«JM Thamaga-Chitja March 2008 Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for degree: Doctor of Philosophy (Food Security), African Centre for Food ...»
101 Initial interaction between the researcher and the members of EFO indicated a need for organic production information decisions on crop choices. Two additional groups were included in the study to provide a comparison. Force Field Analyses were conducted with the groups to identify and prioritise organic production constraints.
The tool’s focus was to ensure that prioritised production constraints were solved.
The desired outputs are also the study’s sub-problems. Participatory focus group discussions were conducted to determine the need for and usefulness of desired model outputs.
Primary agro-ecological data was loaded onto an Excel spreadsheet for each study area. Mathematical calibrations and computations were used in the development of the decision support tool. Due to the trans-disciplinary nature of the study, a panel of experts verified the model data input, outputs and the approach of the study, which reduced information gaps and minimised errors. The tool’s user-interface was developed during participatory engagement with farmers. The final tool was presented to the farmers’ groups, who critiqued and provided suggestions for improvement. The first sub-problem investigated which crops could be grown, (based on climatic data) according to the decision support tool at the three study locations.
Minimum criteria for crop growth, which included agro-ecological area rainfall, photoperiod, the number of rainy days and crop minimum temperature requirements, were used to identify the potential crops. Four crops in Muden, including amadumbe, lemon, peach and mint, were deemed unsuitable due to their high water requirements and short rainy periods that were unable to sustain the crop cycle. Only amadumbe and peach were rejected by the model for the Centocow area. Amadumbe was rejected by the model in all three areas due to its high water requirement of an absolute minimum of 1000mm. However, evidence shows that amadumbe is grown widely in Mbumbulu. The rejection was based on a small difference (44mm) in the water requirement compared with the rainfall figures. This is evidence that the model’s basis of information may need to be broadened with a wider range of data.
The second sub-problem investigated whether the identified crops could be grown organically using manure as the only source of soil nutrition. Organic farming prohibits the use of agrochemicals (inorganic fertilisers, pesticides, etc). Therefore it 102 was important to establish what the risk of this factor was for smallholder farmers.
Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium nutrient removal norms for optimum growth were used to compare nutrient concentration in pen manure versus commercial fertiliser. As expected, commercial fertiliser had much higher concentrations of nutrients compared to pen manure. Due to the fact that pen manure is the main source of nutrients for smallholder farmers, they would require an impossibly large amount of pen manure to meet crop nutrient needs. Soils were already depleted of nutrients, which exacerbates the situation. Continued cultivation and introduction of new crops with different and/or higher nutrient needs is not advised without taking corrective strategies such as composting and EM to improve soil health. Therefore, organic production would be very restricted based on shortages of manure and extremely high volumes of manure required to meet basic crop nutritional needs.
The risk of disease onset was highest for organic farming during periods of high moisture (rainfall). However, farmers could not avoid farming during this period as they all depend largely on rainfall for irrigation. Farmers would therefore battle with disease control during this period. All three groups faced the added risk of losing crops due to diseases because they lacked knowledge and skills needed for natural disease control. As certified organic farmers, EFO does not have the option of using agrochemicals when the threat of disease is heightened. A lack of knowledge in natural pest and disease control is a serious added risk for EFO.
Although there was an instance of disagreement with regards to the fact that amadumbe can grow in Mbumbulu, farmers appreciated the tool. However this disagreement demonstrated that, the model was precise in providing answers through the use of single and absolute crop growth values as opposed to using a range of values. The disagreement on amadumbe also demonstrated the farmers understood that rainfall varied and was not absolute, demonstrating that farmers’ knowledge is just as important as scientific tools.
In addition to identified production-related constraints in the potential for organic production among smallholder farmers in the three groups studied, the commercialisation of smallholder organic farming is threatened by lack of: fencing;
adequate irrigation; knowledge and skills; trained and adequate extension services;
7.2 Conclusions Many traditional research studies with a component of marketable products are concluded at the product development stage. This study involved farmers in the identification and analysis of production constraints. The study went further to respond to the identified constraints by developing a practical tool. The tool was tested by the participants who were involved in its conceptualisation and validation.
Farmers found the tool useful.
It can be concluded that, although a number of agronomically-suitable crops grow in the study areas, organic production is restricted by manure shortages, lack of compost-making skills and soil depletion. Organic production of agronomicallysuitable crops is further threatened by an environment conducive to crop disease during the rainy seasons and non-production related constraints that are critical in providing an enabling environment for smallholder farming.
The participatory research process followed in this study included using science to extend ideas into practical tools, to use as informed by the intended users. The participatory research methodology involving the researcher, farmers and experts in a multidisciplinary study of this nature is critical for research that is aimed at providing practical solutions in development.
Recommendations related to development of the decision support tool include the use of a range of values instead of only absolute and mean crop growth values would be more appropriate so that different yield scenarios can be available to the user. Other factors that contribute to moisture levels could be included to predict disease occurrence subject to data availability. Recommendations for the improvement of the tool include full development of the user-interface into a proper field tool that
Ways to address the non-production related constraints to commercialisation of smallholder organic and conventional farming are required. The provision of essential resources, such as fencing, is recommended for all farmers. This could be achieved through current capital project funding aimed at smallholder farmers through joint projects with Departments of Agriculture and local Municipalities. The involvement of the private sector, such as commercial farmers, financial institutions, corporate social foundations, produce markets and retailers is important since the Government cannot perform this task alone. Organic farming is a knowledge intensive production system. Farmers require support with regard to production knowledge and continued updating of this knowledge when new crops are introduced and when pests and diseases are a threat. Appropriately trained extension personnel, plus knowledge and information-sharing with other smallholder farmers are important elements that can be facilitated at a local level.
The growth of organic farming in South Africa and in Africa requires intensive training to capacitate farmers’ new production knowledge that replaces synthetic input driven agriculture. Information gathering and building on local knowledge systems is important for productivity. Information sharing could be linked to innovative rural information technology centres such as those used in rural India. Such centres can house the study’s model coupled with other relevant information needs that rural communities need. South Africa has multipurpose centres in rural communities which can be used for this purpose.
The lack of policy on organic farming has far-reaching effects locally and internationally (e.g. export) for South Africans and the organic farming industry.
Locally, established policy can facilitate organic farming training and extension support to provide the critical skills-base required. The lack of a conducive policy environment in South Africa is a major hindrance for aspirant new smallholder farmers who want to enter certified organic farming and for established commercial
Recommendations for future research include a comparative study between organic farming and conventional farming merits (including economical viability) in the context of the current smallholder farming situation in South Africa is critical. Such a study can inform policy related to advocacy and promotion of each production system. In addition, investigation into and documentation of organic farming knowledge (production, soil health improvement and processing) in South Africa, to establish what is known so that improvements can be based on this information. The impact of organic farming on local rural economies versus conventional farming is worth further investigation. Once the merits of each system are ascertained, further research is required to establish ways of improving local organic food demand, while maintaining an enabling environment for those interested in exporting. Due to the fact that organic farming is a niche market, efforts to enter into this industry should be supported by all relevant stakeholders, such as government, financial institutions, researchers, retailers and media. Existing programmes for smallholder farmers, such as those housed by the Land Bank and Khula Enterprise, need to be more accessible to smallholder farmers. However, external support by government and private sector partners should be carefully planned to include farmer empowerment to aid future sustainability of assisted farmers.
Future improvement of the tool may include an adaptation of the tool to factor in conventional crop nutrition elements. Some work in this regard has already been done in the thesis, although the decision support tool is not developed to provide conventional nutrition output. The study has created a table that compares the strength of commercial fertiliser and manure. Further development of the tool could also include advice on optimal combinations of manure and commercial fertiliser, depending on farmers manure volumes and crop choices.
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