What are organics all about?

It’s about producing goods that work in harmony with, and not against, nature. The aim is to eradicate the use of harmful chemicals by making effective use of nature’s natural resources. All organic products are also free of genetically modified organisms (organisms that have had their basic gene structure modified by the addition of external organism genes).


What is Organic farming?

Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.

Examples of organic farming methods include:

  • Rotating crops between fields. This helps keep pests from building up and improves soil fertility.
  • Planting selected herbs and flowers to attract beneficial insects which ward off unwanted pests.
  • Using biological insecticides and make use of pests’ natural predators to control pest populations.

Organic farming produces nutrient rich, fertile soil which nourishes the plants. Keeping chemicals off the land protects water quality and wild life. It’s also about practising good animal welfare where everything from breeding, rearing and handling, to feeding of animals is strictly regulated and a free range lifestyle is implemented.


The soil

Organic farming refers to a system as a whole entity in ecological balance. Soil fertility is promoted by compost, cover crops, crop rotation, green manuring, minimum tillage, mulching, valuing of the biodiversity and avoiding synthetic chemical inputs. The principle is to treat the soil with respect knowing that the soil is the base for life on earth. The basis of organic farming is thus to feed the soil and not the plant directly. Organic matter is this ‘feed’. The organic farmer is interested in balancing soil processes and is not as focused on balancing numbers as a consequence to soil analysis. A good organic soil structure is able to hold large amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, iron and other micronutrients, essential in providing the plants with a balanced diet for healthy growth. A good soil structure will optimise water infiltration and retention and is also important in the control of erosion by wind and water.


Diseases and pests

The approach to pests and diseases by the organic farmer is that these are seen as symptomatic of imbalances in the soil’s fertility and health. There are too many pests and diseases as well as remedies to mention. The plant, like any living organism, develops a natural resistance to pests and disease attack. This resistance depends on the nutrition of the organism.


Organic meat

Organic animal suppliers have strict protocols that include treating their cattle humanely and allowing them to mature naturally. They are grazed naturally in a free-range environment minimising stress and producing high quality meat that is free from contaminants. It costs more to produce as the animals grow more slowly on natural grazing, hence more land is needed and higher interest costs are incurred. The certified farm has to produce 90% of the feed on the farm.

Certified Organic meat is a guarantee that meat has been produced free from any additives such as chemicals, antibiotics and hormones, and kept separate in the supply chain to the consumer.

As only natural, biodegradable products are used, water and the environment become cleaner. Farmers and their workers enjoy healthier working conditions. Organic animals are produced in harmony with the land, environment and native wildlife. This can only be good for future generations.

Regarding Antibiotics: The standards (EU 2092/91 and the draft DALRRD regulations) allow for “two courses of treatments with chemically-synthesised allopathic veterinary medicinal products or antibiotics within one year or more than one course of treatment if their productive lifecycle is less than one year”. If livestock receive more than this, they and their produce may not be sold as organic, and the livestock must go back into conversion. Quote is from the EU 2092/91 standards.


The health benefits

The hazards for human health of consuming products contaminated by harmful pesticides include increased risks of cancer, reproductive problems and neurological damage. Organically grown produce on the other hand is free of chemical residues, has a much higher vitamin and mineral content and is usually more flavoursome (which is why many top restaurants prefer to use organic ingredients).



There are two levels of organic classification: Organic Certification and Organic in Conversion. Also find the note on Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) under the next main heading.

A certified organic product means that the produce and the farming process has been inspected over a period by an independent, specialist certification agency to verify organic authenticity to the consumer. This process normally takes place over a timeframe of about 3 years. During the process, producers may communicate on products that they are “organic in conversion” (as may be seen for example on some major retailers products).

These certification organisations really have only one reason for existence: to provide assurance to the consumer that products and organisations which claim to be organic, really do meet organic standards. Several certification agencies exist across the country (refer to “Role players” heading). Any certification program should be able to give you their standards upon request and will usually comply with the International Federation of Organic Movement (IFOAM) standards.

Look for the certification seal or name of the certification agency label. When you see this claim, it means:

  • No harmful chemicals have been applied for at least 3 years.
  • The farmer and processor have annual certification inspections.
  • They have kept detailed records of their practices and have a recorded audit trail.
  • They use ecologically-friendly methods and substances to improve the soil and control pests.
Based almost completely on information from with some input from other role players.

Organic agriculture could provide employment opportunities for millions of small farmers and for women and youth groups, together with economic and financial benefits. The purpose of the sector’s National Policy On Organic Production discussion document is to map out the way to make this a reality.

Certification – you cannot be “organic” by default

You’re thinking of going organic

There is a burgeoning international demand, led by Europe, the US and Japan. But consumers and retailers want strong assurances of food safety and genuine organic methods.

Why should you certify?

  • Products look the same as conventional products.
  • Consumers have a right to know that production has been organic (especially if paying more).
  • To protect farmers who are following the rules from the bad reputations of those who are not.
  • To obtain access to high value markets, in South Africa and abroad.

Certification is a way to ensure that products are in line with local and international standards set.

Elements of a certification system

  • Standards – that you must adhere to;
  • Contracts – your promise to uphold organic methods;
  • Inspection – are done annually;
  • Certification, approval of your farm and the methods you are using;
  • Management – of the same pests and diseases, but without chemicals (you must have plans for this). This includes fertility programs as well;
  • Labelling – that the consumers can trust;
  • Information exchange – this establishes the audit trail securing organic status from seed to table because it isn’t easy at first, and there’s a lot to learn.

So what should you do?

  • Ask certifiers for information as well as standards.
  • Send in an application form, with basic information.
  • Ask for an estimate for inspection and certification for a year (make sure it covers all steps of the process).
  • Study the requirements (lots on the internet).
  • Understand conversion issues.
  • Develop a plan for dealing with soil fertility, pests , disease and weed control management.
  • Talk to other organic farmers.
  • Establish your market.
  • Speak to consultants.
  • If it all looks good, choose a certifier and pay to start the certification process.

 What inspections involve

The inspection is a verification of information obtained through the application documentation.

  • Production system – Is it really organic?
  • Operator – Does s/he know enough to manage organically?
  • Is she/he committed?
  • Environment, contamination – Will your neighbours’ crop spray blow onto your fields? Is there good biodiversity?
  • Fields – Has it been three years since the last use of chemicals? Are plants and animals looking good?
  • Livestock – Is animal welfare respected? What veterinary treatments are common-place?
  • Brought in materials, seeds – Are they organic too? Are they GMO-free? How do you know?
  • Pest and weed control – How is it achieved?
  • Fertility management – Are there real efforts to build up soil nutrition?
  • Storage and processing – Could organic products get mixed up with conventional ones by mistake? This should secure the possibility of co-mingling, substitution and contamination.
  • Documentation – Is record keeping good enough to show that only organic methods have been used? Is traceability secure?
  • Sales, labels – Did you sell only what you produced?

Possible outcomes

  • full organic status
  • full status with conditions
  • organic in conversion
  • organic in conversion with conditions
  • certification denied

Read about the standards at See also the useful notes at

Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS)

An alternative start-up strategy for emerging farmers is PGS. PGS only works for small local markets. It is a simple, non-bureaucratic way to start building a quality management system. Contact 084 567 1250 or write to raymond.auerbach [at]

The Southern African Grain Laboratory


Agro-ecosystems are communities of plants and animals interacting with their physical and chemical environments that have been modified by people to produce food, fibre, fuel and other products for human consumption and processing. Agro-ecology looks at these agro-ecosystems, including all environmental and human elements. An area used for agricultural production, e.g. a field, is seen as a complex system in which ecological processes found under natural conditions also occur, e.g. nutrient cycling, predator/prey interactions, competition and symbiosis and succession changes. The idea is that by understanding these ecological relationships and processes and working with them, production will be improved, with fewer negative environmental or social impacts, and fewer external inputs.

Agro-ecology practices include:

  • Crop rotation: Temporal diversity incorporated into cropping systems, providing crop nutrients and breaking the life cycles of several insect pests, diseases and weed life cycles.
  • Polycultures: Complex cropping systems in which two or more crop species are planted within sufficient spatial proximity to result in competition or complementation, thereby enhancing yields.
  • Agroforestry systems: An agricultural system in which trees are grown together with annual crops and/or animals, resulting in enhanced complementary relations between components increasing multiple uses of the agro-ecosystems.
  • Cover crops: The use of pure or mixed stands of legumes or other annual plant species under fruit trees for the purpose of improving soil fertility, enhancing biological control of pests and modifying the orchard microclimate.
  • Animal integration in agro-ecosystem aids in achieving high biomass output and optimal recycling.

All of the above diversified forms of agro-ecosystems share in common the following features:

  • Maintain vegetative cover as an effective soil and water conserving measure, met through the use of no-till practices, mulch farming and use of cover crops and other appropriate methods.
  • Provide a regular supply of organic matter through the addition of organic matter (manure, compost, and promotion of soil biotic activity).
  • Enhance nutrient recycling mechanisms through the use of livestock systems based on legumes, etc.
  • Promote pest regulation through enhanced activity of biological control agents achieved by introducing and/or conserving natural enemies and antagonists.
Source: Agro-ecology: alternative production systems, a brochure that can be found under "Resource centre" at 

Further reference:

Greens EFA. 2017. Agroecology explained to children....parents can watch.


Biodynamics is an approach to sustainable organic agriculture inspired by the philosophy of Anthroposophy as developed by Rudolf Steiner in the late 19th – early 20th centuries in Europe.

In the term “biodynamic” the bio refers to the biological (organic) aspects of agriculture (i.e. the physical soil, water, plants, animals etc.); whereas the dynamic refers to the cosmic formative forces that underlie the physical world. Biodynamic agriculture respects the fact the whole of the universe, i.e. the planet earth and the whole surrounding cosmic space with all its heavenly bodies, forms one indivisible whole and should be managed as such.

Biodynamic farmers use of range of specially formulated herbal and/or organic preparations to enhance soil, plant and animal life, fertility and vitality. They develop their farms into unique and distinct individualities that use a minimum of external inputs. Their aim is to produce the highest quality food, fibre and timber with no or very limited negative impact on the environment. In an effort to create a harmonious whole, the farmer works with the natural and cosmic cycles, rhythms and forces that regulate life on earth.

For further information visit, website of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association of Southern Africa (BDAASA).

Further reference:

  • www.biodynamics.comBiodynamic Farming and Gardening Association (USA)
  • Read presentations and articles to do with the international Biodynamic Agricultural Conference 2021 at
  • Sign up for the Biodynamic Newsletter. Contact BDAASA (details under Ässociations involved” heading).
  • Read presentations and articles to do with the international Biodynamic Agricultural Conference 2020 at
  • – Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association (USA)
  • Bio-Dynamic Gardening. John Soper. Bio-Dynamic Agricultural Association. ISBN 0 – 9503780 – 7 – 0
  • The Bio-Dynamic Farm. Herbert H Koepf. Anthroposophic Press. ISBN 0 – 88010 – 172 – 54.
  • Agriculture. Rudolph Steiner. Sophia Books ISBN 9781855841130

OrganicNation. 2010. What Is Biodynamic Farming?



See separate page.


Regenerative Agriculture

For now this falls here on the “Organic farming” page (watch out for a future, separate page!) Regenerative Agriculture includes Conservation Agriculture (no-till), and use of cover crops, crop rotation strategies, biocontrol, biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Further reference:

Jimi Sol. 2020. What is Regenerative Agriculture?

Vegan Organic farming

Most farmers are dependent on chemicals and animal by-products – and even those specialising in organic farming use animal manures and slaughterhouse by-products (bone meal, compost etc). How to go about farming without animals or animal by-products? Visit

Further reference:

International business environment

For current statistics on organic farming, visit and the other websites listed under this heading.

  • The International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM), the international umbrella body for organic farming, produces an annual report. Find it on
  • The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (Forschungsinstitut für biologischen Landbau – FiBL) is “the world’s leading information and documentation centre for organic agriculture”. See Find World of Organic Agriculture: Statistics and Emerging Trends 2021 at
  • – site maintained by the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FIBL).
  • Established by the IFOAM, the International Organic Accreditation Service (IOAS) serves to develop IFOAM accreditation and to build production and markets globally. South Africa’s Diana Callear serves on its board as vice president. Visit
  • Organic Trade Association (OTA),
  • The International WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) Association is dedicated to helping those who would like to volunteer on organic farms internationally. Valuable experience can be gained like this, and it increases communication between the organic community internationally. See Hosts in countries that do not have a national WWOOFF association are listed at
  • Find the organic products web pages on the International Trade Centre website,


Other websites

Local business environment

Organic producers and processors network at

The South African organic sector has a long history. This country was one of the founders of International Federation of Organic Movements. Nonetheless, within the country the organic sector is not unified. There have been splinter organisations representing particular farmers, with divergent opinions as to which way is best for the sector.

Certification is driven by international standards and accreditation systems. In 2017 the South African Organic Sector Organisation (SAOSO) Standard for Organic Production and Processing was included in the IFOAM Family of Standards. Read more at These standards are recognised internationally.

South African organic farmers produce a large variety of produce. These include various cereals; vegetables, roots and tubers; herbs and spices; fruits, nuts and Rooibos tea. The largest fruit crops in terms of hectares were bananas, avocado pears and mangoes, while the largest vegetable crops were cucurbits, tomatoes, asparagus, brassicas and potatoes. Organic wine and olive oil is also produced and organic dairy farming has just started in some provinces.

Organic products produced in South Africa are sold at both local and export markets. Exports principally sent to European markets, United States and Far East include vegetables, plant products, processed fruits, sugar, wine, essential oils, table grapes and Rooibos tea. To enable international market access for South African organic exports, any local legislation governing organic agriculture in South Africa should be regularly updated to be aligned with and compliant to prevailing standards in international markets.

Within South Africa, the products are usually sold in supermarkets, as home deliveries, directly from the farmer, through specialised restaurants and through special organic markets. Some schools are also beginning to serve organic foods. There is a robust but underdeveloped, local market for organic produce with limited premiums for organic products. Local retailers sell reasonable amounts of organic produce to the South African public.

Source: The National Policy On Organic Production discussion document;

“Enough food is in fact produced to feed the global population, but much of it goes to feeding cattle (who aren’t designed anyway to eat maize and soy!) Our methods of production cause environmental damage. Organic farming outperforms conventional farming on all metrics, while at the same time producing food that nourishes humans and heals the earth”. A standard South African organic farmer perspective.

Small-scale farmer news

Find the information “SAOSA offers support to small scale farmers” at

The main criticism levelled at organic agriculture is that it cannot feed the world. But this is a failure of the economic system in which we operate rather than the inherent capacity of the approach. While it is true that organic agriculture cannot produce massive surpluses by forcing super-growth, over the long term productivity equals out: organic production is more consistent over time; it is more environmentally sustainable and it creates local economic stability.

Can community-based organic agriculture play a meaningful role in achieving food security? One of its biggest advantages is that organic agricultural methods can easily be transferred to people with few or no previous skills. In just four days, anyone can obtain the basic skills which, if applied (with some guidance) over two seasons, will result in a permanent ability to grow productive survival or subsistence gardens at low cost.

Although more advanced levels of organic farming require much more training, with the basics in place it is possible to kick-start self-sustaining community farming and gardening in uncontested land such as backyard plots, rural smallholdings, school yards, in servitude and commonage land. Basic-level training can therefore provide a foundation for localised food security among the poor.

Organic farming and gardening is most readily adaptable to poor or emerging farmers who cannot easily access costly external inputs and high-tech training. It has the added advantage of being spontaneously community building and because it uses human-scale technology, it is also labour intensive and has the potential – beyond meeting subsistence needs – to create jobs. It is now a proven fact that a reasonable living, after costs, is possible off 500 square metres or less, selling organic vegetables at street prices.

Here in South Africa there is now a grassroots organic-friendly farming movement among the poor, involving many thousands who are mobilising to defeat food insecurity. Leading examples are the Vukuzenzela Urban Farmers Association (VUFA) in Cape Town, the Master Farmers Association (MFA) in the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape Ubuntu Farmers Association (WEKUFU).

Source: adapted from an article by Rob Small from ABALIMI in the CSI Handbook 8th edition, published by Trialogue

Find the contact details of the following under the “Role players” heading:


  • ABALIMI Bezekhaya
  • African Organic Farming Foundation
  • Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA)
  • Lindros Whole Earth Consultants
  • Rainman Landcare Foundation

National strategy and government contact

The absence of an official certification system in place hindered the organic sector for nearly two decades. Draft legislation was in place, but various technicalities delayed recognition. The SAOSO Standard for Organic Production and Processing is included in the IFOAM Family of Standards. Find it at

Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD)

Food Safety and Quality Assurance Tel: 012 319 6027 / 7306 niele [at]

The Directorate Food Safety and Quality Assurance is inter alia responsible for setting quality standards (regulations) for certain agricultural products in terms of the Agricultural Product Standards Act, 1990 (Act No. 119 of 1990).

Agricultural Product Standards Act, 1990 (Act No. 119 of 1990) and draft regulations downloadable from (go to “Branches”, then “Agricultural Production, Health and Food Safety”).

Directorate: Plant Production Tel: 012 319 6227 kgomoamogodip [at]

The Directorate Plant Production is responsible for developing organic production policy and the purpose of the policy is to create a broad framework for the development of a prosperous organic sector that is globally competitive and capable of supporting government’s commitments towards poverty alleviation, job creation, food security and economic development.

The Government’s IPAPs (Industrial Policy Action Plan) included the organic food sector as an area in which jobs could be created. Find the previous IPAP documents under “Publications” at


The Agricultural Policy Action Plan (APAP), based on the IPAPs, looked at organic agriculture (and agroecology and Conservation Agriculture) within the context of Climate-Smart Agriculture. This document can be found at

Role players

The reader is referred to the directory on as well, where a search according to category, province and product can be done. See also other relevant chapters in this handbook e.g. “Compost and organic fertiliser”, “Earthworms and Vermicompost”, “Permaculture”, “Biocontrol” etc.



  • Agroecology South Africa (AESA) – an initiative kick-started by Biowatch in 2019
  • Biodynamic Agricultural Association of Southern Africa (BDAASA) Tel: 021 881 3628 info at bdaasa dot org dot za BDAASA is an association of farmers, gardeners, small-holders and people interested in working with biodynamic agriculture. An annual conference is held with a contextual theme. A quarterly newsletter is sent to all members and an Astral Planting Calendar is published annually.
  • Biodynamic and Organic Wines of South Africa
  • Regenerative Agriculture Association of South Africa
  • South African Bioproduct Organisation (SABO)
  • For information about South African Council for Organic Development and Sustainability (SACODAS), contact Thierry Alban Revert Tel: 073 303 1554 or email tar [at]
  • South African Organic Sector Organisation (SAOSA)


Certification and other services


Input providers


Produce and products





Some organic markets


Western Cape



Training and research

  • ABALIMI Tel/fax: 021 371 1653 and
  • ARC-Plant Protection Research (ARC-PPR) Tel: 012 808 8000 ARC-Plant Protection Research has the expertise to advise on all aspects of pesticides (synthetic and botanical), on biopesticides, such as mycoinsectides and mycoherbicides, as well on the biological control of insect pests in general.
  • Organic farming is included as a priority in AgriSETA planning. Visit or call 012 301 5600
  • Biomimicry SA
  • Biowatch gives training in agroecology. See
  • Dovehouse Organics Tel: 033 330 3554 / 079 368 0832 info [at]
  • Food & Trees for Africa   
  • Giba Organics Tel: 031 769 1063 Education centre and demonstration food farm
  • Hoedspruit Hub Agricultural Training Centre Tel: 072 055 9382
  • Lindros Tel: 082 719 7263 Watch this Youtube clip to find out about the Shaft Leadership & Agroecology Programme.
  • The Organic Farms Group works with the aim of developing small farmers through training, mentoring and marketing. Visit
  • The Rainman Landcare Foundation is a registered trust which teaches farmers how to farm organically, and how to set up farmer’s associations which can be certified organic, enabling farmers to access the growing organic market, domestically and internationally. Rainman has developed a Quality Management course for Small Producer Groups, run learnerships in organic farming at NQF 2 and also teach organic facilitators (NQF 5). Rainman Landcare Foundation is an AgriSETA accredited provider. Visit or call 044 801 5017.
  • Sandveld Organics Tel: 087 802 2680
  • Soil for Life Tel: 021 794 4982 A Cape Town-based non-profit organization teaching people how to build the soil and grow healthy plants
  • Stellenbosch University Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology Tel: 021 808 3728
  • Surplus People’s Project Tel: 021 448 5605 A pro-poor agrarian transformation for food sovereignty NGO that champions agroecology.
  • Sustainability Institute, Agroecology Academy Tel: 021 881 3196
  • Umgibe Farming Organics and Training Institute
  • University of the Free State Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development and Extension Tel: 051 401 3765
  • University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) Tel: 033 260 5525 The Department of Plant Pathology conducts research on the biological control of crop pests and diseases.
  • UKZN Farmer Support Group Tel: 033 260 6275 Training in agroecology
  • Zeiselhof Research Farm of Ecological and Organic Agriculture in Pretoria is a showcase of organic vegetable production. Contact them at 012 811 0276.

Websites and publications

Visit the websites listed earlier on this page.

Some publications

  • Organic Food Processing & Production (U.K.) ISBN No: 0-632-05541-3.
  • The Agrodok Series: Small-scale Sustainable Agriculture in the Tropics (Netherlands). Series of publications on various topics.
  • Soil Fertility – Renewal and Preservation. E. Pfeiffer. The Lanthorn Press. ISBN 0 906155 12 6
  • Organic Manure. Nikolaus Remer. Mercury Press. ISBN 0 – 929979 – 62 – 1
  • Bio-Dynamic Gardening. John Soper. Bio-Dynamic Agricultural Association. ISBN 0 – 9503780 – 7 – 0
  • The Bio-Dynamic Farm. Herbert H Koepf. Anthroposophic Press. ISBN 0 – 88010 – 172 – 5
  • Grasp the Nettle. Peter Proctor. Random House. ISBN 1 – 86941 – 318 – 0
  • Agriculture. Rudolph Steiner. Sophia Books ISBN 9781855841130
  • The Living Soil. EB Balfour. Faber and Faber
  • Fertility Farming. Newman Turner. Faber and Faber
  • Fertility without Fertilisers. Lawrence D Hills. Henry Doubleday Research Association
  • The Complete Herbal Handbook for farm and stable. Juliette de Baïracli Levy. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0 – 571 – 13205 – 7
  • The treatment of Cattle by Homoeopathy. George Macleod. The CW Daniel Company LTD. ISBN 0 – 85207 – 247 – 3
  • Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease. Sir Albert Howard. Faber and Farber
  • Humus and the Farmer. Friend Sykes. Faber and Faber
  • Farmers of Forty Centuries. F. H. King. Rodale Press. ISBN 0 – 87857 – 054 – 3
  • Learned by the Fencepost by Donald Lewis. Find it on Amazon.

Find the recommended reading suggestions at


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