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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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The Ezemvelo Farmers’ Organisation (EFO) was the first group to be certified in organic production in South Africa (Fischer, 2005). Studies conducted among members of this organisation revealed a number of constraints related to production, storage, risk and institutional arrangements. Studies revealed that financial gains from production may be relatively low for several reasons (Hendriks & Msaki, 2006;

Molapo, 2006; Ndokweni, 2002; Xaba, 2003). Gadzikwa et al (2006) showed that critical elements to the sustainability of organic farming for EFO related to the continued provision of subsidised information, transport, fencing and certification services for its members by external agencies.

Stefano et al (2005) found that EFO had poor access to written agricultural information which limited productivity. The risk attitudes of the Ezemvelo Farmers’ Organisation were investigated by Lwayo et al (2006) who showed that EFO farmers were more risk averse than commercial farmers, implying that opportunities of improved productivity may be hampered by risk aversion.

Alternatives in the organic market chain were investigated by Mushayanyama & Darroch (2006) who indicated that levels of farmer commitment were strongly related to trust between farmers and the marketing agent. An additional study by Phiri & Modi (2005) conducted amongst EFO members, investigated the agronomic potential for new crops in Mbumbulu, where EFO is located. Phiri & Modi (2005) suggested that crops, such as wild mustard (Brassica spp), may have agronomic potential and

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This study concentrated on evaluating organic production potential for three farmer groups. Interaction between the researcher and members of the EFO indicated that there was a great desire for information related to crops and production decisions. It is essential that profitability and sustainability of organic production be investigated before promoting the adoption and expansion of commercial organic production among smallholder farmers. Participatory action research was used in the development and testing of a decision-making tool for smallholder farmers considering adoption or expansion of commercial organic production. Two other groups were included to allow for comparison and verification of results.

This chapter outlines the selection of the participating farmer groups, provides background information regarding the location and agro-ecological situation for each of the three areas, and describes the groups’ aims and member profiles.

3.1 Group selection Historically, most smallholder farmers in South Africa are found in rural areas of less favourable agricultural potential (Hendriks & Lyne, 2003). These areas often have harsh climates, poor soils and low rainfall. In addition, such smallholder farmers are often resource-poor. Unless they are beneficiaries of the smallholder irrigation schemes of the former homelands (Aliber et al, 2006), smallholder farmers lack supplementary irrigation. Farming under such conditions makes it difficult for them to succeed.

As discussed earlier, EFO (Mbumbulu) members requested sub-problems in this study to be addressed. Interest in organic farming was an important factor to consider in the selection of the two additional groups. It was deemed important to have three groups for the purposes of comparison. In the end, three farmer groups, located in Mbumbulu, Muden and Centocow in rural KwaZulu-Natal, participated in the study.

31 The three groups were located in three different agro-ecological zones and were at different stages of organic certification. The Mbumbulu farmers obtained certification for the first time in 2001 and had retained certification through annual inspections.

The Muden and Centocow groups were both recommended by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to the researcher as groups who practiced some elements of organic farming but were not certified and still included commercial fertilisers in their practices. The Muden farmers had received training in organic farming and permaculture from an NGO, (The Farmer Support Group) but they were not certified organic producers. Similarly, the Centocow group had received training on organic farming principles and compost-making but had not acquired organic certification status. All three groups were operating at varying levels of formalisation. The following section discusses the characteristics of the farmers and their geographical location.

3.1.1 Geographical location, socio-economic/socio-institutional and soil nutrient characteristics The three areas occupy different agro-ecological zones and have varied agricultural potential (Fig 3.1). In Table 3.1 a basic climatic comparison of the three areas is presented.

Mbumbulu is a humid area, located in the Mkhambathini municipality, with an average rainfall of 956mm per annum (Camp, 1999). Mbumbulu falls within the Mkhambathini Municipality and is located approximately 50km from Pietermaritzburg towards Durban (see Figure 3.1). Of the three areas, Mbumbulu has the highest rainfall. The EFO farmers practice rain-fed agriculture. At the time of the study, the farmers in Mbumbulu (EFO) had no access to irrigation infrastructure or water storage facilities. Due to the relatively high rainfall (Table 3.1), the possibility for water harvesting exists. Reliance on rainfall limits the choice of crops and expected yield, limiting farmer productivity. At the time of this study EFO members were approximately 250 in number, having grown from 52 certified farmers in 2001 and 161 in 2003. EFO consists of approximately 80% female farmers and 20% male farmers. The organisation includes young members with active roles. Some of the younger members are trained as internal organic inspectors.





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Muden is a small town situated approximately 25km from Greytown. The Muden farmer group lives in a rural community known as KwaNxamalala in the Msinga Local Municipality. The 109 farmers call themselves the KwaNxamalala farming group. Approximately 90% are female.

The annual rainfall is 674mm and summer is hot and dry. Muden is a low rainfall area (Table 3.1) compared to Mbumbulu and Centocow. Although the Muden farmers farm along the banks of the Mooi River, they are likely to experience water shortages when the river is low due to low rainfall.

Despite the low rainfall in Muden, the KwaNxamalala farmers have access to irrigation infrastructure consisting of pipes, a pump, canals and some sprinklers. The Muden irrigation scheme was developed when the agricultural development trend in KwaZulu-Natal was to establish irrigation schemes. Nevertheless, the KwaNxamalala farmers’ group experiences numerous problems with the irrigation infrastructure and availability of water. There is poor capacity among the farmers to repair the broken equipment, which often causes lengthy disruptions in water supply.

The farming area of the community is divided into 15 farming sections, also known as blocks. The KwaNxamalala farmers’ group utilises blocks 14 and 15 of the farming area.

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Figure 3.2: Sluice gate water supply (A) showing water being diverted (B) into canals in the Muden irrigation scheme (Goba, 2004).

Block 14 and 15 are at the furthest end of the blocks, furthest from the Mooi river dam’s point. The Mooi River dam supplies water through a canal system to all 15 blocks. Water is received first by block 1 and last by block 15. The KwaNxamalala group farms for household consumption in the neighbouring village, roadside selling and pension payout days when there are a large number of people with available cash.

Goba’s 2004 study of water and soil conservation conducted in blocks five and six revealed that, often, the wheel that controls the amount of water that is released into all the blocks is not in working order.

As shown in Figure 3.2, water is released through a sluice gate and distributed through canals throughout the 15 blocks. The fact that the KwaNxamalala farmers occupy blocks 14 and 15 of the farming area is a disadvantage. When water is released to the flood system, blocks 1-13 are first to receive water. Often, blocks 14 and 15 receive little water or none at all. The low rainfall in Muden contributes to the low water level of the river.

3.1.2 Soils nutrient verification It was important to ascertain the nutritional condition of soils in the three study area so that the decision support tool and its application was based on current soil conditions for the communities. Soil samples collected to analyse for nutrients were 35 taken from the first 20cm of soil using a small spade. In each study area the following was done: three different locations on the farm were sampled, in including the top end, middle and bottom end of each farm (in Mbumbulu and Centocow, the farm refers to participating households (averaged) whereas in Muden the farm refers to one large communal plot). The three samples from each farm were then mixed to make one sample per farm for analysis. The results of the soil analysis, presented in Table 3.2, were used to provide a broad picture of the state of soils as important components of the study. A full analysis of the soil condition is discussed in Chapter 6.

Table 3.2: Soil analysis conducted in Mbumbulu, Muden and Centocow, July 2005

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Basic socio-economic data on the three groups is presented in Table 3.3. Young people in South Africa are typically not interested in farming, Table 3.3 shows a familiar trend in that the average age of all study participants was at least over 50 years. Similarly, a high percentage of farmers are female, except for Centocow, which is a male only group.

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The findings presented in Table 3.3 are supported by socio-economic data of Integrated Development Plans (IDP’s) for the municipal districts where the groups are found. According to the recent Mkambathini (Mbumbulu) Integrated Development Plan (IDP), prepared by Isibuko se Africa Development Planners (2006), 36 Mkambathini consists of five tribal areas and the rest are urban areas. In 2005-2006, about 17% of people in Mkhambathini were skilled and held professional jobs, while about 6.8% of people were employed in commercial agriculture. According to a recent Msinga (Muden) Integrated Development Plan (IDP) prepared by Udidi Development Planners (2005), the district is a low socio-economic status area with high illiteracy levels (68%) and poor access to job opportunities. According to the Ingwe (Centocow) Municipality Integrated Development Plan, prepared by Isikhungusethu Development Planners (2005), the Centocow community is of low socio-economic status. Illiteracy in the region is 50%.

Livestock and small ruminants (cattle and goats) are important economic assets for rural communities. Table 3.4 provides the minimum, mean and maximum numbers of livestock, small ruminants and poultry for manure production. Livestock ownership is important as an economic asset in the communities, especially for organic farmers because livestock (cattle and goats) are the main source of manure.

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Many farmers in the group hope to make a better living through their involvement in agriculture. However, lack of water and other resources tend to demotivate the

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Centocow is a small rural mission town en route to Underberg. It is very cold in winter and has an annual rainfall of 879mm (Table 3.1). The rainfall in this area is not low and may be adequate as a source of water for supplementary irrigation if farmers had ways and means of harvesting and storing the water. However, there is no irrigation infrastructure or dam. Smallholder farming in the area is predominantly rain-fed. The farmers involved in this group are from a rural community called Emakhuzeni on the outskirts of Centocow, KwaZulu-Natal. The group calls itself ‘Izwi la Madoda’, meaning ‘the voice of men’. The farmers explained that rural smallholder farming activities are traditionally dominated by women. According to them, there is an urgent need to involve rural men in smallholder agriculture as many of these men have been retrenched and are unemployed.

Figure 3.3: Some of the members from Izwi la Madoda, August 2005.

Izwi la Madoda consists of 15 men, some of whom are featured in Figure 3.3. All of the men hold various leadership positions in the community. Two of the members are the Inkosi’s assistants (indunas). Their leadership positions are seen as strategic in influencing members of the community to adopt farming as a way of life (especially organic farming) and to encourage more men to engage in these activities.

Traditionally, women dominate farming activities in the area. Izwi la Madoda

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Similar to the Mbumbulu and Muden groups, Izwi la Madoda exist within a rural community, Emakhuzeni, which is led by an Inkosi who holds the land in trust for the people, who have communal ownership of the land. It can therefore be expected that Izwi la Madoda members are likely to have similar characteristics as seen in Table

3.3. Naidoo, (2006) showed that one member had attained matriculation-level and education levels varied from high school to primary-level education (n = 11).

Farming takes place on two large farms named Qedindlala and Thembelihle, where the group farms as a collective. Farmers also have smaller units of land at their homesteads where they farm as individuals. The homestead unit is mainly for household consumption and mixed production is practiced. The joint farms are for large-scale, commodity-based production. When rains are good, the larger plots are utilised to capacity.

3.1.3 Group institutional arrangements and activities

There are similarities and differences in how the groups are organised and managed.

The Mbumbulu (EFO) and Muden groups are managed by an annually elected committee, which constitutes a chairperson, a treasurer and a secretary. Mbumbulu (EFO) is the first group in South Africa to gain organic certification (Fischer, 2005).



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