Refiloe Masemola, a 30-year-old self-taught agro-processor, has recently become part of a network of 600 rural farmers in the Limpopo Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) initiative.
This certification body for organic farmers has empowered these rural-based farmers to prioritize organic farming practices in their operations. Previously, the process of obtaining organic certification seemed insurmountable for these farmers, but through the PGS program, they are now able to contribute to the organic farming movement and reap the benefits of certification that were once unattainable.
“My mom used to make soft porridge using this sour sorghum all my life and it was delicious. That is where I got my business idea from. I live in Flora Park and because of the semi-urban lifestyle people do not have time to make traditional food such as ting (sour porridge),”said Masemola.
She has carved her niche in producing fermented sorghum, which she packages in barcoded, branded buckets labelled African Nosh.
Her product, besides being a delicacy, is also a probiotic and highly nutritious, promoting digestive health. The value of Masemola’s product has been recognized brands like Spar and Goseame Open Market, which stock her product.
“This is a great nod for me as it will surely widen my consumer base on top of the deliveries and collections I already have from my current client list,” she said.
Organic farming has experienced significant growth globally, with Asia leading with 56% of the world’s organic producers, followed by Africa (24%) and Europe (12%). Organic farming offers solutions to challenges such as soil fertility, natural pest control, and weed management while addressing irrigation concerns.
In Limpopo, the PGS initiative has enlisted dedicated pollinators, such as Butshabelo Mabunda, who mirror the vital role of natural plant pollinators. These pollinators ensure the fertilization of crops, leading to yields of fruits, seeds, and young plants.
“Receiving an organic certificate used to be a long, complicated and draining exercise. For most of us it proved a highly expensive task, however, with the assistance of the PSG we have been able to see more organic farmers certified,” Mabunda said.
High certification costs hinder smallholder farmers from accessing retail or export markets, despite the crucial role certification plays in organic farming according to international standards set by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).
“For years our forefathers have been organically farming the soil because we don’t farm the crop, we farm the soil. My role as a pollinator is made easy by the dedication of a farmer who has nothing but the passion to follow through with their gardens.
“It is imperative to have more events that encourage farmers across all districts of the province to share knowledge and their success rates,” Mabunda said.
After a successful indigenous farmers market in Polokwane recently, farmers plan to host another event in August, providing organic produce to city residents and surrounding areas dependent on retailers for supplies.
Farmers like Madimetja Ledwaba in Mosesetjane village, Mokopane, implement water alternatives amidst ongoing water crises. Ledwaba emphasized natural feed importance for poultry farmers due to abnormal growth patterns in chicks.
“Chicks these days take two to three weeks to mature. From eyesight it may look like a fully-fledged chicken, however, when it clucks you can tell that this is an overgrown chick. That says a lot about what we are putting in our mouths,” Ledwaba said.
According to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries’ National Policy on Organic Production, “there is a concern that humans are developing resistance to antibiotics due to the indirect consumption of antibiotic drug residues in animal-based products, and many of the hormones are known to mimic human hormones, leading to endocrine disruption amongst other negative impacts.”
The World of Organic Agriculture Statistics and Emerging Trends 2022 states that as of 2020, the African continent had more than 11.7 million hectares certified as organic.
“Zambia was the country with the largest area (3.2 million hectares, mainly bee pastures), followed by Namibia (nearly 2.6 million hectares)… and South Africa (nearly 860’000 hectares, mainly medicinal and aromatic plants and rose hips).”
Tshilidzi Netshidzivhe, aged 36, manages an organic seed bank within the agricultural cooperative, Dzumo la Mupo, in the Vhembe district. She highlighted the importance of preserving local food traditions and health benefits derived from consuming indigenous crops.
“I am happy to see that our farmers are all going back to our roots and considering harmless ways of working the land. If the numbers of sales at our seed bank is anything to go by, then we may have a winning formula for the health of the soil and the humans and animals that eat its’ crop,”Netshidzivhe said.
To foster the growth of organic agriculture in Africa, the PGS initiative is hosting a webinar series until August 16, 2023. By facilitating knowledge exchange and empowering farmers, the webinar series aims to drive the organic farming movement and create a healthier and more sustainable agricultural future. -email@example.com