This article is written for and published in the SDG Bulletin South Africa (May 2018)
In northern KwaZulu-Natal, agroecology (AE) combined with indigenous knowledge systems has had a significant impact on food security in this drought-stricken area (area was declared as emergency disaster area due to the severe drought experienced in 2015-2016). Seed Knowledge Initiative by Biowatch is an adaptation measure which focuses on securing seed & food sovereignty for small-scale famers. This method promotes the establishment of communal and household food gardens filled with a variety of vegetables and fruits. Thus people develop the capability to grow their own organic food, sell it to local retailers and community members and are able to feed their families from the income. The concept also encourages small-scale farmers to diversify crops for increased productivity. As an alternative to conventional agriculture, agroecology promotes the principle of working with nature instead of against it. Biowatch South Africais implementing this initiative in five small-scale farmer communities in northern KwaZulu-Natal, where they provide support to more than 200 farmers to become more seed, food and nutritionally secure, and thus more resilient to climate change.
With GEF Small Grants Programmefunding support, Biowatch South Africa hosted several workshops to teach small-scale traditional farmers in five communities, on best practices and how to establish household seed banks. The seeds can be sold or used to replenish food gardens during droughts. The project has also facilitated knowledge-sharing with international experts and exchange visits with other areas in the region. Several women in the community have established household food gardens using agroecological methods, including setting up seed banks through seed selection and exchange.Agroecological practices have been strengthened through training regarding food plot design, seed plots, swales, using organic pesticides and building soil fertility. Biowatch and the communities organise annual World Food Day events where farmers discuss their farming practices and receive training on leadership, policy-making and building the agroecology movement.
Project achievements to date
- The project supported 250 farmers (232 women, 18 men) reaching to over 1250 people in the 5 villages. Majority of beneficiaries were women, who through the sale of their surplus vegetable crops make an additional income of an estimated US$800/ year per farmer, which also helps improve household food security
- The project initiated a voluntary compliance scheme on agroecology farmers set up by the farmers who commit themselves to the following standards: no use of synthetic fertilisers, no synthetic pesticides, no GMOs, having fertility beds, using grey water and practicing mulching. Thus far, 48 farmers have received the “I am an AE farmer” certificates pledging to comply with these standards.
- Adherence to the standard is monitored by a team which consists of the individual farmer, a neighbouring farmer and the Biowatch Farmer Support Officer. The development and implementation of voluntary agroecology compliance has been a vehicle to deepen AE practices and facilitate farmer-to-farmer sharing and learning
- 230 of the 250 farmers have established household seed banks and 48 farmers have more than 14 seed varieties
- A series of exchange visits, farmer development trainings, events including hosting seed rituals and World Food Day all contribute in capacitating the farmers, and help deepen and spread the knowledge on agroecology
- The project was upscaled by turning the established sites into learning platforms, increasing the project’s longevity and promoting information sharing within the communities.
- Some of the farmers have been able to harvest crops and save their seeds despite the drought experienced in the area.
- Partnership has been established with the University of KwaZulu-Natal to help support a farmer-led research study in the area on farmers’ AE experiences. 3 sites in Tshaneni and Pongola have been identified for this study.