Where are the organic farmers?

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Water availability has continually been a sensitive issue on the African continent. With global warming presenting an overwhelmingly prominent impact over recent years, Africa has now reached catastrophic levels of water scarcity. One needs to look no further than Cape Town, South Africa to witness the serious implications of such a disaster.

While Cape Town’s water crisis cannot be solely attributed to the intensified nature of global warming, with poor water management and infrastructure maintenance contributing to the problem, the fact of the matter is that day zero is upon the Western Cape and pointing fingers at the causes thereof facilitates nothing more than a waste of time. The damage is done, and repairs need to be implemented as of emergency effect.

How, however, does one even begin to redeem such a crisis? Perhaps by reverting back to the very basics and looking into where the majority of water use is allocated. Studies performed show that farming utilises more than 60 percent of available water in South Africa, thus where else would an intervention for conserving water be more effective than within the agricultural sector. Due to the fact that water depletion in the Western Cape has reached catastrophic levels, such an intervention needs to be largely accessible with no association of impractical costs and no dependence on government required. One such proposal is that of organic farming, a practice which simply serves to enhance the use of agricultural resources at a rate that is sustainable for natural resources.

Organic farming not only helps to maintain an acceptable water quality within water channels due to the absence of toxic chemicals, but also requires far less water than conventional farming. This is mainly due to the fact that organic agricultural methods sustain much healthier soil, rich in organic matter and microorganisms which enables an active water retention.  According to the Rodale Institute’s 30-year farm systems trial, it was seen that organic farming could produce up to 30 percent greater yields compared to conventional agriculture in periods of drought. This same trial also showed that groundwater supplies can be recharged by up to 20 percent with the aid of organic practices. If, in case, 30 years of research is not sufficient proof of the long-term sustainability offered via organic farming, then perhaps verification lies in the centuries of global practice and success pursued by native farmers. In addition to facilitating reduction in water wastage, organic farming is also associated with many other environmental benefits. Thus, in short, organic agriculture is able to attain an ecological balance, of which the agricultural industry is in desperate need.

While the transition to organic methods from conventional farming can be challenging and take a long period of time, the rewards speak volumes. The impetus for going organic has to be more than money.  Farmers need not be driven by short-term profit but rather take into account the bigger, more mature picture, that is, rooting for the environment and conserving water from day one. Over the transition phase, organic farming can be associated with more expenses, however, ceased water access would most definitely incur a higher cost than a change in farming practices.

The success of the transition to organic farming is not exclusively in the hands of farmers, it requires substantial efforts from both government and consumers. Both parties are able to rise to the occasion, through the introductions of incentives in the form of government subsidies and conscience consumer choices in which organic items take center stage where possible. In the long run this will help lower the cost of organic production and steer the movement forward.

The whole ‘going organic’ intervention, however, needs not be restricted to Cape Town. The implementation of sustainable organic practices needs to be conveyed all over Africa. The precious nature of water can be felt all too intensely through the dire situation in the Cape, and while the situation is an incredibly solemn one, perhaps it is time that we see the good that needs to be extracted therefrom, the ignition of rapid change and a hard lesson learned.

Author: Megan Blignaut


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Green Building Africa promotes the need for net carbon zero buildings and cities in Africa. We are fiercely independent and encourage outlying thinkers to contribute to the #netcarbonzero movement. Climate change is upon us and now is the time to react in a more diverse and broader approach to sustainability in the built environment. We challenge architects, property developers, urban planners, renewable energy professionals and green building specialists. We also challenge the funding houses and regulators and the role they play in facilitating investment into green projects. Lastly, we explore and investigate new technology and real-time data to speed up the journey in realising a net carbon zero environment for our children.

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