Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Land and Organic Farms. Woo.

Authors: Molly, Katelyn, and Katie
Week 14

On Friday, April 22nd, a group of us visited an organic farm called GreenSpot in Okahandja to celebrate Earth Day! We were welcomed by Manjo Smith, the woman who owns the farm, along with her family and were given a tour of the land. Not only was this a fitting tribute to respecting our Earth, but it was also an educational opportunity to learn about an alternative to large scale Namibian farming. It was a great contrast to the government owned Etunda Irrigation, which we had seen earlier in the semester.

As we sat at a table sipping glasses of water on her back porch, she told us how many challenges came up against her and her family as they labored to build this farm. She researched extensively before starting this farm, but the biggest problem was that all of the best books and resources were aimed for either small, individual organic farms or for farms in the United States or Europe, neither of which apply to her. As a result, she had to do a lot of learning on her own and adapt western practices for the sandy, dry Namibia soil and climate. This is because organic farming has yet to form a strong foundation in southern Africa and especially in Namibia.

(Photo: Several CGE students learning how every part of the farm is interconnected and used)

According to Mrs. Smith, the key to growing the organic industry is consumer demand. It was interesting to hear about Mrs. Smith’s opinions as to why organics have yet to take hold here as well as think about some of our own. Obviously consumer demand is lacking, but why? One reason is because traditional farming is so ingrained in the culture as habit. People do what they know brings success and food, so it is hard to convince them to do otherwise when their livelihood is at stake. Plus, organic farming requires a decent amount of time invested in education of methods, and local farmers don’t necessarily have the time or money to spend away from their farm. It could also be, as we have been discovering during our time here, many people are just concerned about eating to be full and not necessarily about eating to be healthy. In Smith’s perspective, the vast majority of the Namibian population is not aware of how their food is grown or what is good or bad for them. They are more focused on what is cheap and filling for their family. Maybe better education on what these large scale farmers are doing in order to grow large amounts of food fast and what is healthy for their bodies would help bring about more people to be open to the idea of organic farming.

People need to know how organic and regular farming compare and then be given the ability to decide for themselves what they think is best. We have learned over the semester how many people just come in and tell people here what to do without really explaining what they are trying to accomplish or even finding out if that is what the people want to do. Yes, we can educate the people but now the question arises, in a country where the majority of the population is at or below the poverty line, do people have the means to start an organic garden or even buy the crops? Smith stated that most of her customers are white, German-descendent Namibians. Is this because they have been educated about the risks of using pesticides and anything else related to large scale farming or is it just that they can afford the better quality, but more expensive organic crops? While we wish that the food here was able to go into the hands of the majority of Namibians, we were relieved that the products produced from GreenSpot were at least sold inside of Namibia. Most of the produce, even from the Etunda Irrigation project, is actually sold to South Africa where the vast majority of grocery stores are based, and then sold back to the people of Namibia.

Another question that arose both at the farm and throughout our other studies here is what can we do if people are educated but simply do not care to change their ways? Organic farming has trouble translating into the rest of Namibian society, and Mrs. Smith said that even though her Namibian workers know how to farm organically, they do not take it back to their communities. What she mentioned that was even more interesting was that often time old customs and practices, which may not be as practical anymore, stick around families as long as the father, the traditional head of the household, is alive. This means that if a family might want to change some of the practices around their farm but the father does not, they must wait until the father has passed away to do so. How possible is it to get people to change their ways without forcing them to? What amount of education about the issues will change minds? This question has really been on our minds this last week especially in terms of development. Unfortunately it is not one that we have been able to articulate a firm answer to. So while our formal education here has come to an end, we are left with more questions to continue our learning.

Manjo Smith took us on a tour of her organic farm, Greenspot.

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