The days when farmers practiced monoculture and everyone, including agricultural extension officers and advisors had lots of time, are long gone. Today, time is money - even on the farm, and 3 000 extensionists in South Africa, must render services to more than 1.5 to 1.8 million emerging farmers and small-scale producers... Read more
The days when farmers practiced monoculture and everyone, including agricultural extension officers and advisors had lots of time, are long gone. Today, time is money - even on the farm, and 3 000 extensionists in South Africa, must render services to more than 1.5 to 1.8 million emerging farmers and small-scale producers.
These producers in the developing world survive, maintain and improve their food security through diversification and multiple on-farm income streams by utilising available land to produce crops and animal products - exploiting every opportunity to increase yields and incomes to survive and to grow. To manage all this, they depend on agricultural extension advice from their governments - who in turn need to capacitate agricultural advisors with knowledge on a diverse range of production and agricultural related information. In South Africa, Extension Suite Online® (ESO) is an integral part of the ICT Pillar of the Extension Recovery Programme (ERP).
As a web-based agricultural decision support system, ESO provides extension advisors with plant and animal production information - from soil preparation to post-harvest and market information. Market information includes prices on fresh produce (FPM), grain (SAFEX), oilseeds, roots, and tubers, and animal produce market prices include beef, mutton, chevon, broilers, pork, milk, wool and eggs. ESO also offers geo-referenced Regional Data modules with climatic and infrastructural data, as well as a Farm Information System.
The Extensionist to farmer ratio of 1:500 (600) sums up the dilemma of extension in our country. Officers must provide answers immediately and accurately - the sheer size of their client-base makes second visits, follow-ups, and corrective actions almost impossible. Problems raised, require them to revert to their knowledge, experience, and training. If they do not have the answer, ESO must provide immediately available, relevant, correct, updated, easily understood and practical information.
To measure the relevance and value of a decision support system, user statistics is one place to start. But the Number of Unique Visitors, Number of Visits, Number of Pages Visited, Time Spent, and the Amount of Data Downloaded, represents only one aspect.
The impact that quick, relevant and correct answers make on job creation, food security, financial stability, and the improvement in the relationship between farmers and extensionists, remain the right yardstick. Diligent extensionists use ESO, and they use it extensively and are the people who continuously testify to the real value of Extension Suite Online. And in these terms, ESO hasn't stopped growing since June 2010.
Those who do not use ESO require re-training from Manstrat AIS, and motivation and support from their immediate superiors - helping towards service delivery improvements, and with it, food security, job creation, and prosperity, for those who need it most.
Sustainable access to safe and nutritious food is a constitutional right for all South Africans. Our country is a net producer of agricultural products, yet, many households face the problem of regular or even acute food insecurity. One of the accepted causes of food insecurity... Read more
Sustainable access to safe and nutritious food is a constitutional right for all South Africans. Our country is a net producer of agricultural products, yet, many households face the problem of regular or even acute food insecurity. One of the accepted causes of food insecurity, especially in the rural areas, is that many people are net consumers of purchased food, without producing anything themselves. Access to food in this regard depends on household cash income, leaving the poor with continuously inadequate access to food.
On the other hand, the role of agriculture in household food security is to provide for oneself, to generate income and to create jobs. In this regard, public and private leaders are continuously encouraging a culture of cultivating household food gardens by those who need it most.
Empowering smallholder farmers is a perfect start on the road to ensure food security in developing countries. Smallholder farmers play a vital role in the reduction of food-insecure households, the improvement in the livelihoods of communities, and help to grow economies in the process. To achieve this, smallholder farmers need access to services and products to enable them to become providers of food; firstly for themselves, and then for their communities, and then the rest of the country, where possible.
To achieve this, smallholder farmers require access to information, training, and support to help them work smartly and economically, towards set goals. Understanding their natural and business environment, and knowing how to become part of the of the farming industry is imperative to efforts in eradicating food-insecurity.
In the process, farmers must be encouraged and supported to pursue sustainable ways of producing food by adopting modern techniques of production; including the use of drought resistant varieties, diseases resistant varieties and utilising GMOs.
The National Development Plan gives a number of steps to improve food security, including the expanded use of irrigation, security of land tenure, in particular for women, and the promotion of nutrition education.
The well-being and chances of success of smallholders in South Africa are threatened by a range of external factors, but often also by their lack of resources and knowledge. Water scarcity, often caused by drought and poor management of resources; rising food prices; pests and diseases, the lack of safety nets, the lack of information, and rising input costs like chemicals, fertiliser, labour, fuel and transport costs, are amongst those that they have no or little control. Often, their unwillingness to adapt or learn also plays a role in failures. All farmers face problems and challenges, but those experienced by smallholders are magnified due to their limited capacity (financially and otherwise), to withstand or adapt to changing contexts.
To assist smallholder farmers; the Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries through CASP (The Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme) allocates funds to provinces to provide agricultural support services, and facilitates agricultural development for farmers. The department employs Extension Officers with the mandate to provide advisory services to farmers on the many aspects of farming. Extension officers must be equipped with the necessary skills and decision-making support - Extension Suite Online® - to help them to provide advice. Extension should serve as the farmer's first support mechanism against external forces towards viable agricultural production and household food security.
According to the APHLIS (African Post-Harvest Losses Information System) estimates, post-harvest grain losses in Africa range between 10 and 20 percent, with some sources reporting losses of as high as 40 percent... Read more
According to the APHLIS (African Post-Harvest Losses Information System) estimates, post-harvest grain losses in Africa range between 10 and 20 percent, with some sources reporting losses of as high as 40 percent.
Technical inadequacies are mostly to blame for post-harvest losses in grain production. Poor harvesting and post-harvest handling methods, and incorrect drying techniques often lead to disease. At the same time, poor storage conditions also result in pest infestations and damage.
Post-harvest product losses indirectly lead to higher prices as producers' costs rise with losses, and the environment is impacted negatively due to the fruitless use of resources - land, water, fertilizers and energy - to produce grain that is lost and doesn't reach consumers.
Farmers can reduce grain losses during storage considerably by following best post-harvest practices, from harvest to the sale of the grain, by utilising simple storage technologies. Hermetically sealed grain-storage, for instance, is one of the most cost-effective systems as it eliminates gas exchange between the inside and outside of the container and insects in the containers die as the levels of oxygen decrease. However, for the success of hermetic-storage, grain must be clean and dried to below a 14% moisture content (preventing fungal mould growth).
Three types of hermetic grain storage are available to small-scale farmers:
Unfortunately, hermetic grain storage systems have not been adopted as well as was expected - mainly due to a lack of technological knowledge from small-scale farmers and extension advisors. The relative, initial high costs of some of the systems further contributed to the low adoption rates.
The amount of post-harvest grain loss in sub-Saharan Africa is equal to the amount of cereal imported into the region annually. Reductions in post-harvest grain loss would result in fewer imports; substantial savings on the land usage; and lower seed, fertiliser, and water costs. Food and nutrition security in the region will improve, with additional positive effects for the economy.
Climate has a significant impact on animal production and with rising global temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns, farmers need to plan and manage accordingly. Global temperatures are predicted to continue rising, with extreme weather events becoming more frequent and more intense... Read more
Climate has a significant impact on animal production and with rising global temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns, farmers need to plan and manage accordingly.
Global temperatures are predicted to continue rising, with extreme weather events becoming more frequent and more intense.
It is the variability and intensity of the higher overall temperatures that are of greatest consequence to animal agriculture. Extreme weather, such as drought and heat, affects many areas of animal production.
Heat and humidity have a direct impact on animal physiology and production. Extreme heat leads to higher mortalities but more concerning is the economic impact through changes in daily gain and feed conversion efficiency. There is also the effect on the immune system of the animals, making them more susceptible to stress and diseases. Apart from the direct impact on production; heat, humidity, and moisture drive pest and disease cycles. These changes can be spatial or temporal.
Farm activities and inputs
Food shortages necessitate buying in feeds, and since demand will be high, prices will also be high. As farm activities are dependent on weather conditions, periods of high temperatures have a negative influence on events such as animal handling and transporting.
Flooding impacts manure handling and can take out roads and bridges affecting labourers getting to work as well as the transporting of feeds, equipment, and animals. Power outages also often accompany extreme weather thus providing additional challenges to the farmer.
Climate changes influence market demand and prices. Drought and flooding result in feed shortages and accompanying higher feed prices. Farmers also experience a decrease in selling prices when demand for livestock is low as is common when surplus livestock is sold to mitigate the impacts of droughts.
Since it is clear that climate change impacts animal agriculture both economically and productively, farmers need to relook at their current management scenarios and start conditioning their animals to change weather events.
High performing animals are most vulnerable to climatic changes and experience the most stress and drop in performance. Conception rates primarily are affected, and farmers are advised to select breeds and breed types more adapted to conditions similar to those associated with climate change.
In warmer climates, breeds more heat tolerant, such as indigenous breeds, often have lower productivity levels. However, their survivability is higher, and they are better able to cope with climate changes as the heat has a smaller influence on voluntary feed intake in these animals and reproduction rates are higher.
Through selective breeding and crossbreeding and changing management scenarios (putting up additional shades, changing feeds and limiting stressors), farmers may reduce the effects of climate change on their animals and maintain optimum production performances.
The agricultural industry, like most others, has its roots firmly planted in the patriarchal past - a past that prevented women from taking their rightful place, including positions of leadership, in the societies where they lived and worked. In harmony with activism... Read more
The agricultural industry, like most others, has its roots firmly planted in the patriarchal past - a past that prevented women from taking their rightful place, including positions of leadership, in the societies where they lived and worked. In harmony with activism and conscious efforts by governments and NGO's, successful women have also made massive contributions in providing evidence of their skills, aptitude and ability to "do the job". Bare statistics also prove the importance of women in all spheres of agricultural production in Africa and the rest of the developing world, and their contributions towards food security, job creation and poverty alleviation.
Women farmers are taking large strides in livestock and crop farming. Today, in many places, women in agriculture are respected as part of an existing economical and skilled labour force, and for contributing competitively and successfully with all comers, in different agricultural fields, despite the history (and current evidence), of gender discrimination.
Academically, women are increasingly excelling in professions like Veterinary Sciences, Animal Sciences, Crop Production and Pasture Sciences, and are providing efficiency systems through research, health information and best practices, to the agricultural sector. As farmers, they are applying skills and theoretical knowledge to practical challenges, and are playing important roles in agribusiness and government - showing that gender prejudice is not holding them back anymore.
There are various government and non-profit organisation programmes geared towards empowering women to participate in the agricultural main-stream. One example is the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), that hosts the annual Female Entrepreneur Award Ceremony during women's month, to honour women entrepreneurs in the sector, for the role they play in food security, poverty alleviation, job creation and general economic growth in eight categories, with surprising results. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), assists women in various areas of business development with financial incentives through the Women Economic Empowerment Financial Assistance programme.
By empowering women, old "beasts" like the myth that farming is exclusively a man's job, are slayed and put to rest.
All this does not mean that women are now all of a sudden widely accepted as equals in the agricultural mainstream, and treated with respect. That will be irresponsible and plainly untrue. Much still needs to done, but women are breaking barriers and excelling where the opportunity presents itself.
"When women are empowered and can claim their rights and access to land, leadership, opportunities and choices, economies grow, food security is enhanced and prospects are improved for current and future generations", Michelle Bachelet - Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women.
While it is no secret that women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in Africa and are responsible for half of the world's food production, it is only recently, that their key role as food producers and their critical contribution to food security, started to receive the recognition it deserves... Read more
While it is no secret that women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in Africa and are responsible for half of the world's food production, it is only recently, that their key role as food producers and their critical contribution to food security, started to receive the recognition it deserves.
In this regard findings from FAO studies confirm that while women are the mainstay of small-scale agriculture, they have difficulties in gaining access to resources such as land, credit, and productivity enhancing inputs and services. This limited access to resources is primarily the product of a series of interrelated social, economic and cultural factors that force them into a subordinate role. Examples of such constraints limiting the role and contribution of woman to the agricultural sector include limited access to land. Women own less than 2 percent of the land in which they produce food. This situation is largely the reason why they have limited or no access to credit. From this other factors like limited access to agricultural inputs, extension services and training, and insufficient access to decision-making (from policy level down to farm production level), all contribute to the precarious position of women in agriculture, especially in Africa.
Despite the above constraints and challenges experienced by female farmers, it is heart-warming to note that there are numerous examples of women in farming and agribusiness who overcame adversities and have made a success of their farming ventures. In this regard, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, in collaboration with the nine provincial departments of agriculture, have introduced the DAFF Female Entrepreneur Awards. These awards are aimed at celebrating and recognizing the achievements and contributions of the many worthy and competent female farmers in the country.
Examples of such award winners include 27-year-old Nomzamo Khoza (the youngest winner to date), from the Mnini area, near Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal. Nomzamo owns a farming enterprise that produces People's Bio Oil and Morana Fire for Africa. The company employs 120 people at the farm, nurseries, and factory, produces more than 200 products sold throughout southern Africa and abroad, as far as Argentina.
A further inspiring example is Cynthia Mokwena, a Mpumalanga based forester and horticultural producer. Her business enterprise started in 2001 and by 2007 she was supplying timber to Sappi. Cynthia employs more than 40 people (many of them woman, and young people) and the 700ha of farmland is strategically split into 350ha for grazing, 300ha for gum tree production and 50ha for subtropical crops and vegetable production.
Real progress is made towards overcoming many of the constraints which hampered and restricted female farmers in the past, and it is with pleasure that we annually celebrate women, who, despite all the constraints, are excelling in this critical sector.
Women play a significant role in agriculture in Africa - about 80 % of the agricultural production on the Continent is produced by small-scale farmers of which the majority are rural women. Agriculture in the developing countries is central to economic growth - contributing to food production, job creation, poverty alleviation and... Read more
Women play a significant role in agriculture in Africa - about 80 % of the agricultural production on the Continent is produced by small-scale farmers of which the majority are rural women. Agriculture in the developing countries is central to economic growth - contributing to food production, job creation, poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability. However, their roles remain largely unrecognised. While they make up about 43 % of the world's agricultural labour force, and in some countries, the figure is as high as 70%, in most cases, they are still not involved in the decision-making process. Despite being major contributors to agricultural production, women still suffer from a lack of access to agricultural production resources such as land, finance, technology and infrastructure.
The role of women in agriculture is diverse, basically covering the whole spectrum of farming activity. They are involved in land preparation (land clearing and ploughing), planting, crop maintenance (weeding, diseases, and pest control), harvesting and post-harvest processing (grading, packaging, and processing). Even after harvesting, women play a role in the processing and the eventual preparation of food produced by them - extending their farming role to ensure food security and nutrition for their household.
Because women are not involved in agricultural decision-making, they also have little or no control over or access to the land. That leads to no access to financial services and markets. It is no secret that when it comes to financial remuneration women rarely if ever earn the same as men in rural areas, despite the fact that they do the same work, and often more of it. They are often seen more as "the help," than as partners and colleagues. This perception is in force, while most people will admit to the importance of the many roles that women are playing in agriculture in the rural and other areas of the world.
Improving livestock breeds has been practiced for many years, as farmers sought to shape the genotype and physical characteristics of livestock breeds to increase yield and nutritive quality of their products, and in the process create food security... Read more
Improving livestock breeds has been practiced for many years, as farmers sought to shape the genotype and physical characteristics of livestock breeds to increase yield and nutritive quality of their products, and in the process create food security.
With selective breeding programmes, animals are selected over time for their adaptive traits to particular climates. However with the emergence of the field of genetics in the 20th century and the subsequent discovery of molecular genetics and genomics, the potential to breed livestock for specific desired traits and qualities has become easier and more frequent than before.
Meat, milk and eggs, are important sources of high-quality proteins, essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fats and fatty acids. As the world population increases, the consumption of animal products has risen, and the demand for these products is expected to double between 2010 and 2050. Meeting the growing demand is possible through increasing livestock numbers, but not without enormous environmental and production impacts. The alternative is to increase the production efficiency per animal.
In livestock breeding, genetic intensification is the concentration of beneficial genes in livestock breeds to increase productivity sustainably, with a limited increase land area devoted to livestock grazing or raising. In the face of increased demand for livestock products, coupled with limited potential to expand grazing areas, genetic intensification becomes even more essential.Livestock breeds improve through a variety of biotechnologies such as artificial insemination, cross breeding, embryo transfer, in-vitro fertilization and somatic cell nuclear transfer.
To date, most biotechnology products have been produced mainly in developed countries. Genomic selection processes are applied to traits such as milk production in cattle and feed efficiency in chickens. These processes, however, involve high costs and requirements in expertise. Thus producers and consumers in developed countries amassed most of the benefits.
With the increase in global food demand and risk of malnutrition in poorer countries, there is an urgency to develop similar Marker-aided selection (MAS) for use in developing countries. Biotechnologies are continually being designed and developed to help reduce hunger and malnutrition while protecting natural resources.
In Africa, an estimated 150 million poor people depend on livestock for a household income. The rapidly increasing demand for livestock products offers them an opportunity for improving their incomes and livelihoods. Introducing biotechnologies in animal breeding will be important to improve breeds and production efficiency. However, public and private sector support is required for these farmers to manage the increased productivity. Extension officers will therefore, play an integral role in helping emerging and small-scale farmers to manage improved breeds to meet future global food demand.
Precision Farming is a concept based on managing the variations in the field with greater accuracy, using fewer resources and reducing production costs to grow more food - a sustainable agriculture practice. The adoption of new technologies such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Geographic... Read more
Precision Farming is a concept based on managing the variations in the field with greater accuracy, using fewer resources and reducing production costs to grow more food - a sustainable agriculture practice. The adoption of new technologies such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has revolutionized Precision Farming in a number of developing countries, including South Africa. These technologies facilitate the accurate collection of information required to utilise natural resources, like land and water, more efficiently and thus supporting farmers' sustainable farming practice efforts.
It used to be difficult for farmers to correlate production techniques and crop yields with land variability, limiting their ability to develop the most efficient soil/plant treatment strategies - strategies that would have enhanced their production. Precision farming has made it achievable due to a more precise application of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, as well as better control of the dispersion of those chemicals. In this way, costs are reduced and higher yields achieved while at the same time creating a more environmentally friendly farm.
Manufacturers using GPS-related technologies have developed a range of tools that assist farmers and agribusinesses to be more productive and efficient with precision farming activities. GPS-derived data now help farmers to navigate specific locations in the field accurately, collect soil samples or monitor crop conditions. Satellite images of various geographical locations that are provided by GIS systems create powerful tools to map pests, insects and weed infestations in the field - especially in conjunction with GPS data. Areas that are prone to pest infestations can be easily pinpointed and mapped for future management decisions and recommendations. This data is also valuable to aircraft sprayers as it enables them to accurately swath fields without the use of human flaggers to guide them.
GPS technologies further make it possible to characterise the spatial coordinates of farms, and to determine and record areas on the farm that may need attention (for fertiliser application, etc.), continuously.
Technology has made it possible to analyse and process significant amounts of data at high speeds, quicker and cheaper. Fast-processing GIS systems, the increasing accuracy of satellite images, and data collected from specific locations, provide reliable and speedy solutions for farmers.
Farmers who embrace technology as it continues to develop and improve, adapt so much easier to the ever-changing climatic, agricultural, political and socio-economic environments - not only to survive, but to thrive.
CRISPR-Cas9 is a newly developed genetic editing tool that enables genes within an organism to be rearranged, removed or altered very precisely and easily. Since the 1970's, when it was first possible to alter the genetic material of a plant or animal, efforts to do so... Read more
"Very few technologies truly merit the epithet game changer - but a new genetic engineering tool known as CRISPR-Cas9 is one of them" - Maywa Montenegro, UC Berkley, Ensia Magazine, January 2016.
CRISPR-Cas9 is a newly developed genetic editing tool that enables genes within an organism to be rearranged, removed or altered very precisely and easily. Since the 1970's, when it was first possible to alter the genetic material of a plant or animal, efforts to do so have required months or even years of molecular manipulation. With the introduction of CRISPR, only a couple of years ago, the speed and precision of genome editing have soared (a genome is the complete set of genes in a cell).
Although genetic engineering has in the past enabled the transfer and insertion of targeted foreign genes into organisms, it has been extremely difficult to alter or delete genes within the plant or animal. The current genetically modified crops and animals, in commercial production, are referred to as GMO's and all contain foreign DNA (strands of genes); that is, they contain genes inserted from another species. This is referred to as transgenic transfer (between two organisms that cannot reproduce with each other). The CRISPR technique enables manipulation of the genome within the plant or animal, and no foreign DNA remains in the organism; that is, there is no transgenic transfer of DNA.
The CRISPR method is increasingly being used by research labs, small companies, and public plant breeders because of the high expense and risks of conventional genetic engineering. Already, in China fungus-resistant wheat has been developed in laboratory conditions and the technique is being used to boost rice yields. In the UK, a gene in barley has been modified to improve seed germination, which could assist in drought-resistance.
There are numerous other projects in the pipeline. A company in Brazil is working on beef cattle with larger muscles (for more meat, which could be more tender), while other firms are developing chickens that only produce female offspring (for egg-laying) and beef cattle that only produce males (for more efficient feed-to-meat conversion, compared with females). In the US, Caribou Biosciences is growing maize and wheat strains edited for drought resistance; field trials are set to begin in 2016, and varieties are to be marketed in 5 to 10 years time. Various strategies for highly efficient production of renewable energy (biofuel) are also being investigated.
Use of the technique is equally applicable in humans and consequently has great significance in medicine and health. For example, work is currently being done on the Aedes mosquitoes to prevent the spread of the Zika virus.The vast array of potential uses of the technique means that its control and regulation are critical. Currently, it is not covered by GMO regulations in the US because legislation is based on the product; there is no foreign DNA in the organisms, so they are not classed as GMO's. However, European legislation is concerned with the procedures used in genetic manipulation rather than the product, and its use will be scrutinised. Furthermore, the technique is easy to use and cheap. The concern is that in the wrong hands, it could result in serious consequences.
The recent El Nino-induced drought experienced in the summer rainfall area of South Africa has amongst other things, led to extensive losses for livestock farmers. This has placed an added responsibility on producers to manage their enterprises carefully to make up for loss... Read more
The recent El Nino-induced drought experienced in the summer rainfall area of South Africa has amongst other things, led to extensive losses for livestock farmers. This has placed an added responsibility on producers to manage their enterprises carefully to make up for loss of stock and feed sustained during the drought, through increasing their productivity and lowering input costs.
With the added challenge of an economy under pressure, farmers are acutely aware of the need to reduce production costs while at the same time trying to restore the condition of their remaining livestock in preparation for breeding and slaughtering in the summer months.Infrastructure on a livestock farm varies from simple feed troughs to exceedingly expensive and essential, handling, feeding and milking facilities.
1. ASSESSMENT AND UTILISATION
A good way of reducing production costs is to start with the re-assessment of the infrastructure on the farm - its general condition, state of repair and functionality. The next step would be to repair, maintain and replace infrastructure economically, as and where required. The benefits of having well-maintained correctly applied infrastructure are many, as it not only saves time and money, but it increases opportunities for higher yields and profits!
A lack of, or poorly maintained and constructed infrastructure facilities, invariably make farming in general, and livestock production in particular, difficult and costly.
2. FEED AND WATER STORAGE
Poor veld conditions and feed shortages lead to farmers having to store additional feeds for their livestock for the winter months. For safe storage of feeds, storage areas need to be kept clean and dry, and access to feeds by pests, wild birds and animals must be restricted. Repairing roofs to prevent rainwater leaks will keep dampness out while fitting windows with screen cover will keep unwanted animals and pests out.
Farmers may also want to check their feed and water troughs to avoid wastage, as health risks associated with water wastage often lead to increased veterinary costs.
3. HOUSING AND SHELTER
Building shelters for animals go a long way to keeping animals warm and protected from the elements. This is especially true for animals in relatively poor condition after a period of severe drought and other causes of stress. Shelters do not have to be elaborately constructed buildings, but simple structures to accommodate animals, keep them out of strong wind, rain, and other extreme conditions experienced throughout the country in winter, are sufficient.
4. FENCING AND HANDLING FACILITIES: PREVENTATIVE MEASURES
Winter is also a good time for farmers to check the status of fences, handling facilities and dipping tanks. As summer and warmer weather approaches, tick and parasite numbers increase drastically and farmers will need to dip and deworm their animals more frequently. Many vaccinations are also administered in the spring months before the breeding season starts. Since animals will need to be handled more frequently, ensuring all handling facilities are in good working condition well before the summer months will make handling much easier and safer, and less stressful for animals and workers.
The agricultural industry continuously need to find solutions to problems through finding and applying new knowledge and equipment, in the quest to improve the living and working conditions of farmers and farm workers... Read more
The agricultural industry continuously need to find solutions to problems through finding and applying new knowledge and equipment, in the quest to improve the living and working conditions of farmers and farm workers.
Changing climatic conditions are also a factor in moving farmers to optimize production through comprehensive strategies that support long-term sustainability.
Sustainability has become the rallying call for small to large commercial producers - they are compelled to produce more food with diminishing resources. The industry needs to act to secure available natural resources for current and future agricultural production. Farming today is based on an understanding of the compound forces impacting on the landscape, and how they affect production. The availability of timeous spatial information minimises the risks while improving production potential. Awareness of the importance and effectiveness of GIS technology to the farming community has resulted in more farmers investing in GIS tools to improve production qualities and quantities.
As an example, remote sensing technology allows farmers to identify problem areas / areas requiring attention in terms of:
Factors outside the control of agricultural producers are a constant threat that increases financial and other risks. The application of technology, including that of GIS, by farmers, provide for necessary fore-knowledge and management successes, and eventual profitability. By having reliable environmental information, the risk of failure is minimised to some extent.
Precision farming is a GIS-based farm management tool for optimising returns on inputs. It relies on data, information technology, geospatial tools and satellite imagery to provide reliable information. The use of GIS in precision farming can be subdivided into:
Imagery and agriculture have a strong bond that will continue to grow as farmers apply it to their trade. The location of a farm determines the natural resources, and the environmental factors that will have a direct influence on farming operations. GIS technology is used to monitor and evaluate on-farm natural resources on an ongoing basis to ensure grazing and crop health.
GIS is the backbone of precision farming operations. It helps to make informed decisions in a timely and efficient manner, ensuring that all relevant role players have access to the same data at the time of decision making and execution.
Crop calendars summarise periods during which it is best to initiate and complete various crop production activities. They show when to prepare the soil, plant and grow the crop, and when to harvest it providing farmers with an initial broad indication of the planning and scheduling of activities needed to produce the crop... Read more
Crop calendars summarise periods during which it is best to initiate and complete various crop production activities. They show when to prepare the soil, plant and grow the crop, and when to harvest it providing farmers with an initial broad indication of the planning and scheduling of activities needed to produce the crop.
Farmers then need to adapt these plans to suit conditions on their farms.
Within each broad definition, there are certain tasks that require completion, before farmers can proceed with others, while at the same time, making sure that resources are readily available to execute the tasks. For example, soil preparation may involve ripping, ploughing and discing; the implements and the people to perform these tasks must be available, and the equipment must be in a good working condition. Furthermore, it may be necessary to incorporate lime and fertiliser during the tillage operation - meaning ordered earlier and available on the farm. The amount of fertiliser to be applied will depend on soil analysis recommendations - again something that had to be completed some good time before the tillage operations started.
Therefore, farmers need to schedule all activities for implementation at the correct time, and they must ensure that all resources are on the farm and ready for use.
Although the crop calendars appear broad-based and generic in nature, there is much detail that is used in their compilation. For example, the time from planting to the first harvest is a known factor for a specific crop growing in a specific location, and consequently, the date of the first harvest can be established quite accurately. This means that once the farmer has decided on a particular date for planting the crop, the planning and scheduling of all activities (and resources required), can be predicted with relative accuracy and the farmer can then compile a personalised crop calendar for the selected crop for the farm.
In this respect, the farmer can be greatly assisted by on-line information platforms (ESO and Agrisuite) which can automate the planning and scheduling exercise. If the planting dates were entered into the program, it would calculate when to start activities from before soil preparation, through to the final harvest. On the date of each activity (be it a task in the field, ordering inputs, servicing equipment, pest control tasks or organising labour), a message could be sent to the farmer as a reminder.
The timing of crop production activities is critical in achieving optimum crop growth, yields and quality. Delays at the start of the season result in the crop growing under sub-optimal weather conditions; tardy application of pesticides results in crop damage; slow harvesting reduces quality, and so on.
This type of tool can assist the entire spectrum of crop farmers, from small-scale to large farms, with their planning and daily execution of tasks.
The concept of Agri-Parks is rooted in the National Development Plan (NDP) calling for the integration of rural areas into mainstream economic development in South Africa - allowing these areas active participation in our country's economic growth. Policymakers recognised that the government's land reform programme has not yielded the expected results as yet and that farming alone cannot revitalise the rural economy and improve the destiny of small-holder farmers... Read more
The concept of Agri-Parks is rooted in the National Development Plan (NDP) calling for the integration of rural areas into mainstream economic development in South Africa - allowing these areas active participation in our country's economic growth. Policymakers recognised that the government's land reform programme has not yielded the expected results as yet and that farming alone cannot revitalise the rural economy and improve the destiny of small-holder farmers. It is common knowledge that while small-holder farmers could produce high-quality produce, their lack of market access and no foothold in the commodity value chain hampers their growth and development as food producers. In turn, this state of affairs holds them captive as operators in the second, or informal economy. Adding to the situation is the fact that there are vast areas of underutilised rural land that need to be under full production.
Against the above the SA Government has embarked upon the Agri-Parks Programme. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) defines an Agri-Park as: "... a networked innovation system of agro-production, processing, logistics, marketing, training and extension services located in a district municipality. As a network, it enables a market-driven combination and integration of various agricultural activities and rural transformation services."
The strategic objectives that informed the establishment of Agri-Parks are:
The DRDLR has an allocated budget of R6bn over the next three years for the programme, and will further rely on financial contributions from other departments and the private sector. In this regard, the plan dovetails with the Department of Trade and Industry's focus on agro-processing to create jobs and boost exports, with some of the planned agri-parks linked with the department's special economic zones.
Additionally, the DRDLR and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), are working with other departments (Transport, Water, Energy, Trade and Industry, and Science and Technology), to ensure that agricultural production in the programme has the necessary inputs to attain success.
There is great expectation that this exciting initiative will ignite economic development in the rural areas and that it will contribute towards poverty reduction and increased food security in the selected areas.
South Africa covers an area of 121.9 million hectares of which an area of roughly a 100 million hectares, is used for purposes of agriculture. Approximately 84 million hectors of this agricultural land is used for private farming while 16 million hectors is communal land. Communal areas in South Africa, however... Read more
South Africa covers an area of 121.9 million hectares of which an area of roughly a 100 million hectares, is used for purposes of agriculture. Approximately 84 million hectors of this agricultural land is used for private farming while 16 million hectors is communal land. Communal areas in South Africa, however, have a long history of environmental neglect and include some of the most underutilized farmland found in the country.
Communal farming is one agricultural practice encouraged and promoted by the South African government as a livelihood activity for communities. Communities are encouraged not to rely solely on government assistance, but to be empowered to learn to farm on their own, to provide for their communities. Mr. Senzeni Zokwana, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries was quoted as saying: "We want to support and maximize the use of land for food production in the communal areas. Together with the Departments of Rural Development, the Department of Trade and Industry and Science and Technology we shall provide support in the form of skills, production inputs and the needed infrastructure and technology".
Experience shows that the negligence of land, eventually result in severe land degradation posing a real threat to food security, rural livelihoods, and biodiversity. Since approximately 43 % of South Africa's 46 million people live in rural areas and depend on natural resources for their livelihood, they will feel the impact of land neglect the greatest.
Amongst the factors that contribute to underutilised land in communal areas is the lack of clearly defined rights among members; the lack of commitment and purpose amongst group members, and access to the market. Combined these issues lead to confusion and conflict among members and further demoralize the key role players.
To overcome the misuse of productive land in South Africa, we must put integrated and holistic programmes, for sustainable land management in place. Proper planning and the implementation of rural development across the spheres and within the various sectors of government is a necessity, in the interest of communities, to prevent the neglect of available resources.
Underutilisation of productive communal land threatens food security, particularly households, where many people remain trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty. Communities require greater social, economic and political mind-sets to overcome the inheritance of productive land negligence.
Agriculture plays a critical role in developing the South African economy and is a key sector contributing to the country's gross domestic product. Despite its importance, agriculture is dependent on unpredictable factors such as climate change, shifts in the global economy, changes... Read more
Agriculture plays a critical role in developing the South African economy and is a key sector contributing to the country's gross domestic product. Despite its importance, agriculture is dependent on unpredictable factors such as climate change, shifts in the global economy, changes in consumer needs, etc. South Africa, today, is facing any number of these factors, with the challenging drought having grave implications for agriculture and the economy.
Farmers feel the effects of the drought in both livestock and summer crop production, with water shortages making it almost impossible to maintain and sustain farming operations.
Poor rainfall means that grain and dry-land crop harvests will be significantly lower than normal. In many areas, producers delayed planting because of inadequate rainfall, while planted crops were often severely damaged by the excessive heat and accompanying dry conditions.
Commercial and small producers have little or no grazing, fodder and water for their livestock with the result that emergency selling and slaughtering of livestock, and on-farm animal deaths, has become the norm. At the same time, crop farmers are irrigating more frequently - and in the process using their limited water reserves. All this puts pressure on the cash reserves of farmers who have to fork out even more for feed and water to keep their farms operational. The government has tried to assist with emergency drought relief schemes such as providing animal feeds and drilling new boreholes for the provision of water, but billions of rands are needed to help farmers to secure loans to continue with immediate and future food production. The immediate aim is to support help farmers to recover to their previous positions by 2019!
The threatening agricultural catastrophe has already had an effect on the broader South African economy and is set to get worse in the immediate and medium terms. The population of South Africa depends on agriculture for food supply and livelihoods. Some of the important aspects that come with drought, in this case, are increased input costs leading to higher food prices and food insecurity. According to Wandile Sihlobo, an economist at Grain SA, "the drought is expected to result in 29% decrease in the basket of summer crops compared with the previous year. As a result, South Africa will have to import roughly 5 to 6 million tons of maize to meet its internal demand, as maize is the main staple food in the country. The weakness of Rand is likely to complicate this picture even more." It is clear that difficult times lie ahead of us, and that poor communities will be affected the most. The tragic result is that not only the farmers, the economy and consumers are set to suffer, but some of the biggest losers in all of this are the farm workers, who make up the population of the rural areas where agriculture is practised.
Drought is a natural disaster that cannot be controlled, but its effects can be mitigated. Planning by farmers, and long-term government strategies are imperative as the impact of droughts, over which we have no control, usually hurt the most vulnerable, the poor, the hardest.
South Africa's climate is driven by natural climate variability. This variability can be seen in the differences in the rainfall that South Africa receives every year. South Africa rates as the 27th driest country on earth, with a mean annual precipitation of 500mm compared to the global average of 850mm. Approximately 66%... Read more
South Africa's climate is driven by natural climate variability. This variability can be seen in the differences in the rainfall that South Africa receives every year. South Africa rates as the 27th driest country on earth, with a mean annual precipitation of 500mm compared to the global average of 850mm. Approximately 66% of South Africa receives an average annual rainfall of less than 500mm - the minimum requirement for dry-land farming. About 21% of the country, mainly the arid western region, receives less than 200 mm per year. Drastic and prolonged droughts regularly afflict us because of South Africa's climate variability and low average rainfall.
Between 1960 and 2004, South Africa experienced 8 summer rainfall seasons with less than 80% of the normal rainfall. South Africa's low annual rainfall invariably has a negative influence on crop production as seen in the 2015/2016 crop production year as well. This usually means that grains have to be imported at great expense, resulting in higher food prices. When drought periods occur in quick sequence, such as in 1964 to 1970, 1991 to 1995 and 2002 to 2005, the natural resources and economy doesn't have enough time to recover. This leads to job losses in the agricultural sector as well as a rise in debt within this sector. Job losses usually lead to an influx of people into urban areas in search of work.
South Africa's rainfall variability does not only affect us over time, but also space. It is always difficult to determine the severity of drought because not all areas are affected in the same way. It is not usual that some provinces suffer more than others during drought periods.
The impact of drought does not only cause job losses and food insecurity, it can also have other severe impacts. Veld fires are always a big concern. Environmental conditions, with low humidity, high temperatures and dry vegetation, are factors that increase the possibilities of the development and spread of wildfires. Grazing veld isn't the only risk area. Plantations and orchards are also at risk. Large areas of grazing grassland were destroyed by several wildfires in 1992. During August 1992, 9 people died while fighting wildfires and livestock and game losses were often considerable. Large timber plantations and grazing land were destroyed in 1994 when high winds and extremely dry conditions were dominant. In July 2002, nearly 24 000 ha of grazing land were destroyed in Mpumalanga. The damages were estimated to be more than R32 million, while 4 people lost their lives in veld fire related incidents that year.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), more than 14 million people in Southern Africa face hunger because of the poor harvests in the 2014/2015 season and the current drought conditions. They expect the number of people affected to rise to 16 million with the continuation of the drought conditions, and expect food prices to rise sharply in the region. Smallholder farmers in Africa are particularly at risk since they produce mainly to feed their own families.
Many climatologists blame the severe drought on the stronger than normal El-Nino event of 2015. The South African Weather Service recently announced that 2015 was the driest year on record for South Africa. The current drought will not only be remembered for the lack of rainfall, but also the sever temperatures that South Africa frequently experienced.
Source: South African Weather Service
In times of drought much attention is focused on the use of water by farmers. This is not surprising because it is estimated that agriculture consumes 70% of all water used. However, the judicious use of water is not only in the interest of the public, but also of farmers, as they need to survive... Read more
In times of drought much attention is focused on the use of water by farmers. This is not surprising because it is estimated that agriculture consumes 70% of all water used. However, the judicious use of water is not only in the interest of the public, but also of farmers, as they need to survive during droughts. It is during droughts that water reserves in dams and underground become critical assets that must be used efficiently.
It is thus important for famers to have some understanding of efficient water use in different irrigation systems and in different types of crops, and to have some knowledge of irrigation techniques which optimise crop production per unit of water. Some of this is described below.
Measuring efficiencies of irrigation systems and water use by crops have often been treated superficially. For example, crop production is nearly always measured in yield per unit area (kg/ha). However, in irrigated crops the factor limiting production may be water and not land area. In this case, the yield per unit of irrigation water (kg/cubic meter) is more appropriate.
The use of water starts with the irrigation system and its efficiency in delivering water from the reservoir to the crop roots. Some average efficiencies of different irrigation systems are shown below.
|Irrigation system||% efficiency|
This means that up to 50% of water is lost between the water source and the crop roots in furrow irrigation systems, 30% in sprinkler irrigation and 10% in drip systems. These losses come from cracked reservoirs, leaking pipes, evaporation, run-off and deep percolation (below the root zone). Drip irrigation avoids all these losses except deep percolation of water.
Expressed another way, to achieve the maximum potential yield (kg/ha), 100% more water than the crop's requirements needs to be applied by furrow irrigation, 43% more by sprinkler and 11% more by drip irrigation. However, the yield per unit of water would be very different; this is shown in the comparative table below.
|Irrigation system||Comparative yeild (kg/c.u.m)|
In future, with increasing demand of water resources, there will be a substantial cost attached to water and any calculation of economic viability will need to use the yield per unit of water (and not per unit of area).
However, the question remains: "How does this information help the small grower and what can they do about it?"
The answer is there are several things they can do, for instance:
Some technological advances will also become available to farmers.