Investigation of selected hygiene parameters of uMbumbulu small-scale farmers' organic produce (leafy salad vegetables) and subsequent identification of factors affecting farmer practices and food security.
The study aimed to investigate the hygiene quality of fresh agricultural produce, irrigation water and compost from four cooperatives (Jabulani, Nungwane, Senzakahle and Siyazenzela) supplying the uMbumbulu Agri-Hub Non-Governmental Organisation. In addition, the influence that socio-economic characteristics such as age, gender, level of education and training had on the uMbumbulu farmers’ hygienic practices was investigated. Questionnaires, key informant interviews and laboratory analysis were used to collect data. The most probable number (MPN) method, a microbiological technique, was used to quantify selected hygiene indicators (i.e. total and faecal coliforms including Escherichia coli) from compost, irrigation water and leafy vegetables (spinach and lettuce) during the months of October, November and December 2011. Microbiological analysis on lettuce and spinach produced by the four Agri-Hub cooperatives confirmed that these vegetables were safe to eat and unlikely to cause sickness. The irrigation water sources, vegetables and compost faecal coliform levels met national standards with faecal coliforms of <1 000 MPN/100ml for irrigation and<200 MPN/g for the leafy salad vegetables. Compost faecal coliform levels were <1000/g and E. coli levels of <30 MPN/g, these levels decreased over the 3 months. Descriptive statistics such as the Chi-Square test using IBM SPSS and a logistic regression was performed using the STATA 11 software. The sample consisted of 60% female and 40% males, most of which (73%) were above the age of 40. A total of 60% of respondents received income from farming activities, receiving revenues of between R150- R250 a week. The logistic regression indicated that farmers already receiving some income from farming activities and those that had received training on hygienic farming practices were likely to wash hands and equipment prior to entering the field compared to those who had not. These variables influenced the hygienic practices with a probability of 26% and 32% respectively at 5% significance level. The logistic regression also showed that respondents with primary or no formal education were less likely to wash hands and equipment prior to entering the field compared to those who had a secondary level education. This unlikelihood had a probability of 35% for primary education and 43% for farmers with no formal education at significance levels of 5% and 10% respectively. This study indicates how training, education and farming experience are important and effective tools in implementing good hygienic practices in small-scale farming. The study’s main recommendations are that policies encourage farmer awareness on their responsibility of producing vegetables that are of good hygienic quality, especially if such produce is to reach the market. Furthermore policies should advocate for small-scale farmer training. This training should not be limited to subsistence farming but should also aim at preparing farmers towards accessing produce markets. Farmer training in hygienic practices should aid farmers to meet the stringent market standards allowing for better access, the regular income from such activities support farming as a livelihood and bearer of food security. It must also be noted that farmers require support in attaining the various resources needed in order to successfully and continually supply markets.
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