Farmers in many parts of the word have embraced artificial fertilizers and chemicals to enhance yields and maximize profits. But a group of farmers in Johannesburg has decided to stick with organic methods to produce their vegetables.
Amon Maluleke is the chairman of the Bambanani Farming Cooperative in Betrams, a suburb less than two kilometres from Johannesburg. He says, “My experience [of farming] when I was still in the village taught me that organic farming is the best. Organically grown food is nutritious and healthy.”
Mr. Maluleke believes that organic farming helps to conserve the environment. He says: “Organic fertilizers and compost material do not kill the soil organisms, and we want to preserve these, [as] without them nothing grows.”
Mr. Maluleke started organic farming in 2007. He was impressed by the organic crops he harvested from his half-hectare plot. He was working in a salaried position at the time, but decided to concentrate on farming full-time.
Refiloe Molefe also farms organically and joined the Bambanani Cooperative in 2008. The 55-year-old former nurse believes that, although organic farming is labour-intensive, it is good for her health. She says, “My life as a farmer has been interesting and wonderful. I feel I am getting younger and stronger because of the organically grown food that I eat every day.”
Ms. Molefe cultivates her soil only twice a year to avoid disturbing the micro-organisms that maintain life in the soil. She says, “After land preparation, the soil is mulched with grass or leaves to protect these organisms.”
Mr. Maluleke fertilizes his garden with compost and other organic fertilizers. Both he and Ms. Molefe grow spinach, cabbage, tomatoes and peppers. They intercrop these vegetables with onion and garlic to protect them from insects and other pests.
Mr. Maluleke explains: “The garlic and onion repel insects with their strong scent, and [so] we are able to save money that we would have used to buy chemicals. The good thing is that we [can] also sell the[m] … when they mature.”
According to Mr. Maluleke, the demand for organic food in his area is greater than the supply. He says: “When we deliver our products [to] the market, people scramble for them, and in a short time we finish selling the vegetables. Some of our customers have approached us to know where we grow the food, and they now buy straight from our garden.”
Obriel Ndimande is a vendor who buys produce from the Bambanani co-op. He confirms that the co-op’s produce has become really popular in the area. He explains: “Organically grown food tastes superb. The taste is so good that when you start eating, you do not want to stop … food grown using artificial fertilizer sometimes has no taste at all.”
Mr. Maluleke says the co-operative has an extension officer who regularly advises the farmers. Local residents, individual shops and other people looking for fresh food visit his garden. He says, “With all this support, the co-operative is now able to make over $10,000 U.S. a year from the [half-hectare] of land.”
Organic farming has improved family life for Mr. Mululeke and Ms. Molefe. Ms. Molefe explains: “I work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the garden and that gives me good therapy … I eat from the garden … and support my children’s daily needs, including their university education.”
Photo: Amon Maluleke, chairman of the Bambanani Farming Cooperative. Credit: Jo Burg East Express.