As the world is recovering from the financial havoc caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, many food systems are still recovering as well. In South Africa, food security and nutrition were heavily impacted. But, says an agricultural scientist, the implementation of ecological farming in South Africa may be the solution to battling food insecurity.
According to Statistics South Africa, almost 23,6% of South Africans in 2020 were affected by moderate to severe food insecurity, while almost 14,9% experienced severe food insecurity due to Covid-19.
“The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic denied many South Africans their right to adequate food as enshrined in the South African Constitution, and undermined the efforts that have been made to meet the National Development Plan’s goals and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of “Zero hunger” by 2030,” says Statistics South Africa.
The implementation of wide-scale ecological farming in South Africa may be the solution to battling food insecurity in a manner that costs farmers less than traditional farming practices.
According to Christian Thierfielder, the principal research scientist of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), in areas where farmers have limited access to fertilisers, “ecological intensification” can be the answer.
“We believe these practices act to increase the supply of nitrogen to crops, which explains their value in low-input agriculture,” he says.
During his tenure at the CIMMYT, he has worked on long-term experiments on conservation agriculture. Some of these include the performance of no-till fields, growing a range of crops under these conditions and how tilling (or a lack thereof) impacts crop residues found in soil.
“Diversifying cropping with legumes can increase profits and decrease nitrogen pollution by reducing the fertiliser requirements of an entire crop rotation, while providing additional high-value food, such as beans,” Thierfielder explains.
“Crop diversity can also confer resilience to weather variability, increase biodiversity, and suppress weeds, crop pests and pathogens. It’s essential, if farmers are to improve maize production [on continents] like Africa.”
What exactly is ecological farming?
According to GreenPeace, ecological farming means to make use of what nature has to offer in agricultural practices. Another name for the practise is regenerative farming or organic farming.
“Most ecological farming methods harken back to the days of the small family farm where many different crops were grown and a good deal of the land, such as wetlands and field margins, was left undisturbed. In fact, ecological farming is the way most farming has been done throughout human history. Ecological farming rejects genetically modified (GM) crops, chemical fertilisers, and pesticides. Ecological farmers limit insect damage to their crops by avoiding large monocrop plantations and preserving ecosystem diversity,” the organisation says.
“Ecological farming restores soil nutrients with natural composting systems. It also avoids the soil loss from wind and water erosion that typifies many agricultural regions given over to industrial farming.”
Agricultural soil has sustained damage due to the overuse of chemical inputs over the course of the past 100 years. Now, many countries across the world are working to develop and employ ecological farming practices, and using alternatives to chemical pesticides and fertilisers in an effort to heal damaged soils.
Support is needed
Thierfielder adds that the large-scale and wide-scale adoption of ecological farming, however, requires stringent support from policymakers. This support ranges from market access available to farmers to helping farmers calibrate their practices to be more ecologically-friendly.
“Dire and worsening global challenges – climate change, soil degradation and fertility declines, and scarcening fresh water – threaten the very survival of humanity,” he concludes.
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.