The secret to more income streams within the agriculture industry and implementing diversification on the farm was the topic at the heart of a discussion on Food For Mzansi’s Gather To Grow with host Dawn Noemdoe and her panel of experts.
According to agronomist and livestock and crop farmer Kagiso Murwa, diversification is important for farmers.
He said if a farmer has maize and vegetables, “When it comes to harvesting vegetables it can be done within three months, and then maize you wait for harvest later. And if the farmer has livestock, he can use the manure as fertiliser.
“Diversification is important because it gives you different income streams. It’s very crucial.”
Dealing with climate change
Murwa said with climate change causing problems with less water and the impact on biotic factors, diversification improves soil structures and breaks down pest build up in the soil because different pests attack different crops.
Compared to the world, Murwa added, South Africa is better off in terms of climate change. This is because other countries are experiencing worse El Niño conditions. He believes this is why South Africa needs to prepare in advance to avoid food insecurity.
“The first thing you need to do before planting, you need to know the best varieties suitable for your soil. And then you have to do soil tests to see which nutrients are needed and not needed in your soil, and whether the soil is suitable or not.”
He recommended that farmers can also consult an agronomist and agricultural advisors to advise what is suitable for their soil.
“But you need to observe your neighbors and see what they are planting. If it works for them, it is likely to work for you as well,” he said.
Deputy director of the training directorate in the KwaZulu-Natal department of agriculture and rural development Siyabonga Vilakazi explained that crop diversification is where farmers look overall at their main crop and what they plant yearly, and incorporate diversity into their routine.
“You are not moving away from your main crop, but just bringing in diversity by involving a different crop. In some instances, you can use crops from different families and years.
“You do this in a yearly cycle with your main crop included, but it can also be a year of rest for your main crop and you plant and harvest your new crop only. You can mix these processes,” he said.
Reducing the risks
According to Vilakazi, diversification is important because there are numerous benefits and it reduces risks.
He explained that if a farmer plants the same thing, there are risks of the market being flooded. That could cause a negative impact on prices and how much market share you have.
“If you will move away from diversification, you experience the same pests, diseases – and these are things you break away from when you bring a new crop from a different family ‘to confuse the enemy’.
“Diversification does not take away nutrients from your soil, compared to someone who plants the same crop yearly,” he said.
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