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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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EFO has a well-developed constitution that details the role of the internal approval committee, which reviews applications from prospective members and makes decisions. The constitution sets out the role of the internal control system and determines the ramifications for EFO members who violate the rules. External members, including an official from the Department of Agriculture and a Researcher from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), form part of the internal approval

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The Muden and Centocow groups have an elected leadership but they do not have an elaborate constitution, such as that of the EFO, that they abide by. However, they do have basic constitutions and rules of engagement. The chairpersons of both groups provide leadership and serve as the contact person for stakeholders.

The current production methods of the groups differ. EFO has for decades been using traditional farming methods similar to that of organic production methods although they received organic certification in recent years. Within the EFO organisation 52 farmers are fully certified, while the rest are partially certified (in conversion). On the contrary, the Muden and Centocow groups are essentially using conventional farming methods with the inclusion of livestock manure (also known as kraal manure) as a fertiliser.

EFO organised itself into a formalised farmers’ organisation in 2000 and received organic certification in 2001. Although not certified as organic, the Centocow group formalised itself as a farming group in 2000. Muden was formalised in 2004. The KwaNxamalala farmers’ group is currently using conventional farming practices although some organic farming practices, such as the occasional use of manure, are included in their production system. The group is at the initial stages of investigating organic farming methods. Although it has received training in organic farming principles, it is still largely using conventional methods. EFO has enjoyed ongoing assistance from researchers at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and other NGOs (Makhanya, 2006). In contrast, the Centocow group cited a lack of assistance from government extension workers or other parties. The Valley Trust was the only external party working with the group at the time this study was conducted.

EFO’s original aim was to alert smallholder farmers to the importance of indigenous crops and help farmers realise the economic value of indigenous knowledge and practices (Modi, 2004). EFO has since expanded and adjusted its traditional farming system to include certified organic farming and is producing for the market. EFO 40 members are organic producers who sell green beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes and taro (amadumbe) to the Woolworths supermarket chain in South Africa. EFO also sells to other markets, including the local community and merchants from urban centres who visit the area. Although EFO appears to be the most developed group of the three, because it has access to formal markets, Gadzikwa et al (2006) have shown that EFO will only survive if it continues to receive subsidised information, transport, fencing and certification services for its members and synchronises harvesting and delivery. In contrast, the Muden group of farmers formalised itself into a collective to share resources and conduct group marketing (Dludla, 2005). The Centocow group formalised itself with the purpose of setting the example that men can also play a role in rural agriculture and are able to provide for themselves and their households (Vezi, 2005). All groups aim to produce for both household consumption and markets.

However, they do not always succeed in producing surpluses for sale. The Muden group frequently produces garlic (a non-traditional crop for its members) for commercial purposes. On the other hand, the Mbumbulu group is committed to supplying Woolworths and attempts to increase yields. The Muden group sells to neighbours and also targets monthly pension payout points where there are a large number of people with available cash.

All three groups farm communally owned land held in trust by the Inkosi (Traditional Authority Chief) of the Embo-Timuni Traditional Authority (TA) in Mbumbulu, Bomvu TA in Muden and Amakhuze TA in Centocow. Due to communal tenure and weak traditional institutions, there is no land market. Unlike commercial farmers, who traditionally farm privately-owned land, smallholder farmer members in these areas cannot use their land to secure finance/loans.

Farming activities are vital for food security and have the potential to unlock the potential of a rural economy. In South Africa, farming has been shown to play a small but important role in buffering households against poverty (Aliber et al, 2006).

Therefore the importance of pioneering agricultural groups, such as EFO, cannot be overstated. Cash in hand rather the ability to produce food which is still the single most important determinant of food security in South Africa (Kirsten et al, 2003).

Efforts to commercialise subsistence farming are important and should be fully engaged and supported.

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4.1 Introduction Organic farming is a topic that dominates international food production and food security debates (Scialabba, 2007). Organic farming is also viewed by both developed and developing countries as a plausible food production system for environmental sustainability (Hellin & Higman, 2002). Despite the success of organic farming in other parts of the world, there is not enough evidence that organic farming can have the same success in the context of smallholder farming in South Africa.

Smallholder agriculture in South Africa is faced with many historical constraints that are still present some 10 years after the establishment of a new, democratic government (Aliber et al, 2006). These range from poor technical skills of farmers, poor agro-ecological location, inadequate extension services, high transaction costs and an unsupportive government policy environment (Aliber et al, 2006).

On the other hand, many farmers in developing counties have farmed along organic farming principles for decades, mostly due to a lack of funds to purchase agrochemicals. Due to the apparent similarities in production methods between organic and traditional farming in respect of the non-use of agrochemicals, it seems that there is an opportunity for farmers in developing countries to tap into this fast growing niche market area of organic farming. Nevertheless, there is not enough scientific information to assist developing countries and farmers to explore and make sound decisions on organic farming to meet production demand (Scialabba, 2007).

Modern organic farming is a knowledge intensive farming system where thorough knowledge of the organic production system replaces the use of agro-chemicals (Sligh & Christman, 2007). Smallholder organic farmers in developing countries (including those in South Africa) face many constraints in production, marketing and institutional issues. It is against this background that it became imperative to analyse constraints that the three groups in the study were facing and respond by providing a tool to assist farmers to make informed production decisions about possibilities of organic production in their areas.

42 As stated in Chapter 3, the initial interaction between the researcher and members of EFO indicated a need and desire for information related to crops and production decisions, among others. From the outset, a participatory action research methodology was deemed important so that the study’s outcomes would provide satisfactory results that are relevant to the farmers’ identified problems. The methodology used for the study includes qualitative and quantitative research from the investigation and analysis of the organic production constraints, conceptualisation of the decisionmaking tool to testing the developed tool. Organic production constraints were identified through initial participatory focus group discussions, participatory workshops, followed by ranking of constraints by the groups. The purpose of this chapter is to present current constraints faced by the groups and an analysis of the identified constraints.

4.2 Initial interaction with farmer groups and identification of the study sub-problems After making initial contact with the farmers through their leaders, dates were set for the first meetings in 2004, during which an analysis of the groups’ composition, objectives and knowledge of organic production was carried out. These initial meetings involving the researcher, farmer groups and other professionals who had links with the groups (NGOs and extension officers) were informal and focused on ‘getting to know one another’. Group leaders were contacted by telephone to establish suitable dates for the meetings which coincided with the days when the groups would normally meet (e.g. first Monday of each month for EFO). All meetings were conducted at the study sites (Mbumbulu, Muden and Centocow). The first group visited was the EFO for reasons detailed in Chapter 3. Common organic production problems identified in the Mbumbulu sessions were verified by the Muden and Centocow groups.

All farmers who were present at the meetings participated. For example, the Muden group comprises more than 100 farmers but approximately 30 participated in the meeting. Similarly, 25 out of 48 certified farmers from Mbumbulu, and 11 out of 15 members from Centocow were present at their meeting. The researcher was assured by the group leaders that the pending workshops were well publicised through 43 announcements made at the monthly meetings of each organisation. In addition to the farmers in the Muden group, an extension officer was present throughout the study.

No extension officers were present at meetings of the Mbumbulu and Centocow groups because none had been assigned to groups at the time of this study. Efforts of the researcher to establish links with the responsible extension officers proved fruitless.

At these initial meetings, farmers generally voiced their main issues (both positive and negative) regarding smallholder and organic farming. The outcome of these ‘getting to know one another’ sessions informed the research question. The steps that followed the initial sessions are discussed below.

Two key participatory research methods were used to engage with the farmers. Three participatory focus group discussions were conducted with farmers at their sites by the researcher and a graduate student, using a question guide relating to resource verification and organic production constraints (Appendix A). Questions were posed to the group and answers were recorded after consensus was reached among the farmers. Occasionally, it was necessary to encourage or facilitate further discussion among farmers in order to reach consensus. If there was no consensus after further discussion, more than one answer was recorded. Figure 4.1 shows the steps followed during the group survey workshop.

The three main areas of the focus group questionnaire guide related to organic production (including natural disease control) and access to resources for successful farming and marketing. According to de Vos (1998, pg 313-326), focus groups can be used for a variety of reasons, including exploration and confirmation of issues. In this study, all three groups participated in identification of the problem and in the research process that sought to confirm these and present possible solutions. The Mbumbulu (EFO) farmers were key in identifying the organic production problems while the Muden and Centocow farmers verified the importance of these problems.

de Vos (1998, pg 405-408) explained that participatory action research should be a knowledge-raising process that empowers people to become involved in their own development. In this study, focus groups were indeed used to explore production issues in organic farming and to confirm identified problems with a view of redirecting research efforts.

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First, greetings were exchanged between farmers and the researcher. This action ensured that everybody was relaxed and could ease into the plan of the day.

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A flip chart was set up at a central place where it was visible. Chairs were organised in a half-moon shape around the flip chart. Pens of different colours were laid out for use.

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Objectives of the study were explained. Expectations of the farmers and the researcher were clarified. Previous telephonic conversations between the contact person and the researcher regarding permission to conduct the study were referred to. Consensus was sought on the objectives of the study and the day’s proceedings.

Step 4: The workshop

The question guide was used to table the questions to the group. Explanations were given when sought. The answers were discussed by all farmers in a participatory manner, facilitated by the researcher. Important details of the discussion were written on the flip chart using a large font for visibility and further discussion.

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The final answers to questions were recorded by the researcher. Lists were developed and tabled on the flip chart for more discussion (e.g. list of constraints).

Figure 4.1: Steps followed in focus group methodology at the first meetings with farmers in Mbumbulu, Muden and Centocow in August 2005 The questionnaire guide ensured that the same questions were used for all three groups.

Due to the fact that the questionnaire guide consisted of many open-ended questions, the respondents had room to explain and elaborate on their responses. In this study, the researcher guided the participants throughout the discussions to make it easier for participants to recall information. The researcher also paid attention to controversial responses given to questions and requested clarity before recording the responses.

45 Questions were repeated and clarified when requested to ensure that all the respondents understood the question. At times respondents helped to rephrase questions when these were not understood by fellow farmers. The researcher ensured that the meaning was not lost during rephrasing by being attentive, while giving space to farmers to assist one another. For the purposes of this study, a decision was taken to concentrate on production constraints and subject those constraints to further analysis.

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