South Africa: Green, But Not Organic

Despite all the fashion and greenwashing accusations, the basic idea of sustainability implies that companies cannot afford not to be there in the long run. In its approach to sustainability, South Africa is very different from Europe. 

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Cover crops increase organic biodiversity in many vineyards and are also implemented used by non-organic operations.
Cover crops increase organic biodiversity in many vineyards and are also implemented used by non-organic operations.

South Africa's approach to sustainability is very different from Europe's - less in theory than in practice. A survey for the Prowine Business Report revealed that most producers consider the economic pillar of sustainability to be the pillar in which one performs the poorest, yet at the same time, it seems to be the pillar that is least addressed.

In South Africa, the economic challenges are too great for this oversight (see HERE):

In Europe, many businesses owe their economic survival to previous generations who built the business up. The current business owners thenbenefit from the fact that they do not have to pay interest. They act as if they can survive with low returns if they forego investments. Although this model is also coming to an end, it is still widely practised.

Hardly any reserves

In South Africa, there are few wineries with adequate reserves. The declining vineyards clearly demonstrate the importance of economic sustainability.

The economic conditions in South Africa are also different. Wealth is still very unequally distributed. With an official unemployment rate of 40%, concerns about social tipping points in society are as high as those about climate change.

Thus, the pillars of economic and social sustainability are gaining a lot of importance. While in other countries social sustainability often seems to be ticked off with a reference to social legislation when it comes to certification, South African producers are particularly challenged here.

"Of course I understand that it is more ecological to ship wine in bulk to Europe and bottle it there," says Bruce Jack of Bruce Jack Wines. "But Europeans also need to understand that there are jobs associated with bottling in South Africa."

Organic - no, thanks

While in Europe organic farming and sustainability are often fused, in South Africa large parts of the industry do not want to go organic. One major point mentioned is the cost of certification, which plays a significant role especially in export, because certification abroad can be expensive.

There are also frequent complaints about drift from neighbouring areas, which would destroy the farmers' own organic efforts. At the same time, there is great scepticism about the use of copper for crop protection. Thus, the widespread rejection of organic farming seems less ideological than pragmatic, because in the same breath that organic viticulture is rejected, winegrowers like to talk about regenerative agriculture.

That these are not hollow words can be seen in the vineyards. Cover crops is a magic word in South African viticulture. Impressive cover crops grow between the vines in many areas. Two essential prerequisites for this: available water, an aspect that has so far stood in the way of this cultivation in extremely dry areas, and available labour.

Environmental protection - yes, please

Even though South Africa is not an advocate of organic viticulture and commercial and economic sustainability are of great importance, the green side is not neglected. Here, the ecological view goes far beyond the cultivation of one's own vineyards.

One example is Black Oystercatcher from Cape Agulhas. Dirk Human's farm makes large parts of its land available for the Nuwejaars Wetlands. This has created a retreat for wildlife. At the same time, plants introduced into the ecosystem from outside were cleared to restore the natural balance.

Paul Clüver Family Wines is also a good example of an intensive ecological contribution. 60% of the farmland was already transferred to the Groenlandsberg Conservation Area in 1994, part of the Kogelberg Biosphere established in 1998 - the first biosphere in South Africa to be recognised by Unesco.

These enormous contributions by South Africa's winegrowers are, of course, also related to the historical layout of the farms, but giving up much of their own land for environmental protection is nevertheless an important contribution to greater sustainability.

And of course there are also strong advocates of organic viticulture in South Africa, such as the Waterkloof Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. Here, they go so far as to use horses and donkeys for cultivation in the vineyard in order to avoid driving tractors and compacting the soil. The use of renewable energy, bio-reactors for water treatment and extensive recycling complete the green picture. Because of all these sustainable efforts, the winery can call itself a Biodiversity Champion.




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