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Biophile Magazine -- » The wave is cresting — are we ready to surf?

"One of the greatest surprises you'll experience, is when you discover that you can do what you were afraid you couldn't do.
Your obstacles will melt away, if instead of cowering before them, you make up your mind to walk boldly through them." Daily Guru

The wave is cresting — are we ready to surf?

by Aletta Venter

FILED IN: Activism · Issue 11


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For those of us who are at the rock face of the developments within the organic industry, it is obvious that the rate of change and growth is increasing daily and exponentially.


It is as though we have been waiting for the tide to turn, for the wave to pick up momentum and now we are the point that we need to know that we are ready to take advantage of the swell that will soon start breaking as a massive wave across the country.

Across all walks of life people are increasingly aware that we are running out of time and ideas to effect a real change in how human beings relate and interact with the natural environment that is our only real recourse for survival. As much as the technologists would like us to believe that we can live out of a laboratory and that money is all it takes, the average human being knows instinctively that is not the case.

And what is more, more and more people are recognizing that this is not what we really want. We all hanker after the beautiful sight of wild animals, clean rivers, flowers in bloom and all that feeds our souls and spirits, as well as our bodies. Our connection to mother earth may be tenuous at best, but it is still there and all it needs is an enabling environment.

This is where our government plays a critical role.

Without conscious and concerted support from our government, our best efforts at civil society level will have only limited and local effect. This is not to say that we must stop working at this level, not at all. It is simply that our effort can have so much more impact if it is backed up and supported by government.

The creation of such an enabling environment is what SACODAS is about. The South African Council for Organic Development and Sustainability (SACODAS) was formed to act as the governing and custodian body for a national initiative called the National Organic Produce Initiative (The NOPI for short).

All Public-Private Partnerships require such broad based stake holders’ forum that can channel and express the needs and wishes of civil society in an ordered fashion to government role players. Through the lengthy process of establishing such a partnership with government, we have achieved what has never happened before – for the very 1st time some government officials have recognized that anything other than a western, commercial and industrial approach to development has merit.

The NOPI is now an official national program in which sound sustainable agriculture (organic and biodynamic of course) forms the foundation for all sustainable development programs.

Because of work that was done through the NOPI and SACODAS, the national department of Agriculture was alerted to the fact that legislation was about to be passed on Biofuels that effectively excluded the small-scale private production of biofuels. SACODAS managed to persuade the officials that this was not fair and contrary to our constitution. Work is now underway to ensure that the legislation allows room for such production.

Accurate information on organic produce

In order to implement the NOPI it was recognized that we need accurate information on organic produce in SA. As a result of the brief, checkered and beleaguered history of organics in SA, there is virtually no reliable market information available.

The initiators of the NOPI approached the Dept. of Trade and Industry and persuaded them that the “organic agricultural industry” as part of the broader agro-ecological sector, could be viewed as a new economic sector in SA. This means that it qualifies for government support to research and evaluate how this sector can best be developed.

Such studies are conducted using the FRIDGE. The FRIDGE (Fund for Research into Industrial Growth, Development and Equity) is a project of the National Economic, Development and Labour Council’s (NEDLAC) Trade and Industry Chamber. It is funded by the department of trade and industry and administered by the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa Limited (IDC).
A stakeholder meeting was held in Dec 2005 to draft the terms of reference for such a study.

The study was approved at the start of the year and the call for tenders has just been published (in June). The study will be completed within 3 to 6 months after the consultants have been appointed, i. e. by early 2007. The outcome of this study will be document outlining a strategy for the development of the agro-ecology sector.

For the first time the government will have an official reference document that will guide decisions affecting this newly defined economic sector. This is a major breakthrough and thanks need to be given to the tireless efforts of the individuals and organizations who took it upon themselves to make sure that this happens.

Focus in Africa

Alongside this, another very exciting opportunity has presented itself. SIDA, The Swedish International Development Agency, annually conducts an international training program called Organic Agriculture Development (OAD). This year they decided to focus on Africa and opened the course to participants from Africa only.
Three applicants from South Africa were selected.
The good news is that these 3 participants have agreed to work as a team to develop a joint national sustainable development plan for the Agro-Ecology sector agriculture in SA – and of course organic/biodynamic agriculture is again the foundation of this sector! The team consists of 3 women, one from SACODAS, one from the National Department of Agriculture and one from a private NGO (ASNAPP). SACODAS is calling on all its members to make inputs for the development of this very important development plan. See their contact details at the end of this article.

The good news has still not ended. We now have a new minister of Agriculture, Lulama Xingwana, who is set to blow some fresh air into her department. We understand that she visited organic farms on her recent trip to the UK and was very impressed and excited by what she saw. She has also indicated that if the stakeholders in the industry can present her department with the necessary documents, she would be willing to sign off the legislation regarding norms and standards in the organic industry.

The lack of such legislation has been a major constraint for all those that are involved in the marketing and export of organic produce. Here Organics SA has taken steps to lead an investigating into the current status quo around certification. This will form part of the greater work that is to be done through the SIDA program about redefining quality standards for local and export production.

All consumers are entitled to quality produce that they can rely on and that they can be sure has been produced in an eco-friendly and sustainable manner. Quality is about more than just a list of check boxes!

Promoting exports of organic produce

In a recent call from the Department of Agriculture for candidates for a program promoting exports of organic produce; it was shocking to realize that there were virtually no emerging farmers who qualified for this program!

This highlights the huge potential that exists to convert farmers to organic and biodynamic farming. Effective training in sustainable and integrated agricultural methods such as organic and biodynamic farming remains the starting point for this conversion.

Here again Organics SA has recognized that what training is taking place in SA is not necessarily having the desired effect. In order to address these issues, OSA has obtained funds from Old Mutual to conduct a survey of training and to monitor the outcome of such training. This program is now underway. The results of this program should improve the quality and effectiveness of training in organic agriculture that is being offered in SA.

All of what is happening now is the result of the work and inputs of dedicated individuals and organizations who have never given up on their belief that there is a better way. However, the struggle continues and more and more it is clear that we need to present a united front to our opposition – both in government and in civil society.

Huge concerns

There are still huge concerns around the wide-spread acceptance of GMO’s, the lack of quality control, traceability and labeling.
These issues can only be addressed if we have a much higher level of public and private awareness. It is shocking to know that fewer than 5% of our population know what the acronym GMO stands for, yet they are quite happy to consume foods containing it!

In order to address some of these issues of awareness, Organics SA decided to open its annual conference to a much wider audience than in the past. The theme of this year’s conference is “Sustainable Agriculture” and they are inviting people and organizations from across the whole spectrum of our society, including key departments from government.

This conference is once again taking place in tandem with the Natural and Organic Products Exhibition that is being held in Gauteng at Gallagher Estate from the 20th to the 22nd of September 2006. This exhibition is being held annually and has contributed in a major way to the huge upswing in interest in organic products and produce. The OSA conference is taking place from the 19th to the 21st of Sept at the same venue. Check the OSA website (www. organicsouthafrica. co. za) for details on the program and speakers.

So what can you as a private individual do?

Become active – Be an activist. If you, or any organization that you are part of, is any way involved or interested in supporting organic development and sustainability (which includes more than just organic agriculture), please join SACODAS. SACODAS already has more than 50 members.

The more members there are, the more credible the organization becomes as a truly representative body of stakeholders and the more impact their work will have.

There are no fees attached and the only criteria is that the member agrees with the objectives of the company and that when called upon members are willing and able to participate and contribute to strategies and programs that will support the NOPI and other such related programs that will lead to a truly organic and sustainable development of our beautiful country.

The philosophy behind SACODAS and the NOPI are well illustrated in this passage quoted in Lovemore Mbigi’s book The Spirit of African Leadership on page 13.

“Spiritual capital challenges capitalism’s assumptions that we are primarily economic creatures and argues instead that human beings are essentially creatures of meaning and purpose. The spiritual qualities of a business or a life show the need for dialogue with meaning vision, fundamental/values and deep purpose.

“Spiritual capital takes these as crucial commodities of exchange. A company or a person who acts in accordance with meaning, vision, purpose and fundamental values – while making a profit – is invested with spiritual capital. Its primary assumption is that companies can make more profit by doing more good. We act on this assumption by using our spiritual intelligence. (Danah Zohar)” ?

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