By Rob Symons
This is my 39th article in the Mercury Food and Wine supplement. This article also appeared on the site, Verdant Life
Organic farming in KwaZulu-Natal and indeed in South Africa has been fragmented for a long time. There have been attempts to organise the sector but all seem to have imploded. When I first started out as a organic farmer I felt very alone as there seemed to be no network to plug into. Fortunately the organisation I had approached to do my organic certification, the BDOCA, were very helpful and full of advice. The inspection process, in addition to the audit, was very helpful and informative.
Unfortunately this organisation is no more and although there are other alternatives, the cost of third party certification has become prohibitive for smaller farms. Given that most local organic farms are on the smaller side this has resulted in many being uncertified and limiting their marketing options.
In an earlier column I discussed the concept of a PGS or participatory guarantee system. This is an internationally recognized certification system that uses both peer review and public and consumer participation in the inspection process. The certification costs are significantly lowered, thus enabling the smaller organic farmers to obtain organic certification for their operations.
I am pleased to announce the formation of the Midlands Organic Association which will incorporate the Midlands PGS. This is the result of a collaboration between four Midlands farmers and the intention is to extend the membership to all interested farmers and distributors in the Midlands and the coast.The association will be able to represent the interests of the organic sector in this area and also encourage the free flow of information between members.
There is also the intention to initiate a joint marketing scheme between members which will pool logistics and marketing functions. Cost of transport and access to markets are major headaches for a small or emerging organic farmer. For instance the KZN North coast is a major growth area for organic produce, but due to distance is out of reach to say an emerging grower in the Midlands. The association could facilitate the sharing of transport amongst its members to solve this problem. The opportunity to obtain organic certification will also open up markets with major retailers.
The vision of the organisation is a growing organic farming sector in Kzn with high quality certified produce available in markets and shops.
The core values of the Midlands Organic Association are articulated in the four principles of organic farming: health, ecology, fairness and care. It is hoped that this initiative will result in more farmers being drawn into the organic fold and that this in turn will give the consumer a healthier, more ethical choice in food, and also result in healthier soils and farms.