Avaclim in South Africa

December 10, 2021

In this article Enya Munting, the South African AVACLIM Research Assistant, discusses some of the beauty, hardship, and lessons learned about Agroecology in South Africa during her time on the project.

Can you tell us about your work on the project? 

My work is to contextualise the AVACLIM methodology to make sure that it is relevant to our local conditions and challenges, to collect all the data for the two South African initiatives and to contribute to reporting.

Which initiatives are you assessing?

The first initiative is the Heiveld, a Co-operative that exclusively processes and trades organic and Fairtrade certified rooibos tea. Rooibos tea is made from an indigenous plant and is renowned for its health-giving properties. The Co-operative was established by members of the ‘coloured’ community of Nieuwoudtville who were tired of being exploited because of their race. Twenty years ago they decided to empower themselves by establishing their own business to earn a fair income from their products.

The second initiative is the Overstrand Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), a second party organic certification system in which members inspect one another’s farming operations to share knowledge and assess whether their products should be endorsed as organic in terms of the standards of the South African Organic Sector Organisation (SAOSO).

What has been the biggest challenge in your time on the project? 

For me there were two big challenges: 

The first one is COVID 19. I couldn’t host workshops because of a spike in infections at the beginning of my research, and this meant that many people were not aware of my presence and my work, and that I had to introduce myself and AVACLIM many times over! I am also sure that there are many wise and fascinating people who I won’t meet because of the pandemic.

The second challenge was that of using a methodology which is still in development and that is intended to be used on many different spatial scales in different countries and contexts. The initiatives that I am looking at are both relatively large, which meant that I had to plan my time carefully and that I had to contextualise the methodology frequently to make sure it remained relevant.

What was your favourite thing to learn through your work? 

I was delighted to learn about all the different types of sustainable agriculture that are included in agroecology – such as organic, biodynamic, Korea Natural Farming, regenerative agriculture and permaculture, as well as any combination of the above! I found it very encouraging that the farmers who farm with an agroecological mindset are all so eager to share their knowledge and to keep learning how to improve! It means that anyone who wants to farm sustainably will be able to get advice and support from their peers, which is so important for new farmers.

What do you think is the current status of agroecology in South Africa?  

It caused me great sadness to learn that every farmer who I spoke to had to have an alternative income in order to be able to afford farming in the way that they believe to be the most sustainable. Agricultural support systems in South Africa do not effectively support smallholder farmers, even though smallholders feed more than 60% of the world’s population! Government support focuses on conventional, market- and export-oriented agriculture. I find it distressing that the most sustainable and environmentally significant farms are not supported, while unsustainable and extractive farming operations are not only allowed to proceed with destructive practices, but in some cases are actively supported by the government and investors. Learning this made me work harder at my job, to help ensure that the AVACLIM project can be successful in its mission to change things! What gave me great hope was learning about the South African Organic Sector Organisation (SAOSO), PGS South Africa, and the Management of Applied Green Initiatives and Concepts (MAGIC) Co-operative, all of whom are actively working towards the goal of creating a sustainable, healthy food system in South Africa and leveraging the necessary support to make it happen.

Do you have any last lessons learned that you would like to share?  

Agroecology has enormous potential for both nature and people, and I was fortunate to see this playing out in the field. At the Heiveld, I learned about wild rooibos, which thrives in a completely healthy, natural Fynbos environment. Buying this product directly facilitates the conservation of wild spaces and indigenous knowledge of rooibos species and harvesting. In the Overstrand area, wild endemic flowers are conserved and harvested in the same way. Like the Heiveld, the Zizemeleni Co-operative in Stanford (a PGS member) is empowering the local underprivileged community by enabling them to grow and sell food for an income, with absolute minimal capital investment and an output of the most beautiful, healthy produce at a very reasonable price! Lastly, I realised that consumers play a critical role in facilitating the growth and global uptake of Agroecology, so please do your part and buy local, sustainable produce as much as possible!

Credit photo: Enya Munting


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