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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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Today’s organic production systems are similar to many traditional African production systems (Vezi, 2007; Makhanya, 2006). Some smallholder farmers already have this knowledge and in essence have been practicing organic-based farming through traditional systems. In cases where this knowledge is lost due to the influence of chemical-based agriculture, retraining of farmers and extension officers 8 in terms of knowledge and skills for organic agriculture is important for organic agriculture to be successful in Africa (Juma, 2007).

Furthermore, many African smallholder farmers typically have access to land that has not been exposed to intensive chemical agriculture. Such farmers could gain certification faster than the three-year conversion period recommended by the European Union (Biodynamic & Organic Certification Authority (BDOCA), 2006).

Organic certification may afford small farmers the opportunity to market their products in the fast growing domestic and international organic markets.

2.2.2 Expanding niche markets for organic produce

The organic food market is one of the fastest growing markets in the developed world (Makatouni, 2001). Some wine farmers in South Africa reported an increase of 400% in organic wine sales in 2003 (Business Day, 2005). In Europe, North America, Australia and Japan organic food sales exceeded $114.5 billion per annum in 1999 (Makatouni, 2001). Many developed countries experience annual growth rates of 20for organic foods (Makatouni, 2001). To ensure food security through organic agriculture for the northern countries, southern countries should make an effort to develop local organic markets (Willer & Yuseefi, 2007).

Smallholder farmers in Africa have an opportunity to produce premium-priced products in organic markets and obtain higher revenue than that typically gained from conventional agricultural markets. Nakashini (2003) reports that Chinese farmers are taking up opportunities offered by emerging organic markets where sales were projected to reach US$20 billion per annum by 2005. Chinese sales were projected to exceed the United States sales by US$7 billion in 2005.

Barret et al reported 2002 that the demand for organic foods in the United Kingdom was skyrocketing, but organic farmers in the United Kingdom were not able to meet the rapidly growing demand. Up to 75% of organic food in the United Kingdom was imported in 2001, primarily from the southern hemisphere (Rigby et al, 2001). The growing demand in the United Kingdom is attributable to government support for the 9 organic farming sector (Rigby et al, 2001). In the United Kingdom, the conversion to organic farming was supported by the government’s Organic Conversion Information Service and the Organic Advisory service (Rigby et al, 2001). In the United States, consumer demand for organically produced goods has risen sharply for over a decade, providing market incentives for farmers across a broad range of products (Green & Kreemen, 2003). In the United States, the Organic Farming Scheme provides a financial incentive in the form of lump sum payments over three years for converting to organic farming (Rigby et al, 2001).

A few studies have attempted to examine consumer perceptions, attitudes and reasons for buying or not buying organic foods (Makatouni, 2001). One study conducted in Reading, the United Kingdom, showed that people bought organic foods for health, environmental and ethical reasons (Makatouni, 2001). Regarding perceptions of organic farmers, Rigby et al (2001), found that the main motivating factors for converting to organic farming in the United States were concerns about family health;

farming practices (e.g. soil degradation); lifestyle choices (ideological, philosophical and religious); and higher income due the premium prices organic products fetch in the marketplace.

Some South African supermarket chains already stock a range of organic produce.

Woolworths began marketing small supplies of organic fresh produce, including fresh vegetables and herbs, and has now expanded its organic range to animal products such as milk, milk products and meat (Ferreira, 2004). A growing number of South African consumers are also adopting global organic food trends. Woolworths has experienced consistent growth in the demand for organic food. In 2004, Woolworths reported a 50% year-on-year growth in organic food sales (Business Day, 2005).

Another retailer, Pick ’n Pay predicted a total sales growth of 5% in the short term, 10% in the medium term and up to 20% in the long term (Business Times, 2004).

Although the growth in South Africa has been good, there is a view that South Africa is five years behind organic trends in the United Kingdom (Business Day, 2005). The reasons reported for low organic sales in other countries include the high prices, lack of adequate information and inadequate supply (Makatouni, 2001). Why South African consumers are increasingly motivated to buy organic foods is not clear and 10 should be investigated to better understand the opportunities for smallholder production in South Africa.

The current commercial boom in organic agriculture demands a ‘new African farmer’ requiring a supportive environment including technical, market and financial assistance to ensure economic benefits from new consumer trends (Hellin & Higman, 2002). It seems plausible that with the appropriate supportive environment, organic agriculture could contribute to economic development for smallholder farmers (Anon, 2003).





2.3 Opportunities and constraints for African farmers

Most African production systems are similar to organic production systems, making conversion and organic certification simpler (Jackson, 2006). Historically, African farmers have had limited access to finance to expand production or invest in substantial external inputs (Matungul, 2002). As a result, many African farmers have not practiced intensive chemical agriculture involving high use of chemicals. With the required knowledge and investment in building on existing knowledge, African farmers may be well-placed to meet organic production requirements. African farmers enjoy more favourable climatic conditions, conducive for longer production cycles, than farmers in the northern hemisphere. Organic farming is one of the ways in which farmers can earn higher incomes from organic premiums, plus the opportunity to earn foreign income through exports (OFRF, 2001). In striving to meet northern hemisphere demands for organic food, African farmers could also improve their livelihoods if they are able to meet certification requirements and gain access to lucrative export markets.

Historically, smallholder agriculture has not enjoyed opportunities to participate in the production of high value crops for commercial purposes due to limited resources and institutional constraints (Ortmann & Machete, 2003). The South African government’s efforts to address these constraints are likely to forge opportunities for smallholder farmers to participate in the production of high value crops by strengthening the linkages between smallholder farmers and commercial farmers, and by stimulating non-farm linkages (Ortmann & Machete, 2003). Although there are

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Table 2.1: Challenges facing African farmers with regard to successful organic farming (Quansah, 2003)

• Access to land and financial support

• Access to water and resources, especially for smallholder farmers

• Lack of awareness of niche markets for organic produce

• Problems in accessing local, national and international markets

• Dependence on standards set by northern hemisphere countries, which limit the development of other countries’ standards

• Lack of technical skills among farmers for organic production

• Lack of appropriate extension services for organic production systems.

The following section discusses some key constraints, including labour demands (especially in the face of HIV/AIDS); organic management knowledge; and, access to markets and certification. These constraints relate to the access dimension of food security. Due to resource limitations, linked mostly to the dualist nature of South African smallholder agriculture, most constraints experienced by smallholder farmers fall into this dimension (Aliber et al, 2006).

2.3.1 Labour demands

The demands for labour are increased in organic farming due to the exclusion of agrochemicals and the requirement of working with natural processes such as physical methods of controlling pests and diseases, which necessitates a hands-on approach to managing biodiversity in time (crop rotations) and space (mixed cropping) to prevent the onset of disease (Scialabba, 2007). Once disease and pests are present, control is even more demanding in terms of manpower. A study conducted in the southern province of Zambia by Kalinda et al (2000), indicated that labour and livestock were important elements for organic production. Labour demands limit the expansion of production. Kalinda et al (2000) found that in southern Zambia, having a number of

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Rigby et al (2001) have shown that farmers who convert to organic farming usually have smaller farms, possibly due to the high labour requirements of organic farming.

Other case studies have found that the average farm size for smallholder farmers in South Africa is generally two hectares (Thamaga, 2001; Naledzani, 1988), which is probably quite manageable in terms of organics production.

Despite the demands of labour on smallholder organic farming, there is a positive element to this demand. Where unemployment is high (as is the case in South Africa and other African countries), a well resourced organic farming sector can provide a large number of low-skilled people with employment thus contributing to the reduction of unemployment and improving the local economy.

2.3.2 Required organic knowledge and skills

Organic farming is a knowledge-intensive approach to agriculture (Sligh & Christman, 2007). On the other hand, input-based agriculture in conventional systems relies largely on the use of prepared agrochemicals to solve problems. Organic farming demands an in-depth understanding of farms (as entire systems) and farmers (as capable experimenters and innovators with a wealth of experience and knowledge) (von der Weid, 2007). In South Africa, participants in smallholder agriculture tend to be people with no opportunity of moving to the preferred cash-based economy closer to towns due to low levels of education and skills (Aliber, 2006). However, a longterm commitment to building capacity in knowledge related to all elements of organic farming (production, pest and disease control, markets) is critical (Scialabba, 2007).

In addition to investing in organic farming skills in Africa, success of organic agriculture requires that other constraints related to infrastructure, marketing and enabling policies gain attention for organic agriculture to be successful. The similarities between organic farming systems and most African farming systems may

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2.3.3 Access to organic markets Farmers need access to markets to generate cash. Institutional arrangements to facilitate market access are crucial (Matungul et al, 2001). Export markets for organic products seem to be the focus of developing countries (Sligh & Christman 2007).

These markets seem to promise long-term incomes and improved livelihoods.

However, both domestic and international markets are important and it must be ensured that local organic markets do not grow at the expense of the export market (Sligh & Christman, 2007). On the other hand, there are many information, institutional, policy and physical challenges that impede smallholder farmers in accessing such markets (Aliber et al, 2006). Organic certification is one such challenge that empedes access to organic markets for smallholder farmers and this is expanded in section 2.5.

2.4 Agro-ecological considerations

All sound agricultural practices require a good understanding of agricultural ecosystems. It can be argued that one of the key differences between organic farming and conventional farming is the commercial reliance on external chemical inputs.

Unlike conventional farming, which largely relies on external inputs, organic farming emphasises the use of management practices related to agro-ecosystem health, biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity for productivity (Dabert et al, 2004). Amongst other aspects, organic production systems aim to enhance biological diversity within the system and increase soil biological activity to enhance long-term soil fertility and pest/disease management (Altieri, 1989, p. 180 and 186).

The reality for most smallholder farmers in South Africa is that they are situated in parts of the country that are of inferior agricultural potential and possess scant information on techniques that could boost production and meet yield demands

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The natural environment is by far the most important element in fostering the onset of disease. Factors that contribute to the onset of disease include temperature and moisture (Agrious, 2004). Therefore, the location of organic farms is important for successful farming. The choice of crop also influences the likelihood of disease.

Some crops, such as tomatoes, should be avoided by organic farmers in humid areas as high humidity renders tomatoes prone to many diseases (Jones et al, 1998).

Water use in organic systems must be well managed to avoid runoff, in line with the sustainability principles of organic farming. Lack of irrigation is often cited as a limiting factor in the South African smallholder production systems (Thamaga, 2001).

Water harvesting and mulching must be incorporated in organic systems to conserve water and ensure adequate production.

2.4.1 Organic soil fertility and nutrient availability



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