Work in the Matatiele (EC) site continued with a scaling out (horizontal expansion) process put in place, to include selected villages and also expanded into other areas including Swartberg/Mzongwana, Mt Ailiff and Mt Frere. The farmer centred innovation systems research process underpinning the programme, which is based on working intensively with farmer learning groups and local facilitators in each of the villages has been continued and strengthened
Again, as in previous years in the Eastern Cape, the collaboration processes initiated with NGOs- Lima RDF and those with the Eastern Cape Department of Agriculture were disappointing in the implementation phase with little to none of the promised implementation and support. In addition, the extremely harsh climatic conditions prevailed – drought followed by severe storms and hail, which provided for a further dampening effect.
Experimentation continued with a number of new elements: mulching trials to improve the groundcover, planting of drought tolerant summer cover crops, crop rotation compared to the intercropping and single block plantings of winter cover crops as well as continued support for the local maize milling operation for maize meal and cattle feed in Khutsong.
Of the 43 participant farmers who volunteered to conduct trials this year, 29 (67% of participants) followed through to initiate their trials; 23 of these farmers actually planted and continued with their trials, 20 farmers achieved germination of crops (70% of those who planted); and only 9 farmers realised yields (39% of those who planted). The season was extremely challenging with early season drought and extreme hail storms later in the season. Even the drought tolerant cover crop mixes (summer and winter) that were planted to accommodate for low crop germination and ground cover, did not grow very well.
Mulching trials were conducted for 4 participants in Nkau and Sehutlong. Yields on the mulched plots for both beans (1,54t/ha) and maize (4,38t/ha) were higher than un-mulched plots of beans (0,8t/ha) and maize (3,5t/ha). Average maize yields this season were low at 1,37t/ha. Average bean yields were 0,69t/ha. These yields however have shown a steady increase for those participants who have practiced CA for more than one season. And yields this season were higher in the trial plots than previous seasons, despite the drought.
Soil samples have been taken for 63 participants from 11 villages over the last three seasons. An average or generic fertilizer recommendation has been used based on these results: 250kg/ha MAP (equivalent to 40kg/ha P), 150kg/ha LAN (equivalent to 60kg/ha N) and 1t/ha of lime. K was not included in the generic recommendation. A more detailed statistical analysis of these results showed the validity of the generic recommendation. Interestingly the variation between samples taken in the same villages across years was higher than the variation in samples taken across villages. Thus there is little spatial difference in soil sample results and the difference depends more on the history of the particular land use. Overall it would still be possible to use the generic recommendations set for the area, although it may make more sense to set the recommendations on a village level and to benchmark these recommendations on a yearly basis.
Soil health tests (Haney tests) were conducted for six participants in the Matatiele area towards the end of 2015. The SOLVITA tests (CO2 respiration – indicating microbial activity) indicate that the biological or organically-bonded soil fertility is the lowest in the control plots of the participants (those plots under conventional tillage and planting practices) and that the CA intercropped plots provide for microbial activity and biological soil fertility that is higher than the veld baseline samples. This is a clear indication that this practice fast-tracks increases in soil health and soil fertility. This result is borne out as well in the total organic C and N fractions as well as the soil health score, which is the highest for the CA intercrop plots.
An analysis of the total N and the available organic and inorganic N fractions give an indication of build-up of soil organic matter in the soil. The participant sample analyses indicate that there aren’t presently any local cropping/pasture systems (including the veld baseline) that builds up the nitrogen reserve in this soil and under these environmental conditions. It can be seen that the intercropping starts to build the reserve while also increasing N release. This indicates that legumes need to be favoured strongly in crop rotation and cover crop mixes and that the build-up of the soil health here would take a number years.
Participant smallholders in the Eastern Cape are mostly women (70%), around 54 years old on average and with a household income of around R1 820 /month for a household size of around 6 members. They rely heavily on government grants for their survival and none of the participants have household members that are employed. Participants belong to local savings and credit groups and save around R300 per cropping cycle for their production inputs. Cropping areas are consequently also quite small and crops are produced almost entirely for household consumption only.
The building of innovation platforms has again included the hosting of local farmers’ days where CA participants showcase their trials and crops for their broader communities and participants form stakeholder groupings in the area also attended. This year a few farmers and facilitators from Lima RDF attended as did the extension staff from the ECDAE. Partnerships have been initiated with KwaNalu, DRDLR (Dept of Rural Development and Land Reform) as well as specific municipalities in southern KZN to embed the CA SFI programme within these structures in the coming season.
The use of the two monitoring frameworks for the CA scores and the VSA- Visual Soil Assessment scores were continued into the third season. Similar to the situation in the Bergville area, but even more pronounced is the weather dependence of the CA scoring system. As a number of participants had complete crop failure their scores have been a lot lower than in previous seasons. When comparing the ground cover and canopy cover with overall growth for example, there is an expectation of finding similar trends, where good ground and canopy cover is reflected in good growth of the crops. This year, due to the extreme weather conditions however, these trends have been largely obscured. It is becoming apparent that using these scores to base incentives on- or as the basis of a PES (Payment for Ecosystems Services) model, is going to be difficult given the variances in weather across the years. It is considered that a simpler process for the incentives and subsidy related criteria needs to be designed. This process will also need to include the social and organisational criteria, such as group work and savings as well as the three overarching CA principles.
Donors & Funders
Project implemented by:
Mahlathini Development Foundation
Promoting collaborative, pro-poor agricultural innovation.
In collaboration with: