July 2015 to September 2016
The 3rd cropping season of the Grain SA SFIP in Bergville saw the continuation of the horizontal scaling process for the awareness raising and implementation of CA in smallholder communities. Three new villages were brought on board and along with expansion in the existing villages a total of 56 new farmer experimentation participants were included.
This brings the total number of smallholder farmers who have undertaken CA experiments and implementation to 143. A CA awareness raising process was also initiated in Nkandla, working with members of a KZNDAE maize cooperative in Mpotholo, with 6 participants and in collaboration with the Siyazisiza Trust in Vulamhlamvu, with a group of 22 women.
Strategies to accommodate for the pervasive drought included planting of drought tolerant summer cover crops such as millet, sunhemp, cowpeas, sunflower and Dolichos and planting of late season beans. Participants waited for rain to start planting their maize and as a consequence some did not plant at all (around 31% of participants). Cattle invasions into the fields that were planted were extremely common this year as they were not sent to mountain pastures due to a lack of grazing. Of those who planted around 74% managed to harvest.
This season a subsidy was introduced for the 2nd and 3rd year participants. They were expected to pay around 30% of the total costs of their trial inputs package costs. This amounted to R127 per participant for the 400m2 trial plots and R320 for the 1000m2 trial plots. 68% of the participants who were eligible for payment paid their subsidies (48 participants). Some participants felt they could not afford to pay and withdrew their participation and others did not want to take a chance due to the drought. Of those who paid, 88% planted their trials (41 participants). In the review focus group discussions held for each village, participants voiced their appreciation for this subsidy and their commitment to pay these subsidies in future seasons.
Yields for maize and beans have been about 56% of that obtained in the previous seasons. Although cowpeas grew better than beans, yields have been even lower (35%) than before. Generally, (for around 85% of the participants) yields for the CA plots have been consistently higher than the control plots, where the participants have practised their ‘normal’ methods of farming. For the 2015-2016 season, despite the drought, average maize yields for the CA plots have again been higher than the average yields for the control plots. This is considered an indication of the increase in soil health for the participants over time as well as the increased soil organic matter and water holding capacity under the CA cropping methods.
Soil health tests have indicated a higher availability of nutrients and microbial activity in the soil as compared with veld benchmark samples. The veld sample indicates the natural ‘baseline’ of microbial activity and soil fertility in uncultivated veld and generally would be expected to be higher than a sample from a cropping field. These tests have also provided a clear indication for the need for both intercropping or mixed cropping (with a grain and legume mixture) as well as planting of cover crop mixes. Intercropping, (with beans or cowpeas) provides for much higher N availability for the crops, but does not provide for substantial build-up of the organic matter and humus in the soil in the short term. This only starts to happen once multiple species cover crops, a minimum of 3-5 (such as vetch, fodder oats and fodder radish) are included in the rotation as well.
For the purposes of deriving fertilizer recommendations, soil samples have been taken for 119 participants from 10 villages across the Bergville area between 2013-2015. An analysis was done to check the accuracy of a generic fertilizer recommendation for the area that has been calculated and used. It was found that the generic recommendation of 40kg/ha P and 0kg/ha K holds true across the villages and the years. However, a higher generic lime recommendation of 5t/ha as opposed to 1t/ha would need to be made. Overall it would make more sense to make a generic recommendation on village level, that is benchmarked on a yearly basis.
The building of innovation platforms on strong and active local farmer groups has continued. Locally managed savings and credit groups have been used for this purpose, saving specifically for their agricultural inputs, now exist in Emmaus, Stulwane and Ezibomvini and are to be set up for this season in Ngoba, Vimbukhalo and Emangweni. Bulk buying groups have not yet taken off, given the tendency to work within specific and different projects. Participants are getting used to the idea of paying a subsidised amount for their trial inputs. During this first season only 62% of those eligible paid their subsidies. This was partly due to the drought, partly due to paying also for other maize production projects where they had already contributed R1000 each and partly due to lack of finances. During the yearly review processes participants indicated their appreciation for this subsidy and also their willingness to continue with these in the future.
Individual interviews have shown a marked contribution to livelihood improvement and food security contributed from the harvests of the CA trial plots. The contribution of both maize and beans in the diet as well as fodder for livestock has made a marked difference in participants’ ability for food provisioning for their families. Support has also been provided to neighbours in need due to the drought.
Groups are ready to engage in micro enterprise activities around milling and supplying of input packs and tools. In each village the group made a decision as to whether this would be a group or individual process.
The open days and farmers’ days attended and hosted, provided substantial sharing and learning for the learning group members and further promoted awareness in the broader community. In each village more participants have been brought on board and another 5 new areas are to be included in the CA trial process in the coming season. Stakeholders from the Government and NGO sectors have been engaged and further collaboration with LandCare, KZNDAE, specific LM’s, and the NGOs – Siyazisiza Trust, ACAT, The Institute of Natural Resources (INR), Lima Rural Development Foundation and the Farmer Support Group is envisaged in the coming seasons.
Monitoring processes have again included the in-depth monitoring of each CA trial using the CA indicators and scores and the VSA (Visual Soil Assessment) monitoring process. A decision has been taken to base the subsidies/incentive scheme on a different framework as these indicators are sensitive to weather conditions. This skews the scores and outcomes and does not fully take into account the individual effort and social organisation that is also crucial to this process. A new framework will be designed going into the future. These indicators are however still very useful for monitoring purposes and will continue to be used for individual trial monitoring purposes.
Donors & Funders
Project implemented by:
Mahlathini Development Foundation
Promoting collaborative, pro-poor agricultural innovation.
In collaboration with: