In the first of a four-part series on conservation agriculture, Mary Maluleke urges farmers to shift from conventional tillage to climate-smart regenerative agriculture. Maluleke is a junior resource economist with ASSET Research.
The agriculture sector understands best that the ideas and practices we create and cultivate today will shape our future. This process extends towards a deeper realisation, or awareness, of what we are doing and how we are doing it.
It is a turning point, an essential one, in our journey of transformation. The transformation that could lead to radical changes in our different spheres of daily life – be it in our private or work environments, either education, research or development sectors, or in the agricultural sector.
It is at this point that we realise the urgent need to move away from degenerating systems and venture into new, advanced, effective, and progressive ones. Or preferably, regenerative systems.
For farmers in South Africa, this awareness, when the penny drops, will hopefully lead to the consideration of regenerative conservation agricultural practices and systems. While their “what” may be clear, the question may still be “how” to apply and adapt the following conservation principles in their own contexts: minimum soil disturbance, permanent soil cover, diversity of crops and animals, and living roots in the soil.
A need to transform
Over the years, the most common cropping practices in South Africa have been conventional tillage such as ploughing and discing, which usually goes with mono-cropping. These practices have had their successes, and have historically served the sector, economy, and nation at large.
While they have done well, the persisting problem of environmental degradation in the agricultural sector has put the conventional system under great criticism, as evidence of soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, as well as extreme weather and natural disasters, continue to capture the attention of the sector.
This is because such conventional practices often exclude principles and practices that would reduce the release of carbon in the atmosphere, counteract and reverse soil degradation and biodiversity loss, and promote regenerative conservative agricultural farming.
The inclusion of such principles would help farmers adhere to the call by the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO), towards a cleaner and safer agricultural system. It would also support 17 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
On an individual level, this new way of farming would significantly reduce farmer indebtedness, and foster financial longevity.
The latter would bring ease and convenience to farmers as there has been evidence that the current financial reality in the South African agricultural sector is that most farmers cannot afford a crop failure for a season or more.
To align with the WFO, to support the SDGs, and to benefit from principles that reduce, counteract, and reverse environmental damage, promote financial longevity and reduced debt – farmers will need to reconsider conventional practices for more conservative ones.
The pursuit of such regenerative conservation practices will offer farmers a much better chance for survival, and gear them towards long-term success and sustainability.
Regenerative conservative practices have great potential to avoid most of the past failures, and mistakes imbedded in conventional practices. They are providing farmers with an opportunity to transform their farming systems, and venture into new, advanced, affective, and progressive ones.
Over the next few weeks, I will share my vision to embrace opportunity and possibility with Food For Mzansi readers. Opportunity to engage in productive reflections and planning that will yield exponential returns, and the possibility to reignite lost hope and meet the longing for different outcomes.
But for this to happen, change is required. A change from conventional tillage to the climate-smart regenerative conservation agriculture. This new way of farming requires ongoing learning and adaptation, and the application of several sound and sustainable principles. As the famous saying goes, old ways will not open new doors.
- Mary Maluleke is a junior resource economist with ASSET Research, currently involved with a conservation agriculture project led by Hendrik Smith. In 2019, she obtained a Master of Commerce degree in economics from Rhodes University.
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.