Wetenschap - 9 november 1995

Ecological farming pays with time

Ecological farming pays with time

In contrast to his conventional colleague an ecological farmer needs a longer period before the farm becomes financially sustainable. For the first couple of years the farm will even operate at a loss. This was the most important finding of research carried out in Natal Province, South Africa by Kees Wisserhof towards his MSc thesis. In a colloquium, Tuesday 31 October, at the Department of Ecological Agriculture he explained that the research was done within the framework of a project concerning community participation in catchment management, which aims to introduce principles of ecological agriculture to rural areas inhabited by blacks.

Wisserhof studied and compared two types of farm: a conventional farm where chemical fertilizers and pesticides were applied for the cultivation of vegetables, and an ecological farm based on diversity of crops and livestock, where neither chemical fertilizers nor pesticides were used. Wisserhof examined the financial and nutrient balances on both farms, in order to draw conclusions on the degree of financial and environmental sustainability of the farms. It emerged that in the long term the ecological farmer obtained a better understanding of his farming system and that through experience he was able to optimise his performance. For the first few years the farm was subsidized through earnings from a paid job in the city. On the other hand the conventional farmer had to apply an increasing amount of fertilizer and pesticides over the years, thus moving away from the farm's optimum balance. The price of fertilizer rose faster compared to vegetable prices and profits decreased as pro
duction increased only slightly. How to introduce ecological principles into black rural areas, however, remains unclear. According to Wisserhof there were no black farmers in the area. The ecological farmer was white and the conventional farmer coloured.

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