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South African Farmers Turn to Organic Farming

only way to secure future profitability.

"I'm a businessman," he says. "Conventional farming offers no return."

The citrus industry, like the wine industry, is periodically beset by gluts in production, pushing down prices and squeezing producers' margins.

Apart from higher prices for organics, decades of heavy nitrate and fertilizer usage has robbed the already poor soil of its nutrients.

Hennie Saaiman, a potato farmer-turned consultant on biological agriculture, notes that in the late 1970s, 20 kg of nitrates were recommended to secure two tonnes of wheat in South Africa. Today, to obtain the same yield itrequires an input of 55 kg.

"If we hadn't made that change (to organic farming) we wouldn't still be here," says Mike Prevost, owner of Lorraine Farm in the Elgin Valley, who pioneered the production of organic apples and pears in the area east of Cape Town in the late 1990s.

Fruit farming is notorious for heavy spraying regimes, he says. While it rids the fruit of pesky bugs it also kills off friendly bacteria. The more Mike sprayed, the more fertilizer he needed, locking him into a vicious cycle of rising inputs costs.

Nourished by compost made of cow manure, bird droppings, mulched apple and other natural ingredients, the soil now boasts a richer moister texture, and, Prevost maintains, his fruit has "better legs" to withstand extreme weather.

Fruit farmers complain of mildew on grapes from un-seasonal rains and of unduly hot spells robbing apples of moisture.

Whatever the reasons for the shift, organic farmers are assured of a market for their output, with signs of South African, European and American importers all starting to vie for supply.

Tired of being thrown low-grade fruit by producers who send the cream of their crop overseas, Pick 'n Pay is backing a scheme to boost production and ensure a more varied supply.

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