February & March Newsletter

February & March Newsletter

Greetings and a warm welcome to our newsletter, where we bring together the latest updates from February and March 2024 as we journey through the rapidly unfolding year.

Our theme over the next months is transitioning to organic with the hope to support this growing need.

Click here to download this newsletter as a PDF.

Sustainable viticulture – the Reyneke Wines story

According to UnPoison, the Western Cape has the highest concentration of agrochemical use in the soft fruit industry and while the wine industry fairs better than others due to stringent export criteria, highly hazardous pesticides banned in the European Union are still used on our local vineyards. The impact of this is loss of soil, agricultural land, and biodiversity, pollution of water resources and chemical poisoning of both farm workers and consumers. 

As a global front-runner in organic and biodynamic wine farming, Johan Reyneke from Reyneke Wines talks about sustainable viticulture: 

“Back in the late 1990’s when I was considering transitioning to organic vineyards, I took a small portion of the farm, literally a quarter of a hectare of pinotage at the time and I just stopped using herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. It’s important to know that I actually failed dismally. I had every weed, pest, plague you can find in the Western cape in my vineyard in six months and it was so embarrassing. 

“I couldn’t understand it but fortunately I was told about a wonderful lady who lived in Wellington. Her name was Jeanne Malherbe, a doyen of organic and biodynamic farming, and she came to the farm and said to me: “My dear, you are being organic by neglect – you must become so by design. And then she explained to me that farmers didn’t use chemicals and poisons because they enjoyed doing it. They did it because they had to do so to protect their crops and what needed to be done was not just to simply stop using the chemicals, but rather to have a re-education of sorts taking place and an alternative sustainable system that one could then employ to address the challenges that farmers had up to that point been addressing chemically. 

“Jeanne taught me that I was farming with two things: my grapes and my soil. With a short-term view these are often at odds. I also learned that sustainability is three-pronged: it’s about looking after nature, people and also money – it’s a balancing act. In the long-term view, there is a correlation between soil health and plant health, and as one builds thes humus levels in the soil, the natural resilience of the plants increases significantly. Humus levels in the soil of around 5%, the plants’ resilience increase by as much as 300% – so what seems like a trade-off in the initial stage actually pays off in the longer term view. 

“Twenty odd years later, we have built our soil levels to about 4,3% and we have tried to balance all these factors such as the financial side when yields are low, and using cover crops, EM, animal husbandry, inter-planting, compost, etcetera. These are the alternatives but they are complex and they do take time to put systems in place but they are wonderful. Our production costs have dropped significantly because we became less reliant on external inputs of any kind because of the compost we make. But it takes time to align multiple organic systems so that they feed off in a synergistic way to make your farm truly sustainable.” 

They currently have 120 hectares that are certified biodynamic of which about 70 hectares is under vine and the remainder under pasture and wilderness areas. Reyneke produces around 60,000 cases of wine annually, selling approximately 75% of this abroad. The winery does also buy in some certified organic grapes for a few of their entry level ranges. 

To watch the full interview, see here: https://youtu.be/58gekrMt7Jw 

SAOSO joins the Agroecology Coalition

This March, SAOSO became a member of the international NPO, Agroecology Coalition – a coalition for food systems transformation through agroecology. 

Set up in September 2021 in the margins of the UN Food Systems Summit. They currently have 250 members from around 50 countries and include more than 198 organisations, including farmers’ organisations, research institutions, indigenous peoples’ organisations, UN agencies, philanthropic foundations, and civil society organisations.

The purpose of the Coalition is to accelerate the transformation of food systems through agroecology, guided by the 13 principles of agroecology.

“This is an important collaboration for us,” says Joint SA organic sector management committee secretary, Colleen Anderson. “They acknowledge the link between agroecology and PGS, and have five very active working groups with strong backing from international agencies, funders and governments.” 

Food Clubs: the future of eating

“Our food system cannot be fixed, it can only be replaced. Our aim is to create an alternative, transparent and regenerative food system in South Africa, creating a network of people who are more resilient and activated on climate change.”

These are the words from the Food Club Hub, a visionary not for profit initiative of RegenAg SA that aims to decentralise the food system while empowering communities with access to nutritionally dense, real food.  A Food Club is essentially a network of people that put their collective spending power together to buy directly and pay better prices to support smaller producers who are producing cleaner and nutritionally dense food. 

Founder Jessica Merton says: 

“In the beginning, I ran a food club for a few years in Cape Town, copying a community buying group model from Europe. RegenAg SA saw the model as a good way to sell regenerative produce because it’s a regenerative model in essence. We co-funded the app and launched in 2021. 

“The Food Club Hub centralises the suppliers, keeps pricing updated, shares information about our producers, and we encourage hosts to start their own clubs around the country with the idea of being the agent of the farmer rather than as a retailer. We are really there to support farmers who are farming in a way that we value and help them to grow. It’s a really beautiful model, it’s all about transparency so we are not making big claims and saying that everything on our site is regeneratively farmed but we are open and honest about our suppliers.”

Robynn de Klerk runs her food club, Harvest Club, in the Stanford and Hermanus area in the Western Cape. Robynn says: 

“Tracy Ledger’s 2006 research, “An Empty Plate”, which analysed the state of the South African agri-food system, found that farmers only receive around 36% of the retail price. With the Food Hub model, farmers get to set their own prices and receive around 75-80% of the selling price, which is transformational for the farmer. 

“Our members pay the least cost across a variety of grocery goods because of the group buying power. And this model can rival the supermarket system, as we have less packaging, delivery miles, no expensive infrastructure, logistics or typical labour costs. We operate like an online shop, but in a more efficient “just-in-time” model, where consumers order their goods from us once a month at near-wholesale prices and then come and collect. It’s a wonderful win-win model for farmers, suppliers and consumers, which is growing exponentially fast, as it’s a revolutionary, collaborative model. It appears to be the right idea at the right time.” 

The Food Club Hub currently has 30 food clubs operating nationally, mainly in the Western Cape but also in Gauteng, with others starting in the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga. Find out how to join, start or supply a club here: https://www.foodhub.org.za/#join-a-club 

BIOFACH and Women’s Impact on Sustainable Food Systems

BIOFACH took place from February 13 – 16 in Nuremberg, Germany and is positioned as the World’s Leading Trade Fair for Organic Food. The theme for this year’s event was “Food for the Future: Women’s Impact on Sustainable Food Systems”. 

Busisiwe Mgangxela was one of four women chosen from five different regional African Knowledge Hubs, under the Knowledge Centre for Organic Agriculture (KCOA) project, to share their experiences at the BIOFACH session “Women Change-Makers in Africa”. Busi reports back: 

“BIOFACH was a wow experience for me being my first time there. It was so exciting to hear from the mayor that 80% of school children in Nuremberg receive organic food at their schools. The German Minister of Agriculture spoke about how the government has also to be the solution to the problems of an unsustainable food system.

“I presented on a panel on women in agriculture. We focused on knowledge exchange and cross-fertilisation of ideas at farm level, marketing and farm-business models, advocacy and policy influence, and co-creation of knowledge.

“I will be pondering and scratching my mind for collaborations for the way forward. We will never go backwards for organic farming is LIFE and we will achieve gender justice in our lifetime.

“I just want to thank the Knowledge Hub for Organic Agriculture in Southern Africa, the Sustainability Institute, SAOSO and PGS South Africa for this wonderful exposure and experience. I have no words to express my gratitude to the whole team including GIZ and IFOAM – Organics International. Thank you for the connections with other women farmers in Africa.”

PGS farmer story – Angelo Marman of Abitz Farming

Angelo Marman was one of the initiators of Swartland PGS with his business partner, Herman Bailey, and their farm is called Abitzfarming, located 20km from Malmesbury in a small community called Riverlands in the Western Cape. Abitzfarming has two hectares under production and this will be their fourth year farming organically. They supply Oranjezicht City Farm (OZCF), Metro Organics, Happy Hounds, Wild Organics, Wild Sprouts, and a few other smaller clients in the community. 

Speaking about the value of being a part of PGS, Angelo says: “Market access is the big game changer. Organic farming brings a sense of health consciousness and mindful eating to the fore. More and more people are eating properly or want to eat right and this also provides a slightly higher margin in returns which really helps as costs are always increasing. A united organic community has many opportunities for growth with the right assistance which is needed in our communities where food security and health has become an increasing concern. We need to do more and create new process streams to stimulate the markets in the right direction.”

Talking about his challenges, Angelo says: “Input costs, labour costs, electricity, and water availability are a struggle. It’s not easy farming these days, especially as a small-scale farmer. Volume is key and space is restrictive. Transportation is one of the biggest costs as we deliver between 250km to 300km round trip daily. Climatic conditions play a big part in losses as well. We believe farming in tunnels and under nets are a great way to boost production and minimise costs. We used to get help with internships, and we would train kids in the surrounding communities but companies’ funds have run dry and we are currently looking for new interns to assist on the farm.”

On how to be a successful small-scale organic farmer: “Don’t give up! It’s worth it to keep on striving towards your goal. Our biggest success as a company is that we put our hands into our own pockets and push the company into the right direction. We do not take profit from the company but instead reinvest it into the farm to grow. We love being able to make an impact on the families in our immediate community and the communities in the city. 

“We plan to convert a huge chicken coop on the farm into a processing plant where many small scale farmers in the surrounding and larger Swartland can supply fresh vegetables and allow their farming spirit to thrive with new market access and waste reduction. Things like chilli sources, garlic and ginger mix, spinach and other vegetables packaged in biodegradable packaging and a soup kitchen for the community. This will be a first for our area and allow for job creation opportunities. This will also tap into a learning opportunity for kids and schooling and be a beacon for the farming industry as a whole.” 

Advice to farmers wanting to transition to organic? “Do your research. Pests are a real problem if you do not know what you are doing and react too late. Good planning is a must. Weed control is one of the biggest obstacles but with proper cover crops or mulching is manageable. Befriend other organic farmers and ask questions. Invest in your own composting projects on the farm and know that organic produce is rejuvenating to your friends and family by instilling a health consciousness that is so needed in today’s society.” 

Angelo speaks to Health for Mzansi about growing beetroot with natural pest control methods: https://healthformzansi.co.za/beetroot-natures-heart-blood-boosting-veggie/ 

Farmer Tip: Discover the secret weapon that transforms sweet simplicity into a powerhouse against aphid invasions!

PGS Pollinator and ecological organic agriculture practitioner, Nandi Mkwanazi, talks about aphid management with sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima): sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima)

“Boost your field’s defence against aphids by introducing sweet alyssum through strategic intercropping. This petite yet powerful flowering plant not only adds charm to your farm but also acts as a natural aphid deterrent. 

“Placing sweet alyssum alongside your main crops creates a pest-resistant environment, attracting beneficial insects like ladybugs and hoverflies. These predatory allies are drawn to the distinct aroma of sweet alyssum, and once present, they voraciously feed on aphids, keeping their populations in check without the need for harmful chemicals.

“According to John Kempf, maintaining a constant monoculture of plants with an incomplete carbohydrate profile creates an ideal setting for the rapid proliferation of aphids. In such conditions, we provide them with ample sustenance while depriving their natural predators of a suitable habitat. Ironically, when insecticides are used to control aphids, the situation worsens. This is because the insecticide eliminates all the predators, exacerbating the aphid population, and further weakening the already compromised plants

“To implement this technique effectively, choose crops that complement sweet alyssum, such as tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, or herbs like basil and cilantro. Plant sweet alyssum along borders or within rows, ensuring it receives ample sunlight. Regularly remove dead flower heads to encourage continuous blooming, maintaining a steady release of aphid-attracting compounds.

“Embracing  the dual benefits of enhanced pest control and aesthetic appeal in your field,with sweet alyssum as a natural ally, you not only safeguard your crops but also create a vibrant and thriving ecosystem. Intercrop wisely to let nature’s defenders take charge of aphid control.”

Read John Kempf’s blog for more information: https://johnkempf.com/interplanting-sweet-allysum-for-aphid-control/ 

Call to action: Participate in our “Converting to organic” webinar series

SAOSO and PGS SA are in the process of organising a four-part webinar series focused on aiding farmers in transitioning from conventional agriculture to organic practices. If you possess expertise and insights that could benefit our community in adopting a more sustainable farming approach, we encourage you to reach out.

Contact PGS SA to explore collaboration opportunities and contribute to the continued progress of the agricultural sector: info@pgssa.org.za

Want to get involved? Here’s how!

We invite all consumers to be actors of change by actively asking about the origins of the food they buy from their retailers, asking them about providing certified organic food in their food outlets. 

Consumers can also get involved by supporting your local PGS group. You can go to farm visits and meet your farmers, see their processes, and find out who they supply. Have a look at this PGS map to find your nearest group: https://www.pgssa.org.za/pollinator-map/ 

If you’re interested in joining SAOSO as a member or contributing to our efforts through donations, please feel free to do so.

My cart
Your cart is empty.

Looks like you haven't made a choice yet.