A Fair Deal (the principle of fairness)

This is my 34th article in the Mercury Food and Wine supplement.

Most of us think of organic farming in terms of healthy, pesticide free food. However there is another critical, ethical component of Organic farming, The principle of Fairness.

Organic agriculture is all about relationships, whether it be with the land, people, plants and animals. This principle implies an that our relationships must be respectful, fair and equitable.

Land is a contentious issue in South Africa. We have to seek a fair use for the land we farm. We need to take into account the needs of communities and of the natural world and balance them with the needs of the farmer. This is no easy task, but much can be accomplished if we conduct our business in a spirit of sharing and co-operation.

Social and ecological justice should be at the forefront of our management practices. Fairness applies to our relationships with other farmers. While competition keeps our hoe sharp, it is co-operation that will ensure the growth of the organic sector. Farmers must help each other and help emergent farmers find their feet.

This principle insists on a fair labour policy. Farm workers must be paid fairly and must be made to feel valued. Farmers and suppliers need to be treated well and paid a fair price on time. There is an imbalance in the relationship between farmers and the food industry when it comes to price margins.

A retailer selling organic food must have a fair relationship with its farmers. The principle of fairness also applies to our relationships with both domestic and wild animals. Farm animals must be allowed to express there innate natures and behaviour. Adequate space must be provided and feed should be appropriate for the species and not just dictated by economic rationale.

Cruelty of any sort is ruled out. The organic regulations do not allow the sourcing of manure from factory farms mainly because of ethical reasons.Wild animals must be treated fairly too.

At Broadleaze Farm we lose crops to antelope during the dry season. They are a bigger problem than insects. The reaction from most people is that we should turn them into biltong and increase profits all round. The fairness principle demands that we find ways to mitigate the damage by looking to the needs of the animals. They are only feeding on our crops because there is little to eat in winter and their space to migrate has been restricted by development. The answer is to fence and to provide an irrigated pasture that they can feed from.

Fairness also implies stewardship of the land and the ecosystem so that future generations may have a share. Organic farming is truly “farming for the future” as the techniques we use to build soil and biodiversity improve the long term sustainability of our farmlands.

Most conventional farms these days are following the dictum of maximising short term profits. This leads to soil degradation and destruction of valuable farmland over time.This concept of fairness in farming may seem a bit over the top for some, especially to those who put money and profits first, but it is important to guide our method and practice as organic farmers. It is not easy but well worth the effort.


About Rob Symons

My name is Rob Symons. I live in Pietermaritzburg, kwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. MuthiMuthi is my Zulu nickname which means tall tree. I am an Organic Farmer and an environmentalist. I live and work on Broadleaze Farm in the Mkondeni valley on the eastern outskirts of Pietermaritzburg.
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