The demand for organic fresh produce has increased across the world.Khanyi MagubaneEmerging farmers in Kwa-Zulu-Natal will soon be reaping the rewards of the growing worldwide demand for organic products. The South African government has signed an agreement with the Swiss company BioSwiss for the export of high-quality organic vegetables to the US, France and Britain.The eight-year memorandum of agreement with the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs involves three land reform projects in Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal. BioSwiss has invested R100-million (US$ 13.2-million) to develop a factory in the area.“We would like to expand this project to other regions of the province, once we see it successful in Vryheid,” says Gwelyn Owen, CEO of BioSwiss.BioSwiss will provide the communities involved in the project with financial backing and the technical skills for growing organic produce. They will also receive mentoring/training and business management, as they will have to deal with international clientele during the exporting process.The three land reform projects form part of the Department of Agriculture and Land Affair’s Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) project. This is a sub-programme of the land redistribution programme.LRAD has two distinct parts. Firstly, agricultural land is transferred to specific individuals or groups. Secondly, the programme deals with commonage projects, which aim to improve people’s access to municipal and tribal land primarily for agricultural purposes.The term municipal commonage is traditionally given to land owned by a municipality or local authority that was usually acquired through state grants or from the church. It differs from other municipally-owned land in that residents have acquired grazing rights on the land, or the land was granted expressly to benefit needy local inhabitants.What is organic farming?Organic farming avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, plant growth regulators, livestock feed additives and any other form of chemicals in the production process. Organic farmers rely on developing a healthy, fertile soil, and growing a mixture of crops. With respect to livestock, animals are reared without the routine of drugs and antibioticsAccording to the Soil Association, which promotes health and organic farming in England, more people are choosing to buy organic food because it tastes better, is safer from a health perspective and is environmentally friendly. Organic farming also requires that animals be kept in more natural, free-range conditions with a more natural diet.Organic AfricaIn South Africa, the organic farming industry is growing. From an estimated R5-million before 2003, sales of organic food grown in South Africa – domestic sales and exports combined – jumped to R155-million in 2005. This figure was expected to increase significantly in the 2006/2007 financial year.Organics South Africa, a non-profit organisation formed in 1994, engages with farmers, retailers and government. Its main aim is to “increase the awareness of sustainable farming methods and to assist in the recognition of the natural relationship between soil, plant, animal and mankind”.With its vast natural resources, Africa is quickly becoming the preferred supplier of organic foods. Three years ago, a report released by the Advocates’ Coalition for Development and Environment, an independent public policy, research and advocacy think tank, indicated that Uganda was the biggest exporter of organic products in Africa.According to the report, the number of organic farmers increased by 38%, from 28 000 in 2002 to 39 600 by the end of 2004. The report also indicates that Uganda has the largest area dedicated to organic farming (22 000 ha), making it the organic farming leader in Africa and the fourth largest in the world. Uganda’s climate and the fact that much of the land has been not been used for agriculture before makes Uganda ideal for organic farming.Useful LinksOrganic South AfricaSoil AssociationOrganic NewsAdvocates coalition for development and environmentDepartment of AgricultureDepartment of Land AffairsDo you have any queries or comments about this article? Email Khanyi Magubane at [email protected]
Ray Maota Nokuthula Mchunu-Nxumalo has discovered that a certain fungus can be used to create a xylanase enzyme (pictured) which bleaches paper, thus eliminating the use of harmful chlorine in the food and paper industries. (Image: Naro Food Research Institute) Mchunu-Nxumalo is a doctoral student at the Durban University of Technology (DUT). (Image: DUT) MEDIA CONTACTS • Professor Suren Singh HOD: Biotechnology and Food Technology +27 31 373 5321 RELATED ARTICLES • Sci-Bono CEO gets French knighthood • South African women lead the way in science • South African whizz-kid in line for Google award • South African students tops at science awardsA South African microbiologist has discovered that a certain fungus can be used to create a xylanase enzyme which bleaches paper, thus eliminating the use of harmful chlorine in the food and paper industries.Nokuthula Mchunu-Nxumalo, a doctoral student at the Durban University of Technology (DUT), made the discovery during an 18-month study with academics at the University of Sains Malaysia’s (USM) Centre for Chemical Biology and the DUT.The work, which forms part of Mchunu-Nxumalo’s doctoral thesis, is a partnership between DUT’s biotechnology and food technology department and USM.Professor Suren Singh, head of biotechnology and food technology at the DUT, said: “Mchunu has spent close to a year at the Malay university and has made excellent progress in completing the sequencing of an industrially important thermophilic fungal genome, a world first.”Singh said the research finding was a milestone for the DUT.Through her work, Mchunu-Nxumalo has discovered more than 200 enzymes responsible for plant and waste degradation – which could also help in the production of renewable fuels.“South Africa has a lot of agricultural waste from growing maize, rice and sugarcane … the proteins can actually convert plant waste into biofuel,” she said.Heat-loving fungusMchunu-Nxumalo’s ground-breaking research in the sequencing of a thermophilic genome has been co-supervised by Profs Kugen Permaul and Maqsudul Alam from USM’s Centre for Chemical Biology.According to DUT’s Prof Singh, genomic sequencing refers to a combination of lab experiments and computer processing that elucidates the entire DNA sequence of a living organism.“Sequencing of the human genome is one of man’s greatest scientific accomplishments, taking approximately 12 years since 1989 to produce a draft version,” he said.“To this day, it is only approximately 90% complete and this is due, in part, to the large amount of DNA we possess and also since about 8% contains repetitive sequences that contain no genes.”The research by Mchunu-Nxumalo concentrated on a smaller genome from a thermophilic fungus, which prefers high temperatures of up to 60°C. This is vital for heat-intensive industrial processes.Professor Permaul said: “Mchunu’s research shows that there is a greater than 90% match between the genome and transcriptome (codes for real genes), demonstrating the high quality of the data produced by the high throughput genome sequencing.“The identified genes will be used to mass-produce enzymes that will be useful in industrial applications and processes.”A global academicMchunu-Nxumalo grew up in Port St John’s in the Eastern Cape, but now lives in Port Shepstone on KwaZulu-Natal’s south coast.She lectures undergraduates at DUT’s department of biotechnology and food technology.Once she returns from Malaysia, Mchunu-Nxumalo will join Singh and Permaul in studying the DNA sequencing of indigenous plants.Permaul said: “Mchunu intends producing at least two scientific articles from the results of her project as well as file patents for genes that produce enzymes of industrial importance.”Mchunu-Nxumalo also took part in a bilateral research project between DUT and Sweden’s Lund University as part of her master’s study.With DUT’s department of biotechnology and food technology investing R20-million (US$2.8-million) in upgrading its state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, Singh believes they will be able to extend ground-breaking research beyond 2011.Representatives from USM and DUT met on 26 August 2011 at the DUT’s Hotel School Conference Centre and signed a memorandum of understanding to establish future research prospects.