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Towards an understanding of the social learning dynamic in the advancement of organic farming in South Africa.

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There is growing evidence that the way that the world produces and consumes food needs to change. There is growing public awareness of serious environmental threats (e.g. global warming, loss of biodiversity and pollution) as well as social concerns (e.g. poverty, inequality and food security). It is necessary for global agriculture to rethink its approach to food production and to find new ways of producing food that can meet the demands of the growing world population and at the same time reduce the environmental degradation caused by farming. So called green revolution technologies, resulting in high intensity, high input agriculture are damaging the very resources on which agriculture depends; soil and water. Research reveals current conventional practices to be unsustainable. There is a growing recognition, arising from the creation of new knowledge and the development of deeper understanding, that this change is necessary and urgent. Organic (or ecological) farming has emerged as a more beneficial way of producing food from a social and environmental perspective. Demand for, and production of, organic food grew steadily in the second half of the twentieth century and has increased dramatically in the twenty first century. This can largely be ascribed to social learning processes. This growth is not yet reflected in South African agriculture. Given the advantages of organic agriculture, it is necessary to consider how to accelerate its expansion. Understanding the social learning processes of organic farmers and using learning histories are useful tools to create a better understanding of how this can be achieved. The objective of this dissertation is to make use of four social learning frameworks to enhance the understanding of the social learning dynamic of organic farmers by: • Using existing baseline data from a survey of the organic farming sector to draw out the learning histories. • Developing an understanding of four social learning frameworks. • Combining the learning histories and the understanding of social learning frameworks to form a deeper understanding of the social learning dynamics in the South African organic agricultural sector. A literature review of the organic sector and of four learning frameworks (profound change, conversion of knowledge, deeper learning, and the pedagogy of adult social learning) is used to develop an understanding of the essence of organic agriculture and how people learn. Information from a survey of organic farmers in South Africa, is used to impregnate the learning frameworks in order to develop an understanding of how organic farmers in South Africa are learning Open-ended questions from the survey are analysed and interpreted based on the understanding of learning frameworks. Selected statements that reflect social learning are highlighted, incorporated into the learning frameworks and discussed to better understand how organic farmers are learning. The analysis indicates that a high proportion of organic farmers are social learners. The four frameworks demonstrate that many organic farmers see their role as more than just providers of food. They also see themselves as custodians of the land with a deep concern for the environment. Fewer organic farmers demonstrate an understanding of social issues. Those that did showed a clear understanding of the need to integrate social considerations into food production. Networking and sharing of learning are important methods of knowledge creation among organic farmers as a result of the limited research and support for organic farmers in South Africa. Recommendations to accelerate and understand the learning by organic farmers and consumers are provided. Future research is suggested in order to investigate how to assist organic and conventional farmers to better understand learning, identify how learning can be enhanced or retarded, and actively engage in learning that facilitates knowledge creation.


Thesis (M.Sc.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2008.


Organic farming--South Africa., Organic farming--Research--South Africa., Organic farming--Economic aspects--South Africa., Theses--Environmental science.