From erratic rainfall in some parts of Mzansi to increased temperatures in others: South Africa’s climate is changing and it poses a serious threat to the local agricultural sector. If we were to fight climate change for the sake of future generations, said national agriculture, land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza, the country will need an “enabling environment for innovative solutions”.
Didiza was speaking at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations Regional Conference for Africa. She shared with global leaders how local farmers were encouraged to embrace agroecology and resilient crops as new alternatives.
Agroecology is regarded as a sustainable farming method that applies ecological concepts, principles or processes to farm production.
These principles include to protect and enhance natural ecosystems and the more efficient use of resources, while building human and ecosystem resilience and improving rural livelihoods. “This contributes to transforming agri-food systems towards better production, nutrition, environment and life for all, without leaving anyone behind,” Didiza said.
The minister also mentioned conservation agriculture and said that, while it was by no means agroecology, it had built a solid foundation for farmers to find the transition into agroecology more compelling.
“In other words, agroecology is proving itself to be the bridge that connects several facets of food systems, as it provides additional vantage points on better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all.”
Improving yield and soil conditions
Didiza said the introduction of climate-resilient technologies was assisting farmers to improve yield and soil conditions, to reduce production input costs and ultimately to increase their income.
Generally, farmers in Mzansi also found that inter-cropping with leafy legume vegetables was beneficial in improving yield and soil conditions.
“Leafy legume vegetables, which significantly increase soil nitrogen fixation, demonstrated the benefits of leguminous crops in improving soil nutrient fertility with reduced dependency on inorganic fertilisers,” she said.
On soil fertility as a key production factor, the minister said studies showed that the optimum application of organic fertiliser (manure), combined with organic mulching, have resulted in an optimum harvestable yield of African leafy and leguminous crops.
Leafy legumes will benefit resource-poor farmers
African leafy and leguminous crops have nutrient-dense attributes and should be promoted. “Cowpea, for instance, provides a valuable source of nutrition in areas with hot, dry climates and could fill a valuable niche in the production of food in rural areas where the climate is not conducive to the production of exotic vegetables,” explained Didiza.
These resilient crops could have immense benefits for resource-poor farmers who want to increase yield and income from their crops, along with nutritional value.
“Ultimately, the benefit will be in terms of increased availability of nutritious foods amongst rural households and reduced leaching of fertiliser from the soil to the nearby water source,” Didiza added.
Because farmers are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, she reiterated the need for partnerships within countries and across the world. She believes role players will need to develop climate services to help farmers adapt and mitigate climate-related risks, and that artificial intelligence and machine learning can help with that.
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