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Interview with Enya Munting for Avaclim in South Africa
banniere de l'article interview avec Enya Munting,

Interview with Enya Munting for Avaclim in South Africa

In this article, Enya Munting, Avaclim’s South African research assistant, talks about the beauty, the difficulties and the lessons learned about agroecology in South Africa during her time on the project.

Can you tell us about your work on the project?

My job is to contextualise the Avaclim methodology to ensure that it is adapted to our local conditions and challenges, to collect all the data for the two South African initiatives and to contribute to the drafting of the reports.

Which initiatives are you evaluating?

The first initiative is that of Heiveld, a cooperative that processes and markets exclusively organic and Fairtrade-certified rooibos tea. Rooibos tea is made from an indigenous plant and is renowned for its health-giving properties. The cooperative was set up by members of the ‘coloured’ community of Nieuwoudtville, who were tired of being exploited because of their race. Twenty years ago, they decided to take matters into their own hands by setting up their own business to earn a fair income from their produce. The second initiative is a Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) in the Stanford region, alternative organic certification system in which members inspect each other’s farms to share their knowledge and assess whether their farms should be recognised as organic according to the standards of the South African Organic Standards Organisation (SAOSO) .

What was the biggest challenge you faced during your involvement in the project?

For me, there have been two major challenges:

The first is COVID 19. I wasn’t able to organise any workshops due to a spike in infections at the start of my research, which meant that many people were unaware of my presence and my work, and I had to introduce myself and Avaclim several times! I’m also sure that there are many wise and fascinating people I won’t be able to meet because of the pandemic.

The second challenge was that of using a methodology that is still being developed and that is destined to be used at many different scales and in many different countries and contexts. The initiatives I’m studying are both relatively large, which meant I had to plan my time carefully and also had to contextualise the methodology each time to make sure it remained relevant.

What was your favourite thing to learn from your work?

I was very happy to learn about the different types of sustainable agriculture that are included in agroecology – such as organic, biodynamic, Korean natural agriculture, regenerative agriculture and permaculture, as well as all the combinations of these methods! I found it very encouraging that farmers who practise agro-ecological farming are so keen to share their knowledge and continue to learn how to improve! This means that anyone wishing to practise sustainable agriculture will be able to benefit from the advice and support of their peers, which is very important for new farmers.

What do you think is the current status of agroecology in South Africa?

I was very sad to learn that all the farmers I spoke to had to have an alternative income in order to be able to afford to farm in the way they felt was most sustainable. South Africa’s agricultural support systems do not effectively support small farms, even though they feed more than 60% of the world’s population! Government aid is focused on conventional, market- and export-oriented agriculture. I find it distressing that the most sustainable and environmentally important farms are not supported, while unsustainable and extractive farms are not only allowed to continue their destructive practices, but in some cases are actively supported by government and investors. Learning this has inspired me to work harder to do a good job, so that the Avaclim project can succeed in its mission to change this! What gave me a lot of hope was learning about the South African Organic Sector Organisation (SAOSO), PGS South Africa and the Management of Applied Green Initiatives and Concepts (MAGIC) co-operative, all of whom are actively working to create a sustainable and healthy food system in South Africa and are getting the support they need to do so.

Do you have a final lesson to share?

Agroecology has enormous potential for nature and people, and I’ve seen this first-hand. At Heiveld, I learnt about wild rooibos, which thrives in a natural and perfectly healthy fynbos, a characteristic vegetation formation in the south of South Africa. This facilitates the conservation of wild areas and indigenous knowledge of rooibos species and harvesting. At Stanford, wild flowers are conserved and harvested in the same way. As in Heiveld, the Zizemeleni cooperative in Stanford (a PGS member) empowers the local disadvantaged community by enabling them to grow and sell food for income, with absolutely minimal capital investment and producing the most beautiful, healthy products at a very reasonable price! Finally, I’ve come to realise that consumers play a vital role in facilitating the growth and adoption of agroecology worldwide, so do your bit and buy local, sustainable produce wherever possible!

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