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South African Farmers Turn to Organic Farming

A quiet revolution is taking place in the orchards of the Western Cape. After decades of trying to coax fruit onto the trees with the aid of chemicals, fruit farmers are// packing in the pesticides and deciding to grow green.

Organic farming has come to South Africa, where it is being billed, not only as a profitable enterprise, but also as a panacea for poor soil quality in growing regions.

From an estimated 5 million rand ($700,000) before 2003, sales of organic food grown in South Africa - domestic sales and exports combined - jumped to 155 million rand ($21 million) in 2005, with an exponential increase expected again in 2006/07, according to Organics South Africa trade organization.

After a slow start the rate of conversion to organic farming has accelerated. Of the 230 certified organic or in-conversion operations in South Africa in 2005, 75 percent have started organic processes in the previous two years.

South African retailers are also, belatedly, falling in behind organics. Organic tomatoes, apples and potatoes are now widely available in supermarkets, from the mass-market Pick 'n Pay and Chequers chains to the tonier Woolworths.

In an emerging market such as South Africa the move to organic production is usually an economic rather than an ideologically driven decision.

With the global market for organic food growing at a runaway 35 percent, new suppliers are being urgently sought, particularly in Europe and the US.

In these markets, high labour costs act as a deterrent to a shift to organic farming. South African farmers, on the other hand, have access to a large pool of cheap labour. With a minimum wage of 885 rand a month for farm workers in rural areas, most commercial farmers can afford several pairs of hands when it comes to weeding.

For Modderfontein Farm's Mike Stekhoven the shift to organics on his 2,500-hectare farm two hours north of Cape Town was the
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