|CONSUMER CHOICE Why organic?|
the power of voting with your purchase...
We are all connected in simple and complex ways, to each other, and the earth. Our choices, big or small, influence the world we live in and the environment that sustains us. The production cycle of organic farmers is sensitive to consumer cycles, which are in turn affected by changes in world economies and lifestyle choices. The humble tomato may potentially become an overnight sought after prize in our country, should there be a sudden shortage due to high export demands and price offers. In this growing, fast-paced and increasingly chaotic world, we still have choices and influence over the commodities we wish to consume, and the quality of them. Consumer choice is powerful. Once you’ve bought it, you’ve voted for it.
Yes, we have the ability to influence the journey our food takes from the soil it grows in to how it lands up on our plates!
Let us begin with the basics.
HEALTHY SOIL = HEALTHY PLANT = HEALTHY HUMAN
This is the golden rule of farming success. Each crop planted requires such a wide array of micro-nutrients throughout its life-cycle in a form that is easily imbibed by the plant, that it would be a costly process to include synthesised forms of each and every one of these to ensure plant health. Nature has supplied us with an abundance of little helpers to do the work for us. Biological populations in the soil including bacteria, fungi and earthworms work together symbiotically in communities to breakdown organic matter into more digestable forms for the plant. Interplanting with companion plants (tomatoes with basil, beetroot with garlic) and practising crop rotation reduces pest populations and prevents depletion of the soil’s nutrients resulting in healthier and more disease resistant plants. Organic farming strives to create a healthy environment for soil organisms, thus ensuring crop health – so we leave the soil in a healthier state than when we found it.
Conserving water, soil and biodiversity are key organic farming principles. South Africa loses about 10 million tonnes of topsoil each year, a life support system for soil biological populations and plants. Improving the soil humus content, watering strategically and use of mulches are some of the prescribed methods of organic farming. Natural pest control reduces the need for synthetic sprays and works by encouraging a vibrant insect population including bees for pollination, ladybirds to control aphids, spiders and parasitic wasps for most problematic insects. Toxic rodent baits and poisons impact negatively on raptor populations. Setting up bat and owl houses helps control moth and rodent problems. Every conservation effort counts. Removing alien invasive plants frees up valuable water in our river catchments and restores indigenous biodiversity. South Africa is most fortunate occupying only 1% of the world’s landmass, we have 10% of the world’s biodiversity. That’s over 100 million species in our care! 2013 marked the International Year of Water Co-operation as we see dwindling access to clean water fast becoming a threat to survival. Recycling, water-wise gardening and being aware of water issues affecting our country are ways of becoming involved in conserving this valuable resource.
CAN ORGANIC AGRICULTURE PRODUCE ENOUGH TO MEET OUR NEEDS?
Many supporters of conventional farming methods believe that the world’s food needs can only be satiated using conventional methods. If this is true, then why haven’t we done this already and fed the starving millions of people on our planet? With hiking petrochemical prices, many ‘conventional’ farmers are now turning to organic or biological methods of farming including producing their own compost and drastically reducing the amount of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides used, with good crop yields. This is further proof that organic farming can produce enough to meet the world’s needs.
Farmers already produce enough food to feed the world’s entire population, it is only concentrated in the places where about 40% of it is thrown away. Our food travels further, is becoming less fresh and nutritious and packaged smaller with a lot more packaging that lands up in landfill sites. If this is conventional, it is certainly heading for disastrous consequences for consumers and the environment. Fuel and Eskom price hikes will influence the cold chain and the distance our food will have to travel as businesses are sensitive to these price hikes, causing us to re-asses the cost of food miles. Food is best produced closest to where it will be consumed. We are already witnessing the return of home grown vegetables, school food gardens, community market gardens, organic markets and vegetable box systems, perhaps too, our friendly local greengrocer stocking locally sourced fresh produce without the excessive plastic and styrofoam packaging.
Consumer choice has an impact on what business will buy in and make available to you, so use this vote well and make informed choices. Get to know your food better: where does it come from, how was it made, are some of the ingredients necessary and acceptable to you, where will the packaging end up when you’ve consumed the contents. Paying for a product means that you approve of it and want the supplier to make it available to you again.
Remember, consumer choice is powerful. Once you've bought it, you've voted for it.
2014 is the International Year of Family Farming: http://www.fao.org/family-farming-2014/en/
2015 is the International Year of Soils