for climate and disease conditions and nutrient requirements.

A limited supply of manure, to meet the enormously high requirements for organic production in the poor soils of these areas, is the major constraint to exclusive organic ii production and renders certified organic production difficult and unsustainable.

Farmers disagreed with some of the crops on the list, arguing that familiar crops were rejected by the model, but they were excited by the prospects for production of “new” crops suggested as suitable by the decision support tool, but not yet grown in the study areas. End users welcomed the model and expressed the opinion that it would be useful in decision making related to organic crop production.

The study concludes that, although a number of agronomically-suitable crops can grow in the study areas, organic production is restricted by rather high manure requirements, lack of compost making skills, lack of knowledge on natural pest and disease control and poorly nourished soils, leading to poor yields. The rainy season creates a disease-supporting environment, rendering organic farming risky for rain-fed smallholder farming. Risk in certified organic farming for smallholders was further exacerbated by a hardly inconducive policy environment that low literacy levels exist amongst farmers.

This study is innovative for three reasons. First, farmers were true participants and drivers of the research. Second, trans-disciplinary expert seminars were attended by experts from different disciplines who critiqued the conceptualisation, design, and implementation of the study. Third, the development of a practical decision-support tool shows innovation towards solving complex smallholder farmers decisions.

If organic farming is to be promoted, commitment by government is needed in order to establish policy and legislation on organic farming to direct and govern training, information provision and marketing. Intensive training and knowledge building of organic production for smallholder farmers and extension officers is critical. There are also agroecological risks associated with organic farming for smallholder farmers.

Recommendations for future research include comparison between organic agriculture and conventional agriculture, where sustainability of certified organic farming and economic viability can be conducted in the South African context. Improvement of the decision making tool will require involving information technology specialists so that the tool can be installed in community centres, extension offices and other accessible places for farmers and others.



I, Joyce Magoshi Chitja, declare that:

• The research reported in this thesis, except where otherwise indicated, is my original research.

• This thesis has not been submitted for any degree or examination at any other university.

• This thesis does not contain other persons’ data, pictures, graphs or other information, unless specifically acknowledged as being sourced from those persons.

• This thesis does not contain other authors’ writing, unless specifically acknowledged as being sourced from them. Where other written sources have

been quoted, then:

• their words have been re-written but the general information attributed to them has been referenced;

• where their exact words have been used, their writing has been placed inside quotation marks and referenced.

• This thesis does not contain text, graphics or tables copied and pasted from the Internet, unless specifically acknowledged, and the source being detailed in the thesis and in the references sections.

As Research Supervisor, I agree to submission of this dissertation/thesis for examination.

Signed: ……………………………………… Date ………………………… Name: Prof Sheryl Hendriks As Research Co-supervisor, I agree to submission of this dissertation/thesis for examination.

Signed: ……………………………………… Date ………………………… Name: Prof Ignatius Nsahlai As Research Co-supervisor, I agree to submission of this dissertation/thesis for examination.

Signed: ……………………………………… Date ………………………… Name : Dr Phillip Copeland

–  –  –

Acknowledgement is gratefully expressed for the assistance and cooperation of the following people who made this work possible.

First to God’s grace, provision of direction, wisdom (James 1:5) and courage to complete this thesis.

Prof Sheryl L Hendriks, for supervision and her contribution to my development.

Thank you for your continued belief in my abilities, inspiration, encouragement and mentorship.

Prof Ignatius Nsahlai for supervision. A rare, talented person with a special gift of imparting knowledge to others. Someone with great intellect and yet so humble. I have been privileged to have had the opportunity to learn from and be guided by you.

Thank you for your patience.

Dr Philip Copeland, for his co-supervision, critical review of the study and valuable comments.

The following experts from various Agricultural and related Disciplines at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs (DoAE) and Institute of Fruit Technology (INFRUTEC) for providing

information and attending seminars during the study development:

Dr Willem J Conradie, Senior Researcher, Horticulture, Institute of Fruit Technology, Western Cape.

Prof Jeffrey Hughes, Professor, Soil Science, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Dr Alan Manson, Specialist Researcher, Soil Fertility and Analytical Services Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs.

Prof Rob Melis, Professor, Plant Breeding & Smallholder Farm Research, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Prof Walter de Milliano, Honourable Associate Professor, Plant Pathology and Plant Breeding, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

–  –  –

The National Research Foundation’s (NRF) Thuthuka Programme (Gun no: 2069829) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal Research Office for the generous financial resources, without which this research would have not been possible.

Ms Tracey Douglas Greyvenstein of the University of KwaZulu-Natal Research Office (Thuthuka Programme), thank you for your support beyond the call of duty.

The participating farmers from Mbumbulu (Ezemvelo Farmer’s Organisation), Muden (Kwa Nxamalala) and Centocow (Izwi la Madoda).

Mrs Quiraishia Abdula-Merzouk for first draft editing and moral support.

Mrs Esther Mungai for being a great lecturer replacement, for her care, prayers and sisterly support.

Mrs Anusha Maikoo for printing and caring support.

Mr Sam Tshehla, for your brotherly support and prayers.

Mrs Nomfundo Molefe for being my spiritual and human development mentor.

Mrs Collete Solomons and Mama for spiritual support and love.

Mr Denvor Naidoo and Ms Nonku Mthembu for being responsible lecturer replacements and assistants.

Thanks to my parents, Nape le Pheladi and siblings for their constant prayers, encouragement and support.

To my daughter Botheo, thank you for your love and support despite your tender age.

Lastly, to my wonderful husband, Macdonald Albert Lenka Chitja, for his unwavering support, belief in me, encouragement and taking on so much for me to complete this work. This is as much your achievement as it is mine. Thank you for being a true life partner.

–  –  –

AIDS Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome AFRISCO African Farms Certified Organic BDOCA Bio-Dynamic and Organic Certification Authority DfID Department for International Development DoA Department of Agriculture DAEA Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs EFO Ezemvelo Farmers’ Organisation EM Effective micro organisms EPOPA Export Promotion of Organic Products from Africa EU European Union FAO Food and Agriculture Organisation FFA Force Field Analysis H High HIV Human Immunodeficiency Virus IDP Integrated Development Plan IFOAM International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement IFRUTEC Institute of Fruit Technology K Potassium L Low M Medium N Nitrogen NGO Non-Governmental Organisation NPK Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium OFRF Organic Farming Research Foundation P Phosphorous TA Traditional Authority UKZN University of KwaZulu-Natal USDA United States Department of Agriculture

–  –  –

1.1 The rationale for the study Organic farming has received much attention as a sustainable agricultural production method in recent years (Hellin & Higman, 2002). For many reasons, organic farming is often promoted as an opportunity for smallholder farmers in Africa, at subsistence and commercial levels (Walaga, 2002), including environmental sustainability, cultural factors, similarities in production, enhancing indigenous knowledge systems and profit opportunities. Despite the success of conventional farming in increasing yields in many parts of the world, conventional agriculture has also been detrimental to the environment through the accumulation of agrochemicals and increased energy costs related to manufacturing and transportation of agrochemicals (Madër et al, 2002). There is a need to find more sustainable ways of farming. Organic farming offers an alternative method that takes the above functions into consideration. Despite the success in productivity of organic farming in other parts of the world (Pimentel, 2005), it is not known if the same success and sustainability can be replicated by smallholder farmers in South Africa.

South African smallholder farmers typically live in poor communities (Aliber et al, 2006). Certified organic products often fetch a premium price in the marketplace (Oberholzer et al, 2005) and may be beneficial to smallholders who enter into commercial production. Smallholder farmers in Africa are faced with a complex mix of constraints, including poor technical knowledge of organic agriculture (Juma, 2007). Although organic farming is promoted as a suitable production system for smallholder farmers (Walaga, 2002), there is a lack of adequate information to support the view that certified organic production is the best production method and a better income earner for smallholder farmers in developing countries. Critical issues, such as policy and markets for organic products, are often absent in developing countries. South Africa like most developing countries lacks policy mechanisms and adequate marketing channels for organic produce. Although, there are some formal marketing channels for organic produce such as Woolworths, Pick and Pay and Checkers supermarkets and direct farmer markets which are discussed later, South Africa does not have legislated organic standards to govern the industry although draft

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Farmer decision-making is complex and is influenced by on- and off-farm factors (FAO, 2006). Farmers do not make decisions in a linear way but rather make multiple decisions simultaneously (FAO, 2006). The need to understand crucial farm management decision-making is important for appropriate extension and design of development strategies to assist in reducing farmer risks, especially when considering adopting and/or scaling up commercial organic agriculture.

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