Identification of opportunities for organic beef production from Nguni cattle to enhance food security by communal farmers in KwaZulu-Natal South Africa.
Kunene-Ngubane, Phumelele Eleanor.
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Communal farms are characterised by marginal lands which are suitable for external livestock farming. Communal farmers are in possession of adaptable indigenous cattle breeds and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) which facilitate the production of beef without the use of synthetic chemicals. As a result, these communal farming systems may be labelled ‘organic’ by default. In the developed countries, consumer demand for animal products is increasingly shifting towards products that are safe, nutritious, produced through acceptable methods and of good eating quality. Hence the demand for organic beef, which is sold at a premium, is increasing in these countries. Although communal farmers in South Africa are suitably placed to produce organic beef, the organic beef market is not well-developed and consumer demand for organic beef is not known. The objective of this study was to identify opportunities for organic beef production in providing household food security in communal areas of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The specific objectives were to: assess the potential for organic beef production by communal farming systems; investigate the possibility of organic beef production by South African communal farmers; determine factors affecting consumers’ perceptions about organic beef in South Africa; and assess consumers’ Willingness To Pay (WTP) a premium for organic beef. Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) and a survey of 300 consumers were employed to collect data from communal farmers and consumers in various retail outlets in KwaZulu-Natal. Although the literature review indicated a growing concern and controversy regarding the health, safety and environmental benefits of organic and conventional beef, globally, consumers perceive organic beef as healthier as and safer than conventional beef, hence are willing to pay premium prices of up to 25%. These positive perceptions are based on the fact that the production processes of organic beef eliminate the use of chemicals. The indigenous cattle breed, particularly the inherent Nguni, has a lower sero-prevalence for A. marginale and B. bigemina in both the cool-dry and hot-wet seasons; hence it does not require chemicals for the prevention of tick-borne diseases prevalent in South African communal farms. South African communal farmers value their production systems which they consider to be wholesome, results in mature and tasty meat with several domestic and medicinal benefits compared to conventional beef. As a result, its produce, such as organic beef, should fetch premium prices in the formal markets. Socio-behavioural factors relating to inferiority, exclusion and lack of external institutional support are the main reasons why communal farmers are not actively participating in the South African formal beef markets, hence the low off-take rates (5 – 10%) from communal farms. The findings revealed that communal farmers were willing to participate in the South African formal beef market as equal partners with differentiated products which should be sold at the right price. This indicates a potential for organic beef production by South African communal farmers which could support and sustain the organic beef niche market in South Africa. The findings on determinants of consumers’ perceptions about organic beef revealed that consumers perceive self-grown food, without the use of chemicals as ‘organic,’ and hence associate it with health and safety. Organic food is acceptable in South Africa since 60% of the consumers had prior experiences in purchasing and consuming organic food. The Principal Component Analysis (PCA) yielded three components upon which South African consumers base their perceptions about organic beef: safety, health and environment. Safety control was the most important factor with 25.1% variations that determined consumer’s decision when purchasing organic beef. Health considerations are also important to the South African consumers regarding the purchasing of organic beef, with 21.5% variations. Information about organic beef and trust of origin were highly regarded by consumers as safety measures, whilst the absence of chemicals and appearance were considered as vital health factors. The findings on the effects of socio-economic characteristics and taste on consumers’ willingness to pay for organic beef indicated that the majority of consumers (76%) were willing to pay a premium for organic beef, with 52% willing to pay less than 25% premium. Taste and safety attributes were important favourable attributes of organic beef over conventional beef. Consumers value organic beef such that even those who did not consider it as safer than conventional beef were willing to pay a premium. Consumers in urban cities were most likely to be willing to pay a premium for organic beef. The study concludes that South African consumers, similar to those in developed countries, perceive organic beef as healthier, safer and environmentally friendlier than conventional beef. The demand for organic beef in South Africa is high since 76% of consumers were willing to pay a premium. As thus, organic beef production could be employed to ensure household food security on communal farms. The market for organic beef in South Africa is in the urban formal markets. The subjective safety, health and environmental attributes of organic beef have to be addressed in order to allow South African communal farmers to take advantage of the potential organic beef niche market. Civic engagement involving all stake holders in the South African formal beef markets is essential for the establishment and maintenance of a differentiated organic beef niche market which adheres to set standards in order to ensure trust amongst all stakeholders. Recommendations for future research include studies on sensory evaluation could be conducted to determine preferences between organic and conventional beef in South Africa. Further studies are required to determine production efficiency of communal farming systems with regards to organic beef production in order to inform policy and facilitate the establishment of organic beef production standards. Studies comparing the chemical composition between organic and conventional beef are also required.
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