«JM Thamaga-Chitja March 2008 Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for degree: Doctor of Philosophy (Food Security), African Centre for Food ...»
Translation of the disease names into indigenous languages would require the assistance of extension officers or through the use of a professional translator. A production manual with coloured photographs showing images of the diseases, to assist farmers in recognising these diseases and methods of disease controlhow to control them, would be of great assistance. An extension officer can play an important role in this regard. An extension officer is a crucial link for farmers, as is the use of the decision support tool. The Centocow and Muden groups reported a lack of extension support and inappropriate extension, respectively. Extension services for the Centocow area were poor. The Centocow farmers reported in section 6.1.1 that they had not been visited by a Government extension officer for four years and they did not know where to turn to for help to improve their resources. Although the Muden farmers were not deprived of an extension officer, he was not trained in organic production and could not assist them effectively in adopting organic production. A lack of knowledge can halt the development of organic production farming. Farmers need a thorough understanding of the agro-ecology and comprehensive knowledge of the farming system (Scialabba, 2007) to devise effective management plans for crop diseases and soil nutrition. All farmers reported (section 6.1.1) that their lack of knowledge in these areas was a risk.
Farmers verified the usefulness of the monthly disease risk information in production planning. They stressed that knowing when to avoid risk with regards to planting certain crops was indeed useful. The farmers also verified whether the moisture categories (low, medium and high) matched what they already knew about certain diseases. It was difficult for them to match the moisture categories to exact millimetres of rain; instead they used ‘little’, ‘enough’ and ‘much’ rain as broad categories. All farmers agreed that there was much rain in the summer months and that December and January were months of high rainfall.
Lack of fencing is a serious threat to production and is presented in Table 6.9, along with other risks identified through the constraints based on the FFA analysis and group discussion during the study. Crop damage and losses can be high when livestock have access to farm fields. This may impact negatively on food insecure and poverty-stricken households. Households trying to start businesses through farming are at risk if effective fencing is lacking.
The lack of irrigation limits the choice of crops that can be planted due to a deficit in water requirements. Crops yields are also negatively affected by poor water availability. Poor irrigation infrastructure, or lack of irrigation infrastructure, is detrimental to production and may discourage participation among members, as stated by the Muden farmers.
Access to finances is a key constraint identified by all of the farmers. Among other roles, financial assistance may solve the fencing problem. However, due to the low levels of education and geographical location of participating groups, accessing 96 finances for smallholder farming is difficult. In the case of EFO, who received some funding when they started (Modi, 2004), external guidance from a university resulted in EFO receiving financial assistance. Furthermore, Gadzikwa et al (2006), in their study, revealed that EFO’s future sustainability is dependent on continued external support for fully subsidised information, transport, fencing and certification services.
This level of external support will be difficult to maintain and EFO members need to be able to provide these resources themselves for sustainability. It is therefore not surprising that Muden and Centocow are not certified organic producers, despite practising some elements organic farming for years, due to the lack of the external support.
A poor policy environment can arguably be said to be the main contributor to most problems identified. The lack of legislation addressing organic farming in South Africa exposes the industry to several problems, including slowing organic industry growth, opening up the way for farmers to be overcharged by private overseas certifying companies; failure to promote the development of local organic farming standards; and, allows for abuse of farmers due to the non-existence of legal protection for wronged farmers. The lack of an organic farming policy has macro level impacts that affect extension education, country training needs and local and export market facilitation. The farmers in Mbumbulu reported (section 6.1) that certification costs were high and they are concerned about annual inspection costs.
The high cost of certification can be attributed to the lack of organic farming policy and legislation in South Africa, which has allowed private companies to charge unregulated fees driven by profit.
6.5 Farmer critique of the decision support tool
Farmers were critical partners in the study. It was, therefore, important to present the farmers’ critique, opinions and feel of the decision support tool. All farmer groups welcomed the idea of having a list of crops that match their climatic conditions to consider for organic production. All expressed a view that the list will provide new choices and ideas about crops they did not know were compatible with their environments and/or had a market demand. The farmers wanted to know why some crops were rejected by the decision support tool. In the case where a crop was 97 rejected by the model, when farmers knew from experience that it was compatible, there was disbelief and mistrust of the ‘computer’. However, promises by the researcher to investigate further were welcomed. The Centocow farmers also said that the model affirmed what they already knew about which crops were agreeable but they were surprised that other crops were also considered agreeable. For example, Centocow farmers were pleased that the plants they currently grew are listed by the model but were surprised that fruit trees (which were never considered) were listed by the model (Appendix D, E and F).
6.5.1 How useful do the farmers consider the model to be as a decision-making tool?
With the exception of a few highly-educated farmers in Mbumbulu, all farmers felt that they would not be able to use the model or to read the outputs due to their low levels of education and poor knowledge of the English language. The farmers suggested that the model should be translated into isiZulu to make it more accessible to them. However, the farmers conceded that they would still need the knowledge of an extension officer to help them acquire some of the prerequisite information to enter into the user interface and receive the outputs. They would also need the extension officer to show them how to use the model. In Muden, the extension officer, who was part of this study, agreed that indeed the farmers would need help, especially with regard to the four initial requirements for receiving the output. It is encouraging that extension officers have access to the Bioresources Database from which they can obtain the required inputs.
The farmers groups verified that they were able to calculate the length of the rainy season by counting the months during which it rains but not the annual rainfall in millimetres, with the exception of one farmer in Mbumbulu who has a rain gauge on her farm. They also stated that they did not know the minimum temperatures of their area and the crop photoperiods, making the role of an extension officer critical when using the decision support tool.
98 The farmers agreed that it was important to know the manure requirements of each crop for organic production as indicated by the third model output. All groups expressed disbelief at the very high number of wheelbarrow loads of manure required.
There was consensus that, based on the manure indications, farmers could not farm organically on a sustainable basis using their current soil nutrition practices. All farmers emphasised the need for compost making skills. The Centocow farmers expressed the view that there was a clear need to continue to use agrochemicals for better yields since they did not have enough animals to meet the manure requirements.
However, they stated that commercial fertilisers were expensive so the need for compost making know-how was key to improving soil nutrition. The three groups said it was important to know when to watch out for diseases, but a dilemma was that the diseases were most prevalent during the rainy season, which is also planting time.
All groups agreed that the lack of know-how on natural pest and disease control was a serious constraint and threat to organic farming. If this know-how was improved, they would feel less at risk.
The Mbumbulu (EFO) farmers expressed the most disbelief when shown that, according to the model, amadumbe was not suitable for organic production. They said that they have always grown amadumbe without supplemented irrigation and had a good harvest. The researcher explained that she would go back and investigate why amadumbe was rejected based on inadequate rainfall. One farmer stated that she has a rain gauge on her farm and was well aware that the rainfall in Mbumbulu was more than 1000mm per annum. She also stressed that as she was born in Mbumbulu, she knew without a doubt that the rain was adequate for amadumbe as it always has been.
Although the disparity between the two criteria was small (44mm) and may not make a significant difference, this raises the issue of the uniformity and credibility of sources of information versus farmer knowledge. Clearly, farmers (in this case) know better and should not be discounted in research as recipients of an outsider’s knowledge but need to be embraced more as research partners.
The farmers in Muden and Centocow did not oppose the model’s rejection of peach since they said that orchard farming was not common in their area. All groups were most vocal with regard to the crops that were rejected and less vocal about those that were indicated as suitable. Nevertheless, all groups said that it was useful to have a 99 list that could be used as a guide to provide possibilities rather than planting only what was common. This may provide new opportunities and new markets for farmers provided that the required support is available. Farmers were most intrigued by the suitability of uncommon crops, such as herbs. All of the farmers groups said that the provision of supplementary irrigation would make the list of suitable crops even longer. They all placed great emphasis on irrigation as a key factor in improving the natural suitability of an area. The farmers in Mbumbulu further stated that they farmed only the amadumbe, sweetpotato and potatoes as these crops have adapted to rain-fed agriculture and seemed to do well. An introduction of new crops would demand supplementary irrigation and would mean new challenges in terms of agronomic knowledge, including crop rotation, natural disease and pest control mechanisms.
All three groups indicated strongly that they faced a shortage of animals and were doubtful that they would meet the manure requirements indicated by the model. Even if the farmers had enough animals to produce the manure, it was stated earlier that they would face limitations regarding how much manure could be applied. In certified organic farming, manure usage must be controlled due to possible problems with excess nitrogen (European Union Organic Standards, 2004). This limitation poses an important element for smallholder farmers to consider in organic farming.
Farmers who are interested in certified organic farming are therefore compelled to have compost-making skills, ensuring permitted fertiliser inputs, which include plant material.
7.1 Summary Despite the success of conventional farming, there is evidence that conventional agriculture has been detrimental to the environment and there is a need to find more sustainable ways of farming. One of the systems viewed as environmentally sustainable is organic farming which has had some success in other parts of the world.
Organic farming is also often promoted as a suitable farming system for smallholder farmers in Africa for cultural factors, similarities in production, enhancing indigenous knowledge systems and profit opportunities. Despite the success of organic farming in other parts of the world, it is not known if the same success and sustainability can be experienced in the context of smallholder farming in South Africa. Given the serious shortage and requirements of manure in South Africa for smallholder farmers, technologies such as composting and essential microorganisms (EM) are possible solutions that should be investigated for the current situation.
There are many uncertainties with regard to production techniques, choices of crops, pest and disease control and markets that make decision-making in organic production difficult for smallholder farmers. Although there is great value in comparing organic and conventional productions for rural farmers in developing countries to establish the merits of each production system, this was not within the scope of this study. This study focused on evaluating the potential for organic production based on agroecological suitability and nutritional needs through the development of a decision support tool that would assist farmers to address the following sub-problems and they
Sub-problem 1 What crops can be grown organically in the three chosen areas based on climatic data?
Sub-problem 2 Do farmers concur that these are the most suitable potential organic crops?
Sub-problem 3 How useful do the farmers find the decision making tool?
Sub-problem 4 What constraints threaten commercial production of the identified crops for these farmers?