|Community Uptake of Research Addresses Food Security in the Eastern Cape|
|Monday, 13 July 2015 09:39|
Barbara Manning interviews Prof. Pearson Mnkeni of the Department of Agronomy and lead researcher in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security Research Niche Area (RNA) at the University of Fort Hare and discusses the importance of Research Uptake. According to Prof. Pearson “Making research as accessible as possible will increase the uptake of that research and its usefulness to society as a whole. This is the underlying objective behind holding such events as Open Days for farmers. Sharing results and research findings with the small-scale farmers in the Tyhume valley surrounding Fort Hare is an excellent way of doing this."
The University of Fort Hare’s main campus in Alice is situated in the rural areas and is surrounded by resource-poor small-holder farmers and rural dwellers, many of whom rely on subsistence agriculture to sustain themselves. Some 30 percent of the provincial population are small-holders, growing maize and beans and many of them are women. Food insecurity is widespread, affecting an estimated 2.7 million people, many of them children and youth.
One of the University of Fort Hare’s strengths has always been the Science and Agriculture Faculty with agronomy, crop, pasture and livestock science being particularly strong. With global concerns about Food and Nutrition Security as well as Climate Change the Faculty’s work is seen by the university as part of fulfilling its mandate of conducting relevant research and contributing to a better society as a developmental university.
The Department of Agronomy has been researching the potential of adopting the growing of stress tolerant maize open pollinated varieties (OPVs) and community-based seed production as a way of enhancing food security by conducting long-term field trials using Conservation Agriculture (CA) principles. OPV maize is not only drought tolerant but these varieties are also tolerant of low nitrogen and low soil pH, which is characteristic of most soils in the province. In addition they have a high tolerance to diseases that usually affect maize.
This research is highly relevant to the farming communities in the Eastern Cape and as part of its mandate of contributing to a better society the University has a strong Research Uptake focus. To share research with farmers it uses Open Days.
Working with farming communities
A Farmers Open Day was hosted at the University of Fort Hare on 31 March 2015, and addressed small-scale farmers, members of local agricultural cooperatives and representatives of government agriculture and land care programmes. The day was aimed at publicising the benefits of CA, and that following the principles of little or no tillage, mulching and water conservation and harvesting were the climate smart way of mitigating the effects of climate change. The objective was also, according to Dr Charles Mutengwa, to show that the trials in selected areas of Amathole and O R Tambo districts had shown that maize OPVs are as equally productive as some hybrids under environments prone to multiple stresses.
“The significance of these research findings were that maize OPVs can be recommended for production over many marginal fertility and rainfall environments of the Eastern Cape. They have an added advantage of having stable performance across sites of differing production potential when compared with hybrids.”
The meeting was also addressed by Lungile Nyhontso, a resource-poor farmer and passionate advocate of practicing conservation agriculture (CA). Nyhontso, a member of Philakunzenzela Farmers’ Association near Centane in the former Transkei homeland, has been following CA principles on his land for nine years and is convinced it is the only way to go to safeguard our future.
“Our grandfathers were only looking after cattle. I was trained by Fort Hare and today I can clearly state that conservation agriculture is number one as chemicals are expensive and harm our land,” he concluded.
The whole event was translated into isiXhosa, the language of the majority of residents in this part of the Eastern Cape, making the results of the research more accessible to local farmers. The questions and interaction from the floor following presentations allowed local farmers to share their own experiences and lessons learned as well as ask questions about the research. The interactions between the local farmers and Nyhontso highlighted the critical role that farmer to farmer extension can play in technology transfer.
Prof. Mnkeni also gave a comprehensive overview of the long-term CA trials before participants were taken to the University’s nearby research farm where they viewed the results with their own eyes.
On what must have been the hottest day of 2015 and after months of very little summer rains, the maize grown following CA methods looked far healthier and in much better shape than the non-CA maize next door.
Farmers were visibly impressed that CA methods can improve food security through adaptation to climate change.
Government representatives were equally impressed and thanked Fort Hare for convening such an event.
“I’ve learnt a lot today and am happy to see the interest in adopting conservation agriculture,” said Patrick Futshane of LandCare, a government programme aimed at the sustainable management of natural resources.
Barbara Manning is a Communications Consultant at the University of Fort Hare email@example.com