The Value of Organic Farming: On the Farm and In the Marketplace

Danielle (right) with Raymond Auerbach, founder of the Rainman Landcare Foundation. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Danielle (right) with Raymond Auerbach, founder of the Rainman Landcare Foundation. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

 This is the first in a two-part series about my visit to the Rainman Landcare Foundation in Durban, South Africa.

Dr. Raymond Auerbach, the founder of Rainman Landcare Foundation, nearly bursts with enthusiasm when he talks about the growth of organic agriculture practices in South Africa over the years. Raymond, a donor to Worldwatch, contacted me after seeing the Nourishing the Planet Newsletter and invited me to visit his farm near Durban, South Africa.

The Rainman Landcare Foundation is training farmers living outside of Durban on how to grow food without the use of artificial pesticides, insecticides, or fertilizers, as well as permaculture methods that efficiently use water and build up soils.

The Foundation recently had to discontinue the trainings at its headquarters, which is also the home Raymond shares with his wife, Christina, because of lack of funding. Now, the Foundation works with farmers at their own farms, teaching them how to build swales to prevent erosion and runoff, use mulch to help protect soils, and make and utilize organic compost. “Compost is very much the heart of the farm,” says Auerbach, referring to how compost can eliminate the need for many expensive outside inputs, such as inorganic fertilizers.

Organic farmers in South Africa share some of the same problems as their colleagues in the United States, says Raymond. While Raymond and others fought for organic certification standards for farmers in the 1990s, the requirements are usually too expensive and cumbersome for many small, rural farmers. Certification can cost anywhere from 10,000-20,000 Rand (about $1,300- $2,600) and requires complicated paperwork, which can be difficult for semi-literate farmers. But by developing Participatory Guarantee Standards (PGS) for Organic Agriculture, which includes developing local standards and training local inspectors, while eliminating expensive certification fees for small growers, Raymond believes that poor, rural farmers can benefit from the growing demand in South Africa for organic food.

“But it won’t be enough to just grow organic food,” says Raymond. “You also need to market it.” In addition to teaching farmers organic agriculture practices, the Rainman Foundation helps them establish links with the private sector. In the past, says Raymond, “we were very good at teaching people how to grow organic produce, but terrible at marketing.” That’s changing however, thanks to Earthmother Organic Store and Restaurant in Durban. Earthmother helped the farmers start a Green Growers Association, giving them a link to other buyers and ensuring a market for their produce. These sorts of private sector relationships are important for making organic farming an economically viable option for farmers, not only for farmers outside of Durban, but all over Africa.

Thanks again to Raymond for inviting me to visit the Rainman Landcare Foundation. Please let us know if you have other ideas for projects for us to visit in the coming months in Southern and Western Africa.

Stay tuned for videos about my visit with Raymond Auerbach at the Rainman Landcare Foundation.

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