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1 Jun 2021
Pete Moore - Sustainable Farming & Growing Consultant
Pete Moore - Sustainable Farming & Growing Consultant

Treat The Earth as a Family Member

I can’t tell you the exact moment I was inspired to grow food but I can tell you that because I’m such a curious person and I love nature, I’ve had this undying desire to learn how to grow food since I was young.

Why I Grow Food ...
Honestly, my favourite part is planting the seeds & watching them grow. It rewards me with a feeling of harmonious connection to this earth, it provides me with healthy food, and it cuts down on my carbon footprint and the garden clearly serves as a therapist as well. I often refer to the garden as my healer both mentally and physically.

Growing Space and Gardening Best Practices ...
My growing space is 500 square meters. I recycle all organic kitchen and yard scraps into a composting system, thereby giving me premium amendment soil for the grow beds in the spring.
I believe that in order to be in harmony with nature we need to use Organic gardening practices. I do not use anything in the garden that would risk loss of biodiversity, soil erosion or water pollution. 
I like to save seeds from the previous years harvest.

Challenges ...
My biggest garden pests are snails and I make sure to go out every morning in the spring and summer while the dew is out and hand pick them, I then feed them to the lucky birds. My other big pest is aphids and neem oil seems to do the trick as long as I get to them early enough.
The biggest hurdle I face when it comes to gardening is the lack of space and I’m always looking for creative ways to expand my growing space.

GreenAgric ...
GreenAgric allows me to work directly with Growers and Farmers from crop planning to figuring out ways to drive their sales and make Organic produce available to local communities.

Get Your Hands in the Dirt ...
I want people to think of the earth as a dear family member. It is a part of us, we have history together, earth gives us life. I want it to be treated with the utmost care and love and I want people to feel that care and love back from the earth. There are many ways to access this feeling of connection to Mother Earth and one of the greatest ways is to get your hands in the dirt and ...
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1 Jun 2021
Tebogo Ditsebe owns and manages a 48ha wine grape and raisin farm in the Free State.
Tebogo Ditsebe owns and manages a 48ha wine grape and raisin farm in the Free State.

Free State Wine

Picture the Free State, and you are likely to recall lands of maize and golden sunflowers stretching to the horizon. Near Jacobsdal, however, Tebogo Ditsebe is bucking the trend: she grows wine grapes and produces wine under her own label.

The farm covers 48ha, and 16ha of these are under an assortment of grape cultivars, such as white Muscadel, Villard Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tebogo Ditsebe’s introduction to farming was a remarkable combination of accident, luck and passion. As a consultant in Kimberley in the Northern Cape, agriculture was the last thing on her mind.

In 2001, however, she needed a place of quiet and calm to clear her mind after experiencing some personal hardship.

A friend, the late Herman Galaman, invited her and her children to stay on his plot in the Bloemfontein district. This was home to a few animals and Ditsebe undertook a few light duties on the farm.
“This is where my interest in agriculture was ignited,” she recalls.

The chance of a lifetime ...
In 2011, seeing her growing interest, Galaman offered to sell her his 48ha wine farm in Jacobsdal in the Free State.
“At that stage, my consultancy business wasn’t doing well,” explains Ditsebe.

Tebogo Ditsebe now owns and manages a 48ha wine grape and raisin farm in the Free State.
“Herman made it possible for me to become a farmer. He noticed my passion for farming and encouraged me to pursue the opportunity he presented. I realised this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and grabbed it.”

Ditsebe approached the then Department of Land Reform and Rural Development for financial assistance to acquire the farm, and in January 2013 finally received a 30-year lease with the option of buying the land through the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy.

The property, especially the vineyards, needed a great deal of attention and Ditsebe therefore applied for and received Recapitalisation and Development Programme funding of R2,4 million in 2014.
“The first thing I did was to employ workers and fence off the farm. I also built a shed and house,” she says.

Restoring the vineyards and learning the craft Ditsebe focused on cultivating the vines and bringing weeds under control, and with much nurturing, she and her team managed to revive the vineyards. The initial tonnage was 106t.

“However, due to climatic changes and old vines, the current production in terms of carrying capacity is 96t. I’m therefore systematically replacing older vines with new vines,” she explains.

During this time, Ditsebe also set about learning as much as she could about wine and wine production.
“I visited the Cape Winelands regularly to learn from various industry stakeholders. I also attended a winemaking course at Stellenbosch University.”

Approximately 16ha of the farm is under an assortment of grapes: white Muscadel, Villard Blanc, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Colombar, Touriga Naçional, Souzão and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ditsebe produced her first harvest in 2014. The harvesting starts with white cultivars from the middle of January until the end of February. The red cultivars are ready for harvesting by mid-March.

She presently has three permanent farmworkers, and employs an additional 30 people during harvesting, and between 10 and 15 during pruning from June to August.

From the depth of Africa’s soils ...
Ditsebe launched her wine range in 2015 after paying great attention to the design of her wine label.
“A good wine label does more than just provide customers with information,” she stresses.
“It should tell a story. I looked at my life experiences and environment, and wanted the label to represent these.”

‘Botébo’ is a Sotho word meaning depth.
“It refers to the depth that starts with the richness of our soil to the brilliance in colour of our grapes, which ultimately is captured in the richness of our variety of wines,” explains Ditsebe.
On her farm, the soil is characterised by stony red and lime soil, which is good for wine grape cultivars.

Ditsebe adds that the name of her wine is also testimony to her own depth to overcame adversity and challenges.

The Botébo range curently comprises Rosé, Chenin Blanc, Merlot, sparkling wine and Cabernet Sauvignon (her flagship wine), and are sold online.
“I want to keep my product exclusive and produce limited editions for specific markets,” says Ditsebe.

She also attends many wine exhibitions.
“My first was in Hyde Park in Johannesburg in 2016. During this festival, well-known brands were on show. When I sold all of my wine at the festival, I knew I was going in the right direction.”

Ditsebe will also be planting 10ha of grapes for the raisin market this year.
“I met a farmer in Upington to buy nets to protect my grapes, because bird damage is a huge problem, especially just before harvesting, and can really destroy a good harvest,” she says.
The farmer suggested that she forget about wine and focus instead on raisins.
“I was quite annoyed, as I’d visited him to talk about nets, not raisins. However, I went home and did some research on raisins. I always do my research; I don’t just jump into anything without acquiring some knowledge. From the research, it was evident the raisin market is very lucrative.”

Ditsebe received Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme funding from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to plant 5ha of grapevines to produce raisins. She sourced her own funds to plant the additional 5ha. She will be selling her raisins to Carpe Diem Raisins in Upington, which exports raisins worldwide.

In addition to diversifying to raisin production, Ditsebe dreams of turning her farm into an agritourism destination.
“I want Botébo to become the ultimate place to come and relax and have a good time,” she says.

Challenges ...
Ditsebe admits that her farming journey has come with many challenges and that she has put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into Botébo Wines.
She cites theft as a particular problem, especially from December until her grapes are harvested. To address the issue, she beefed up her security.
“We saw positive results, especially on the white Muscadel vineyards. These grapes are very sweet so they’re popular with thieves,” she explains.
Birds are another problem, as they cause great damage to the vines at this time of the year.

Her farm uses water sourced from the Oranje-Riet water scheme, which ensures a constant supply; this is channelled through the canal system to the farm.
“Water plays an important role in any farming activity; it’s a scarce resource that must be protected,” says Ditsebe.
“It’s a challenge for me to source additional water from the scheme.
This is due to claims that the scheme can’t supply more water because the [canal height must be increased] to supply additional water to emerging farmers. As someone who wants to operate as a commercial farmer, I’m hampered by this.”

According to Ditsebe, she needs huge financial capital to expand her operations and ensure that all bills get paid, and obtaining funding is difficult. She emphasises, however, that she does not expect handouts.
“I used every cent I had to make a success of Botébo Wines. It has been hard work, but worth every cent.”

 Email Tebogo Ditsebe at info@botebowines.co.za.

Article Credits : Jeandré van der Walt & Farmers Weekly
Article unashamedly amended by GreenAgric to delete discriminatory references !!! ... as there is absolutely no need to refer to people by race, sex, creed or colour !!! ...

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29 May 2021
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29 May 2021
More Smaller Farms are the way forward
More Smaller Farms are the way forward

EU vows to stem drastic loss of small farms

The EU is to introduce sweeping reforms of farming subsidies this week to try to halt the decline of small farms and protect them from the intensification of agriculture fostered by decades of previous policies.

Janusz Wojciechowski, the EU agriculture commissioner, said: “My intention is that this process of disappearing small farms should be stopped. The European food sector in the past was based on small farms, and it should be in the future as well.”

Analysis by the Guardian shows that the number of poultry and livestock farms alone in the EU, excluding Croatia, fell by 3.4m between 2005 and 2016, to 5.6m, the latest year for which comprehensive data is available. While poultry and livestock numbers increased over the period, the number of livestock farms declined sharply, showing that there has been a huge intensification of farming and that small farms have been lost. The total number of all types of farm in the EU fell during the same period from 14.5m to 10.3m.

This intensification, with more livestock gathered into a smaller number of farms, many of them large-scale factory-type facilities, accelerated with the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP), which has dominated Europe’s farming since its introduction in 1962. The biggest farmers benefit most from the subsidy system: about 80% of the €40bn (£34bn) direct payment subsidies go to just 20% of farmers.

Wojciechowski admitted that previous versions of the CAP had produced vast upheaval. “The reason we lost 4m farms in the EU was a mistake in the CAP. The support was too much [geared] to industrial farming and not enough to small and medium farms,” he said.

Reforms to the CAP to be brought forward this week by the EU will include measures to encourage farmers to leave more space for wildlife, to adopt organic standards for livestock, to use less chemical fertiliser and pesticide, and to nurture healthy soils.

Wojciechowski told the Guardian: “Protecting small and medium farms is a priority. It is not true that we need bigger and bigger farms for food security. Small farms can ensure food security for EU citizens.”

He said small and medium farms could provide more than food, as well as environmental and health benefits: “There is an understanding among legislators, parliament and the EU council that we need to protect better our small and medium farms – it’s very important for food security, and better for the environment, climate change and biodiversity.”

European consumers would also feel the benefits, he said. “Exports are important, but we need to pay more attention to our own markets – high-quality goods from European farms to European markets. This is a big chance for European agriculture,” he said.

Animal welfare would also improve, he said, from a greater emphasis on short supply chains, which would reduce the long journeys across Europe for some live animals.

He added: “Our intention is to increase organic food from 8% to 25% in the next decade, for instance. This will be especially good for small farms.”


These reforms may stop some of the haemorrhaging of small farms in the EU, but a return to small farms across the bloc looks increasingly unlikely. The Guardian’s data analysis gives a glimpse of what has been far more than an economic transformation among small farms. In France, Germany and the Netherlands, more than a third of livestock and poultry holdings have disappeared since 2005. Nearly 120,000 poultry farms were lost in France between 2005 and 2016, and nearly 36,000 in Germany.

The impact of the CAP can be clearly seen in the acceleration of the decline of small farms among newer EU states. Among longstanding EU member states, the decline in the number of small farms has been going on for decades. But eastern European farmers have had even more upheaval since 2004, when many joined: since 2005, Bulgaria has lost 72% of its livestock and poultry farms, Hungary 48%, Poland 54% and Slovakia 72%.

In the UK, the decline over the 12-year period from 2005 to 2016 was 25%, with 45,500 livestock and poultry farms lost between 2005 and 2016. The loss was more than 110,000 from the 319,000 total of all farms in 1990.

The CAP, forged in the aftermath of the second world war with the intention of promoting food self-sufficiency in Europe, has rewarded increasingly intensive and industrialised farming methods. Farmers were encouraged to produce more food at any cost, using more chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and bringing livestock from small flocks and herds in fields into large-scale factory farms.

Food production increased, but the environment suffered. The number of farmland birds in the EU has halved in three decades, according to the European Bird Census Council. Insect populations have also plummeted: numbers in Germany declined by three-quarters in the past 25 years, according to a study of protected areas, and butterfly numbers on farmed land in England fell by 58% between 2000 and 2009. Only a quarter of species in the EU have good conservation status, and 80% of key habitats are in poor or bad condition, according to Europe’s environmental watchdog.

Attempts in the past two decades to encourage nature-friendly farming methods, such as leaving hedgerows intact and keeping field margins for wildflowers and wildlife, have had little impact, according to campaigners.

Rural culture has also been transformed, with people flocking to cities, leaving rural areas to wealthy second-homers, with farms abandoned in less productive areas and swallowed up by huge agri-food businesses in others.

“Niche producers offering sustainable farming practices survive haphazardly with the sale of their products to restaurants or small shops, or they sell their live animals outright. They’re cut off from the dominant market,” said Fabio Ciconte, director of the environmental organisation Terra.

Campaigners have warned that the CAP deal to be announced this week is likely to be “greenwash” rather than a real transformation of EU farm policy into one that is good for small farmers and the environment.

Célia Nyssens, policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau NGO, said: “EU farm policy is a juggernaut of public spending that could be transforming agriculture towards a sustainable future and turning the tide on catastrophic nature loss. Sadly, it looks like the deal this week will continue driving the tractor in the wrong direction. A majority of funds will continue flowing to the biggest, most polluting farms, with barely any green strings attached. In this crucial decade for climate and biodiversity, the lack of ambition of the new farm policy is downright disastrous.”

Research on data for this piece by Kunal Solanky 

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29 May 2021
Solve Crop Problems Yourself
Solve Crop Problems Yourself

Solve Crop Problems Yourself

Solve those crop problems yourself, and save thousands

Find something wrong with your crop? Go through the planting and fertilising processes step by step on your own to see whether you can determine the cause. There’s a good chance you can, says Bill Kerr.

When this farmer asked me to investigate why his cabbage crop was not growing, I found this patch where the herbicide spray had missed. These plants are larger than the rest, showing that the herbicide rate was too high. As a farmer, you can identify this sort of problem yourself.

On discovering a problem with their crop, many farmers panic and call in a consultant. This can produce good results, but sometimes even a professional cannot identify the problem and ends up offering a calculated guess.

A client of mine once transplanted a land of cabbages, but they failed to grow. We examined the roots and found them to be stumpy.

I was puzzled as there was no distinct pattern to enable me to draw conclusions about the cause of the problem. Other consultants were also unable to provide answers (although some tried, offering clearly incorrect explanations).

The solution ...
Eventually, the farmer identified the problem himself. He had been dipping his polystyrene seed trays in a solution that prevented the roots from penetrating the tray, making it easier for the plants to be pulled out.

To prepare this mixture, he and his employee would place a measure of undiluted solution in a drum and add water, refilling the drum as required. But he then discovered that, instead of waiting for the drum to empty before mixing a fresh solution, his employee was putting a full measure of concentrate into the drum and topping it up with water while there was still some mixture left. As this process was repeated, the mixture in the drum grew more and more concentrated!

None of us knew that the farmer was treating the trays, so this possibility never occurred to us. This is a typical case of ‘panic and call in the experts’.

The moral of the story is that if you have problems with a crop, first analyse every step of the process, eliminating potential causes one by one. The farmer could have saved himself a good deal of stress in this way.

When a farmer asks me to identify a problem, we examine every step taken to get to that point, and we’ll invariably arrive at the cause of the problem together.

If the farmer had retraced these steps before phoning me, the problem could have been solved without me!

First-hand knowledge ...
Farmers are always in the best position to diagnose their crop problems, because they know all the steps taken. But they sometimes fail to realise that a particular step or action was the cause of the problem as it seems unimportant.

A nursery owner who supplied a large cabbage farmer with plants once arranged for us to visit the farmer together. At the time, the farmer was paying another consultant for advice.
When we arrived at the farm, I could see that the leaves showed symptoms of phytotoxicity (damage caused by chemicals, salt, or some other compound).

The crops were being targeted by aphids and the consultant had advised the farmer to apply phorate. Because the land comprised sandy soil, which leaches, he told the farmer to apply phorate to each plant rather than down the row, as per the label instructions. But the consultant made his mixing calculations using the regulation per-hectare amount, so each plant received far too high a concentration in the root zone.

Unfortunately, the consultant refused to accept my reasoning. So I ended up carrying out a trial at home to recreate the symptoms and sent the photographs to him.

I’m not saying, of course, that a farmer should never call in a consultant; I’m simply saying that the farmer should investigate the problem first, before asking for help.

It is also important to provide the consultant with as much information as possible, no matter how irrelevant some actions may seem.

Article Credits : Bill Kerr & Farmers Weekly ...
Bill Kerr is a vegetable specialist and producer of a range of vegetables. 

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28 May 2021
How satellite data can boost agriculture
How satellite data can boost agriculture

How satellite data can boost agriculture

The use of Earth observation has brought about dramatic improvements in agricultural practices and access to water. A new report published by the World Economic Forum details how Earth observations are fundamental to harnessing the innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to support agricultural productivity growth across Africa.

Africa is a large continent with a rich and diverse environment, resulting in many challenges, such as access to drinking water, rapid urban development, active deforestation, and food insecurity.

At a time when these challenges are taking their toll on communities, the COVID-19 crisis threatens the African economy and hinders efforts to achieve global development priorities.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa reports that economic growth will slow from 3,2% to 1,8%, pushing 27 million people into extreme poverty.

Africa’s ability to respond and recover is linked directly to how well the human population’s impact on natural resources is understood. Earth observation data is the cornerstone to this information, and a key transition of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the change in how this data is accessed and used to support a quick response to these critical challenges.

Democratising data ...
Earth observation provides vast quantities of satellite data for monitoring and managing Earth’s natural resources and the human and climatic impact on them. Digital Earth Africa (DE Africa), funded in part by the Australian government, is building the world’s largest operational platform for accessing and analysing decades of satellite imagery specific to Africa.

The project will translate data from the world’s free Earth observation satellites into ready-to-use insights about the continent’s environmental conditions.

This is an example of how Fourth Industrial Revolution technology can enable widespread socio-economic development. The insights it offers can be used to tackle a wide range of issues, including water scarcity, land use and food security.

Even under conservative assumptions, the impact of DE Africa could be higher than US$2 billion (nearly R30 billion) a year. However, shifting such economic estimations to action at scale will require the uptake and integration of data analytics practices and analysis-ready Earth observation data into business models and political systems.

Drawing on existing frameworks and identifying gaps to make improvements will enable this data to be used to address Africa’s critical challenges.

Boosting agricultural productivity ...
Agriculture is the lifeblood of many African economies, employing over 40% of the continent’s total working population and accounting for almost one-tenth of GDP.

Yet productivity rates are often far from global best practices and local farmers are frequently missing accurate information such as water availability and crop development.

Through the provision of Earth observation data products for African agriculture, DE Africa has the potential to generate an impact of up to US$1 billion (about R15 billion) a year.

These economic benefits would be generated by exploiting Earth observation technologies in four areas already demonstrated in other parts of the world and applicable to Africa, the first of which is in water savings.

Africa’s share of global freshwater resources is only 2% less than its share of world population (10% vs 12%), yet rainfall is unevenly distributed, since 86% of water withdrawals in Africa are used for agricultural purposes, with the share even higher in arid and semi-arid regions. The main consequence is a significant reduction in crop yield.

The primary cause of water waste in the African agricultural business is evaporation, caused by high temperatures, inefficient storage of water reserves, and non-optimal irrigation plans. Satellite imagery can help smooth this problem.

In combination with meteorological and spatially explicit training data and hydrological modelling, it can be used to derive information about the past and current state of main crops to make future predictions. It could thus improve water procurement and water allocation before and during irrigation, reducing water shortages.

Even assuming a conservative 20% impact on African cultivations and extending such benefits to all cultivations, the results may be very significant. By improving irrigation plans and adjusting timing and resource allocation, DE Africa could save 176 billion cubic metres of water a year, equivalent to a US$880 million (R13,1 billion) reduction in water abstraction costs.

The water savings that DE Africa could realise in only one year would be enough to meet eight years’ water requirement from African households.

Increased Crop Yields ...
Due to insufficient production, sub-Saharan African economies spend between $30 billion and $50 billion (R445 billion to R740 billion) a year to import food.

If domestic production does not catch up with domestic food requirements, Africa could spend more than US$150 billion (R2,2 trillion) on food imports by 2030.

Several studies demonstrate that increasing agricultural productivity helps boost rural incomes and increases food availability. However, the productivity levels of many cultivations and food staples produced in Africa are below international averages, due to lack of knowledge of up-to-date technology and practices, low use of chemically improved and hybrid seeds, and inadequate irrigation plans.

Earth observation can be used to improve crop monitoring at field and farm level, and could be the basis of accurate models set up to identify and remove factors causing lower yields (for example, sowing too late for current weather conditions), and making informed decisions on when to irrigate.

Earth observation data can also provide a rapid, standardised and objective assessment of the biophysical impact of agricultural practices in terms of vegetation cover, calling for restoration interventions when most needed. Through optimising sowing dates, DE Africa could raise its annual wheat production (10% effect) by 136 000t, bringing a benefit of at least US$35 million (R519 million) to the continent’s economy.

Reduced Insurance Cost ...
A key hindrance to the insurance industry is information asymmetry, which causes moral hazard and shrinks the growth margins of the sector. Usually, insurers have little information on their insured farmers, no insights into how they run their business, and no control over their actions.

This results in huge risk borne by providers, which is reflected in the high premiums they set for farmers.

The problem is even more relevant in Africa, where insurance penetration (2% on average) is far below the threshold of developed economies (6%). Satellite data can improve transparency of agricultural activity and output, as it helps assess crop conditions and environmental risks.

This enables companies to develop index-based insurance products. Earth observation data may also be used to develop algorithms to assess farmers’ creditworthiness, enabling access to resources to improve production.

It is estimated that developing sustainable financial products based on increased transparency in Africa will reduce costs and help create new tailor-made solutions, allowing farmers to save US$20 million (R297 million) in premiums and expanding the insurance market by at least US$25 million (R371 million).

Furthermore, if farmers are properly insured, they can rebuild more effectively if hit by disasters, instead of risking the loss of their main source of income.

Reduced pesticide usage ...
Despite several benefits in agricultural practices, such as productivity improvements, pesticides can have severe consequences for public health and the environment. Through implementing best practices and preventing the spread of diseases, pesticide use could be reduced.

Earth observation data could play a focal role in setting up development models aimed at monitoring the evolution of diseases and the massive movements of insects. Such models would be crucial in forecasting how much and where these phenomena spread, to focus and limit pesticide intervention instead of resorting to broad-based, spray-all campaigns.

This article is an edited excerpt from the World Economic Forum’s report titled ‘Unlocking the potential of Earth observation to address Africa’s critical challenges’ published in January 2021. 

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24 May 2021
Rapid transition to regenerative farming’ needed ...
Rapid transition to regenerative farming’ needed ...

Small Scale Family Farms

Small-scale family farms must be at heart of sustainable future ...

'Rapid transition to regenerative farming’ needed ...

Prince Charles, the future King of England, has called for small family farmers in the UK and across the world to come together in a cooperative movement using sustainable farming methods, and for their plight to be at the centre of environmental action.

Small farmers, in the UK and EU, are facing their biggest upheavals in more than a generation, with the loss of farm subsidies and new post-Brexit trade deals in the UK, and sweeping reforms to the EU’s common agricultural policy to be announced this week in Brussels.

Small farms have a huge role to play in our sustainable future

Writing for the Guardian, Prince Charles has urged small farmers to band together to cope with the coming shocks and shift to a low-carbon economy: “There are small farms the world over which could come together in a global cooperative committed to producing food based on high environmental standards … With the skills of ethical entrepreneurs and a determination from the farmers to make it work, I would like to think it could provide a very real and hopeful future.”

Farming is undergoing a “massive transition”, and the needs of family farmers must be taken into account, the prince said.

“To me, it is essential the contribution of the small-scale family farmer is properly recognised – they must be a key part in any fair, inclusive, equitable and just transition to a sustainable future. To do this, we must ensure that Britain’s family farmers have the tools and the confidence to meet the rapid transition to regenerative farming systems that our planet demands,” he said.

Analysis of farming data for the Guardian has shown that small farmers were already facing an increasingly difficult future, before the shocks of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. The EU has lost vast numbers of livestock farms in particular, with 3.4m gone between 2005 and 2016, the latest year for which full data was available.

At the same time, the number of livestock on farms has increased on average, a clear sign of intensification in the sector.

Many farmers have warned that Brexit could hasten the loss of smaller farms.

The Prince of Wales has long been a supporter of sustainable farming, and earlier this year launched Terra Carta, a roadmap to 2030 for businesses to move towards a low-carbon and environmentally sustainable future. He said this could provide a template for farmers coming together in cooperatives to reach consumers who are increasingly interested in buying locally and from small-scale producers.

“These small farmers are some of the most hard-working and innovative small businesses and, in so many ways, we depend on them far more than most of us will ever know,” the prince wrote.

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union, echoed his views: “We would not want to see a loss of the traditional family farm. We would lose the culture and heritage of this country, where 70% of the land is farmed and the expectation is that at the end of every farm track is a family. Our national identity is built on this.”

Small farmers in the UK are increasingly worried about what Brexit will mean for them.

Consumers would also lose out from the decline of small farms.

Article Credits : The Guardian

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23 May 2021
'Grow Your Own' Organic Food'
'Grow Your Own' Organic Food'

Food Price Increases

More food price increases not benefitting all farmers ...

Economists are describing the continuing upward pressure on food inflation as worrying, given the current tough times consumers are finding themselves in. 

With COVID-19 related lockdowns around the world resulting in increased demand for basic food items due to more home-cooking, food manufacturers saw it as an opportunity to slightly increase the prices of these items.

This was according to Ettienne le Roux, chief economist at RMB, who added that it would, however, be difficult for manufacturers to continue hiking prices.

“Although food manufacturers’ input costs are also increasing, which puts their margins under pressure, they remain aware of consumers’ financial constraints as well.”

Against the backdrop of rising international food costs, the domestic food market was also experiencing upward pressure in terms of food inflation, as well as rising agricultural producer price inflation.

Speaking to Farmer’s Weekly, Paul Makube, senior agriculture economist at FNB, said this upward pressure on food inflation was worrying, given the current tough times consumers found themselves in.

According to Makube, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) global food price index rose for the 11th consecutive month in April to its highest level since 2014, at 120,9 points, which was up 1,7% month-on-month, and 30,8% higher than the same month in 2020.

In the local market, all food sub-indexes of the Consumer Price Index accelerated during the same period, except that of fruit, with the biggest increases recorded for oil and fat prices, which rose 13,4% year-on-year (y/y).

In addition, milk, egg and cheese prices each increased about 7,2% y/y, while local meat inflation rose more than its international counterpart at 6,7% y/y.

“Grain farmers have definitely benefited immensely, but livestock producer margins have increasingly come under pressure as maize and soya beans are the biggest raw inputs [for] feed,” he said.

John van Tubbergh, sector head for consumer, food and agriculture at RMB, said in a statement that agricultural producer price inflation accelerated to 12,3% y/y in November 2020, before settling at a still high 7,2% in March.

However, not all farmers were deriving a price benefit from the current situation as this was largely dependent on the type of commodity they produced and the prices achieved for a particular commodity, Le Roux said.

The latest Household Affordability Index of the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group (PMBEJD) indicated that the cost of the average household food basket increased R159,37 or 3,9% from R4 039,56 in March to R4 198,93 in April.

However, over the past eight months the cost of the average household food basket increased R342,59 or 8,9% from R3 856,34 in September 2020 to R4 198,93 in April this year.

Article Credits : Pieter Dempsey & Farmers Weekly

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22 May 2021
GreenAgric Cannot Be Beaten for Price & Quality
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20 May 2021
Go After What You Want
Go After What You Want

Go After What You Want

'Go after what you want’ – lessons from a young Spinach Farmer ... 

Gauteng-based Gugulethu Mahlangu says volunteering for experienced vegetable farmers gave her the confidence to launch her own successful career in farming.

Gugulethu Mahlangu farms vegetables on a 14ha plot in Boksburg, 

Gugulethu Mahlangu, who was born and raised in eMalahleni, Mpumalanga, started studying agricultural science at the University of Pretoria in 2014. After one year of study, she felt uncertain about following a career in agriculture, and switched to psychology and physiology.

But she still felt a desire to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother, who was a farmer. So, to help make up her mind, she volunteered for work on farms to gain practical experience and get a taste of what life as a farmer would really be like.

A challenging start ...
Mahlangu admits she felt intimidated at first, as her male counterparts kept undermining her. Because she was a young woman, they sheltered her by giving her ‘ladylike’ jobs.

“No one wanted to give me real farming jobs. They thought I shouldn’t work in the fields because I’d get sunburn,” recalls Mahlangu.

She persevered, however, and has been able to use the lessons she learnt to become a better farmer and business person.

“I never allowed the lack of land and resources to stand in my way. I went after what I wanted, compromised, and sacrificed my time, energy and comfort to get where I am today,” she says.

“The time I spent volunteering made me realise I really did have a passion for agriculture. I also learnt that farming, when done right, can be lucrative.”

After volunteering, Mahlangu set about looking for land to farm, which was a challenge as she didn’t know where to start. She asked for permission to start farming at a farm she had volunteered at in eNtokozweni (Machadodorp). Here she planted cabbages, but later learnt that the land had become extremely water-logged, and her cabbages had died as a result.

“I was so excited to have land with access to water that I never took the climatic conditions and production factors of the area into consideration,” she says.

Farming in KwaZulu-Natal ...
She next travelled to Umzimkhulu in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) to farm on communal land with a friend who was from the area and who spoke to the chief on their behalf. Again Mahlangu planted cabbages, and this time her crop was destroyed by pests as she had failed to apply any pest control method.

She had learnt another important lesson: thoroughly research the land you intend to farm and ask for help from fellow farmers.

During her time in KZN, Mahlangu continued looking for land for herself, as she was now certain about a career in agriculture, despite her setbacks.

To earn some money, she started a small construction company, called GMS Dream House Construction. She still runs it successfully alongside her farming business.

In 2019, she finally managed to find land near Boksburg in Gauteng, signed a five-year lease, and moved there in December. She says that if it had not been for the help received from other farmers in her network, it is unlikely she would have found this land.

Getting started ..
Mahlangu cultivates 2ha of her 14ha farm, growing Fordhook Giant Swiss chard (spinach) and turnips under shade netting and in tunnels. Drip and sprinkler irrigation were already established on the property.

There is also a 2,2kW pump, which extracts water from a borehole and fills the farm’s 2 000ℓ reservoir. But because it takes up to 12 hours to do this, she hopes to replace it with a larger pump capable of filling the reservoir in three hours or less.

The property is also home to a chicken farm. According to Mahlangu, sharing makes it safer for her as there are always plenty of people and activity on the farm.

Before she planted her first crop in January this year, she carried out a soil analysis, followed by soil preparation.

“When I got the farm, there were weeds everywhere,” she recalls. “I had to clear the land and do land preparation such as tilling, taking out weeds, removing large rocks and levelling ground. To do the work, I rented a tractor from a neighbour at a discounted fee of R200/hour. The normal rate is R500/hour.”

Getting her first crop in the ground required a capital investment of more than R170 000. Mahlangu had to spend R100 000 on preparing the land, R40 000 on seed and another R30 000 on fertiliser and herbicides.

She has also started making her own compost.

“I use chicken manure, grass and spinach plant residue. Once it is ready, I’ll apply it during the land preparation phase at a rate of between 2t/ha and 3t/ha. My dream is to be an organic farmer,” she adds.

The major pests that need to be controlled in the spinach are cutworms and locusts.

Double lines ...
“I have a hand planter that is set to plant at 30cm between each plant,” she explains. “We do double lines on the spinach, planting at an inter-row spacing of 15cm to allow each dripper line to supply water to two rows of plants.”

Drip irrigation is used on open lands, while the tunnels are equipped with overhead sprinklers.

Mahlangu’s first crop of spinach and turnips went to market in March. Her closest market is in Springs; after coming to an arrangement with an agent there, she delivered her entire spinach crop there.

“My contract stipulates that I need to deliver 1 000 bunches of spinach a week. The agent collects the spinach from the farm and takes it to the market. The second spinach crop was planted in May, but it perished due to frost.

“According to one of the larger farmers nearby, this year’s winter was the coldest he has yet experienced in Gauteng. Their spinach, like ours, suffered major frost damage.”

Fortunately, Mahlangu was able to prune the dead, yellow leaves of the spinach, which enabled the plants to produce new leaves when the weather turned warmer.

“I’m also expanding to include green beans, Hubbard squash, mustard spinach and parsley in my crop mix,” she says.

This, she adds, will enable her to have a crop that can be sent to market almost every month of the year.

Article Credits : Farmers Weekly

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3 May 2021
GreenAgric.Africa
GreenAgric.Africa

Health and Safety Do’s and Don’ts for Farmers

Navigating your way through the numerous rules and regulations of workplace health and safety can seem a daunting prospect, but labour consultants are there to guide you.

Jeandré van der Walt spoke to a number of experts in the occupational health and safety industry about the key aspects of farmworker safety.

Providing workers with enough toilets, no further than 500m from the workplace, and handwashing facilities with access to clean water, soap and paper hand towels, is non-negotiable. 

“Health and safety is a critical component that should be central to every business strategy.

After all, healthy workers are the heartbeat of any business,” says Jahni de Villiers, director at Labour Amplified.

To this end, she adds, it is essential that employers adhere to the requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act No. 85 of 1993.

The purpose of the act, as set out by the Department of Labour, is: “To provide for the health and safety of workers in connection with the use of plants and machinery; the protection of persons, other than those at work, against health and safety hazards arising out of or in connection with the activities of persons at work; to establish an advisory council for occupational health and safety; and to provide for matters connected therewith.

”Quoting the chief inspector of occupational health and safety at the Department of Labour, De Villiers says that compliance is only 45% to 55% across all sectors. Put another way, this means that at least one in two farmers is not compliant.

She advises that, as a first step towards compliance, a farmer draw up an assessment that outlines all the areas of risk in his or her operation.

'From this starting point, you can take steps to determine how you can hedge the risks that are within your control"

She points out that if one gets stuck, there are labour consultants who can offer advice and assistance.

Training, too, can play an important role, as it enables employees to understand what the health and safety implications are for the workplace and what their responsibilities are.

SAFE FARMWORKER TRANSPORTATION ...

Earlier this year, farmworker transportation safety came under the spotlight following a deadly crash near Worcester. 

According to Retha Louw, CEO of the Sustainability Initiative of South Africa (SIZA), a transport risk assessment should form part of the overall health and safety risk assessment for a business.

'Although an employer is under no legal obligation to provide transport to and from the workplace, the remote location of farms, the lack of public transport, and the level of poverty in rural areas are some of the issues that often obstruct employees from getting to work,” she explains.

Farmers are therefore often left with little option but to transport their workers. This obviously carries risk and it is important that the transport be managed effectively. Doing so brings many benefits for the employees and employer: less chance of injury, less risk of financial loss, and improved productivity and morale, says Louw.

All vehicles used to transport workers must meet the legal requirements as stipulated by the National Road Traffic Act of 1996. For example, Regulation 247 of the Act specifies the following:

"No person shall operate on a public road a goods vehicle conveying persons unless that portion of the vehicle in which such persons are being conveyed is enclosed to a height of (a) at least 350mm above the surface on which that person is seated; or (b) at least 900mm above the surface on which such person is standing, in a manner and with a material of sufficient strength to prevent such person from falling from such vehicle when it is in motion.

'Ideally,” adds Louw, “no person being transported should be standing on the body of the vehicle, but there’s not really any specific prohibition on this.

”She stresses that farmers or management of farming businesses must at all times ensure the following:

Maintaining a safe speed when transporting employees;

Passengers must sit or stand properly before the vehicle leaves. No employee’s body should lean over a vehicle;

No equipment, materials or tools are to be transported with workers;

The transporting vehicle must be roadworthy and have a valid licence;

The driver must be in possession of a valid professional driving permit when driving on a public road;

No school going children may be transported in the back of a vehicle designated for the transport of employees.

Agri Western Cape (AWC) has also indicated that under no circumstances may vehicles be overloaded with passengers. Where workers are transported on the backs of bakkies or trucks, AWC recommends that the protocol developed by AWC and the Western Cape Department of Agriculture during levels 4 and 5 of the lockdown be adhered to.

This states that 50% of the vehicle’s registered mass be used as a guideline for the number of persons being transported.

I understand that the recommendations may imply additional costs, but in the interest of agriculture, we can’t support the overloading of vehicles when workers are transported,” says Jannie Strydom, CEO of AWC.

De Villiers cautions farmers that they must prepare themselves for possible changes to the law regarding the transportation of workers.“Although farmers try their best to transport workers as safely as possible, it’s never 100% safe and it’s problematic. I don’t think this is something that will be allowed indefinitely.

”She recommends that the agriculture sector prioritise finding safer transport methods for farmworkers.

SAFETY DURING HARVESTING ...

De Villiers says that the harvesting of crops is associated with a number of potential health and safety hazards, such as the use of heavy equipment, falling, and exposure to the sun.

According to SIZA, farmers must ensure that all equipment used during this period is well maintained and ladders be inspected before use to ensure they are safe and in good condition.

In addition, employees should be trained to work safely at heights and taught the correct manual lifting techniques.

Unlimited and easily accessible water as determined by the South African National Standard (SANS) 241: 2015 must be provided to workers in orchards or vineyards.

Werner van Dyk, SIZA’s audit manager says that the water must be tested every 6 months, in summer and winter, by a SANS-approved laboratory.“If any deviations are picked up, the laboratory will provide recommendations that must be followed to ensure the water is safe.”

De Villiers stresses the importance of training workers on the cause, signs and symptoms of heat stroke or heat stress.

“The OHS Act stipulates that employees also share in the responsibility of workplace safety. You have to be able to look after yourself, but it’s also important that you can look after your co-workers and know what to do or who to contact in case of an emergency,” she says.

According to Van Dyk, the provision of toilets to workers is non-negotiable; in an orchard, for example, farmers may make use of mobile toilets. Toilets should be no further than 500m from the workplace, and there should be handwashing facilities with access to clean water, soap and paper hand towels.

According to SANS10400, Part T, there must be at least one toilet for every four women and one for every eight men.

SAFETY MEASURES FOR CHEMICALS ...

The OHS Act has highly specific regulations on how chemicals used in the workplace must be handled. 

De Villiers explains that the type and amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) required by a worker will depend on the type of chemical being used.

PPE must be provided by the employer to the workers at no cost.

However, PPE must be taken care of by the employees, and if it is damaged, the employee can be held responsible.

Van Dyk adds that before employees are exposed to hazardous chemical substances, the employer must ensure they are comprehensively informed and trained. Workers who are exposed to potentially harmful chemicals must regularly undergo a medical examination conducted by a registered occupational health practitioner.

The medical bill for these examinations must be covered by the employer.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING COMPLIANT ...

Health and safety requirements are in place to keep employees safe and avoid exposure to hazards as far as possible. Health and safety compliance is also important for business.“If farmers don’t comply, they will receive findings during their third-party audits that could hinder their sales to markets,” cautions De Villiers.

She adds that there is no room for farmers who do not meet health and safety requirements, as it takes only one such employer to put everyone at risk.“Of course there are still some rotten apples here and there, but gradually they are being phased out because we simply cannot afford them.”

In addition, being health and safety compliant reduces the risk of being fined or prosecuted by the South African Police Service and the Department of Labour, or suffering reputational damage.

Louw says it is therefore important that farmers make sure they hire capable people who are in charge of managing health and safety on their farms.

"Competent people and a practical and relevant risk assessment are the key factors to managing health and safety successfully in a business,” she concludes.

Article Credits : Jeandré van der Walt & Farmers Weekly

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1 May 2021

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26 Apr 2021
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Fixing South Africa's Agricultural Problems

Fixing the problems facing SA Agriculture ...

A group of recent graduates from the Syngenta Leadership Academy believe the factors that give farming a poor public image could be resolved through developing a better understanding of the complexities that underpin the main challenges facing the sector.

The Syngenta Leadership Academy Class of 2020 had the opportunity to present the insights they gained from participating in this business leadership programme, and so shed light on how to tackle some of the greatest challenges faced by the agriculture sector.

Now in its eighth year, this programme, which is run by Syngenta in partnership with the North-West University Business School and Grain SA, seeks to empower a new generation of leaders in agriculture. Since its inception, the programme has successfully hosted about 150 young commercial farmers and agriculture sector professionals.

The 2020 intake included 17 candidates from the sugar, feedlot, forestry, livestock, agrochemical and seed, equipment, horticulture and agronomy industries, amongst others.

The major challenges ...
Mbali Nwoko, CEO of Green Terrace, an agribusiness that supplies retailers, food processing companies and the fresh produce markets in Johannesburg with high-value vegetable crops, says that uncertainty about property rights, illegal occupation of farmland, land grabs, access to markets, and government’s lack of support were some of the factors that contributed to creating a poor public image of the agriculture sector, especially from the perspective of would-be investors.

These are also some of the reasons that young people are reluctant to make a meaningful contribution to the sector, she says.

Additionally, says Nwoko, a perception exists in South Africa that farmers don’t take care of their employees, providing them with substandard and generally poor living and working conditions.

“This might hold true in some cases, but not for all, and it might be a small fraction who do this. Perhaps this perception is based on memories from the past.

“But right now, there are many farmers who provide safe housing for their farmworkers, and who are going above and beyond in creating a good livelihood for them by providing various services such as healthcare services and schools. These stories are not celebrated enough,” says Nwoko.

Lack of government support ...
Nwoko thinks that there is growing concern amongst farmers regarding the lack of government assistance. This, she adds, is disheartening for farmers, who have lost faith and trust in government.

“Consider, for example, the support that new farmers should be receiving from extension officers. These officers are supposed to provide farmers with adequate technical advice, such as updated information on commodity trading. Instead, government hires graduates with little expertise and knowledge who provide no value to the farmers.”

This problem of lack of capacity also applies to public research and development. According to Nwoko, institutions such as the Agriculture Research Council are no longer at the forefront of conducting research that could help solve farmers’ practical problems, and government needs to spend more on agricultural research and development if it wants to support the farming sector and see it grow.

Building trust ...
“An ideal future would be to unite a divided sector and find the necessary solutions to build a positive public image of agriculture,” says Mihlali Xhala, head of the Corporate Chamber at Agri SA and also part of this year’s Syngenta Leadership Academy intake.

To achieve this, the sector requires a strategy for building trust and strengthening partnerships amongst its stakeholders.

“We need to understand that agriculture is a complex sector consisting of interrelated stakeholders and reciprocal relationships. In our endeavours to address and understand these challenges, we should engage all stakeholders and identify shared interests.”

Gerswin Louw, livestock manager at Dasberg Boerdery in the Overberg in the Western Cape, says that unity will require a balancing of powers. Many of the problems that contribute to agriculture’s poor public image cannot be resolved solely by the sector.

But before other sectors can be involved, there first needs to be a degree of unity within agriculture. Louw says that, in addition to the poor quality of agricultural education, there is not enough knowledge-sharing and training to support upcoming farmers, and this adds to the sector’s poor public image.

He highlights the divide that exists between the private and public sectors in the way that institutions are managed.

“In the private sector, institutions are run according to business principles, which include the need to make a profit. In the public sector, government mostly works to win elections, and the focus is on retaining and gaining power instead of on service delivery.”

Mismanagement of the public sector, says Louw, spills over to the private sector in the form of tax increases, even though citizens gain little value from government’s spending of their tax money.

“This affects not only commercial farmers, but small-scale farmers, who also suffer when public money is not spent on developing much-needed infrastructure.”

A turning point ...
The good news is that there are solutions, says Sarel Olckers, junior feedlot manager at Morgan Beef Group. “Changes can be made in the short term, for example, ensuring better access to markets. Most of the infrastructure needed to make this happen already exists.

All that government has to do is maintain and upgrade it.”

Other interventions that could help address the challenges identified by the group of graduates include investing in agricultural education and improving relations between farmers and their communities.

“Sharing knowledge and experience from both sides of the spectrum and supporting one another is the change that we, as young leaders, will have to make,” says Olckers.

To this end, says Louis Steyl, CEO of the Bonsmara Cattle Breeders’ Society of South Africa and owner of Steyl Bonsmaras, there need to be integrated study groups where commercial and emerging farmers can share knowledge.

Steyl adds there should be incentive programmes to encourage commercial farmers to mentor emerging farmers in their areas.

According to Olckers, decreasing rural crime is a challenge that will take a long time to solve, and the solution lies in co-operation between government and organised agriculture.
Olckers and Steyl believe that one of the most crucial factors that needs to be addressed to increase investment in the sector is to obtain policy clarity, particularly on land, as lack of certainty scares off investors.

“We need to change from uncertainty about landownership to stability. No one wants to invest in a farm if there’s a chance it can be taken away without even getting compensation for what has been built up over generations,” says Steyl.

In general, the graduates would like to see land reform beneficiaries selected on merit, and not because of their connections.

Steyl says that organised agriculture needs to become more inclusive.

“This should begin at farm level to reduce racial tensions by understanding and respecting different cultures, and working together and accommodating one another.”

Email Mbali Nwoko at mbali@greenterrace.co.za; Mihlali Xhala at mihlali@agrisa.co.za; Gerswin Louw at gerslouw@gmail.com; Sarel Olckers at sarel@morganbeef.co.za; and Louis Steyl at louis@bonsmara.co.za.

Article Credits : Siyanda Sishuba and Farmers Weekly

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