Agro-ecological and Conservation Agriculture principles to assist large-scale dryland sugarcane farmers in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands South region to improve soil quality

Gibson, William Adriaan (2016-03)

Thesis (MPA)--Stellenbosch University, 2016.

Thesis

ENGLISH SUMMARY: Average sugarcane yields over the past four decades in some regions of the South African sugarcane industry have reached a plateau or are declining. One of the reasons for sugarcane yield decline is soil degradation. The aim of this research was to ascertain if Agro-ecological and Conservation Agriculture principles could assist large-scale dryland sugarcane farmers to improve soil quality. The research questions were designed to determine the perspectives of researchers and the targeted group of sugarcane farmers’ on soil quality and how they engaged with the topic. A further objective was to ascertain what sugarcane farming practices were recommended and implemented to improve soil quality and whether they conformed to Agro-ecological or Conservation Agriculture practices. A third objective was to investigate whether Agro-ecological and Conservation Agriculture practices could contribute towards the development of a management system to help sugarcane farmers improve soil quality. An extensive literature review was undertaken. The main topics researched were soil degradation, soil quality, sugarcane yield decline, Agro-ecology and Conservation Agriculture. Four case studies were conducted in the Midlands South sugarcane region. Four preselected large-scale dryland sugarcane farmers were interviewed on-farm using a semi-structured interviewer administered questionnaire. These sugarcane farmers had already implemented various sugarcane farming practices to improve soil quality. The questionnaire was designed to capture the farmers’ practices, perspectives and soil quality improvement needs. All the interviewed farmers wished to improve their soil quality. They requested more information on the topics of soil degradation, soil quality improvement practices and requested practical soil health monitoring tests. The farmers mainly implemented farming practices that practically fitted their farm system and did not require large capital outlays. Whilst a large volume of research has been conducted on sugarcane soil quality, no literature was found directly associating Agro-ecological or Conservation Agriculture farming systems with sugarcane soil management in South Africa. Many potential sugarcane farming practices that improve soil quality were documented. Those practices that conformed to Agro-ecological and / or Conservation Agriculture principles were identified. A key principle of Agro-ecology is that ecological relationships and beneficial interactions must be promoted within the farming system. A key principle of Conservation Agriculture is that it will only work optimally if all the technical aspects are implemented simultaneously. The proposal is made to adopt site specific farming practices that have multiple soil quality benefits and are synergistic or complementary to existing practices. Three key aspects of Agro-ecology and Conservation Agriculture that may improve sugarcane soil quality were identified from the research. Soil organic matter should be conserved and enhanced, biodiversity should be promoted and ecosystems should be protected and enhanced. It is proposed that when farmers decide which soil quality improvement farming practices to implement they should consider the impact these will have on the above three factors. A sustainable soil quality management system, based on Agro-ecological and Conservation principles to improve sugarcane soil properties is proposed. Practical research will need to be conducted to test this hypothesis.

AFRIKAANS OPSOMMING: Die gemiddelde suikerrietopbrengs het oor die afgelope vier dekades in sekere streke van Suid-Afrika ‘n plato bereik of selfs afgeneem. Een van die redes vir hierdie afname in suikerrietopbrengs kan grondagteruitgang wees. Die doel van hierdie navorsing is om te bepaal of Agro-ekologiese en Bewaringslandboubeginsels grootskaalse droëland suikerrietboere kan help om grondkwaliteit te verbeter. Die navorsingsvrae is ontwerp om te bepaal wat die perspektief van navorsers en spesifiek geteikende suikerrietboere rakende grondkwaliteit is en hoe hulle grondkwaliteit benader. ‘n Verdere doelwit was om te bepaal watter boerderypraktyke vir suikerrietboere aanbeveel is en wel toegepas word om grondkwaliteit te verbeter en of hierdie aanbevelings wel aan Agro-ekologiese en Bewaringslandboubeginsels voldoen. ‘n Derde doelwit was om ondersoek in te stel of Agro-ekologiese en Bewaringslandboupraktyke ‘n bydrae kan maak tot die ontwikkeling van ‘n bestuurstelsel om suikerrietboere te help om grondkwaliteit te verbeter. ‘n Uitgebreide literatuurstudie is onderneem. Die hoofonderwerpe wat nagevors is was grondagteruitgang, grondkwaliteit, afname in suikerrietopbrengs, agro-ekologie en bewaringslandbou. Vier gevalle studies is in die Midelland-Suid suikerrietgebied onderneem. Daar is onderhoude met vier voorafgekose grootskaalse droëland suikerrietboere op die plaas gevoer, waartydens ‘n semi-gestruktureerde vraelys deur die onderhoudvoerder gebruik is. Hierdie suikerrietboere het alreeds verskeie boerderypraktyke begin toepas om grondkwaliteit te verbeter. Die vraelys is so ontwerp dat dit die boer se praktyke, perspektief en behoefte om grondkwaliteit te verbeter, vasvang. Al die boere waarmee daar onderhoude gevoer was, het die behoefte om grondkwaliteit te verbeter. Die boere soek meer inligting rakende grondagteruitgang, grondkwaliteitverbeteringspraktyke asook ‘n praktiese toets om grondgesondheid te monitor. Die boere het hoofsaaklik boerderypraktyke ge-implementeer wat binne hulle boerderystelsel inpas en wat nie groot kapitale uitleg benodig nie. ‘n Groot hoeveelheid navorsing is al op grondkwaliteit by suikerriet gedoen maar geen literatuur is gevind wat Agro-ekologiese en Bewaringslandbouboerderystelsels en suikerrietgrondbestuur in Suid-Afrika in verband met mekaar bring nie. Daar is wel ‘n groot hoeveelheid potensiële boerderypraktyke oor die verbetering van grondkwaliteit gedokumenteer. Praktyke wat aan Agro-ekologiese en / of Bewaringslandboubeginsels voldoen, is ge-identifiseer. ‘n Sleutelbeginsel van Agro-ekologie is dat die ekologiese verwantskap en voordelige interaksie binne die boerderystelsel bevorder moet word. ‘n Sleutelbeginsel van Bewaringslandbou is dat dit slegs optimaal sal funksioneer indien alle tegniese aspekte gelyktydig ge-implementeer word. Die voorstel word gemaak dat plekspesifieke boerderypraktyke wat veelvoudige grondkwaliteit voordele het en waar daar sinergisme bestaan met, of komplimentêr is tot huidige praktyke, aangeneem moet word. Daar is drie sleutelaspekte van Agro-ekologie en Bewaringslandbou met hierdie navorsing ge-identifiseer wat moontlik grondkwaliteit onder suikerrietverbouing kan verbeter. Grondorganiese-materiaal behoort bewaar en verbeter te word, biodiversiteit behoort bevorder te word en ekosisteme behoort bewaar en verbeter te word. Dit word voorgestel dat wanneer boere besluit om grondkwaliteitboerderypraktyke te implementeer, die invloed van hierdie praktyke op die drie bogenoemde faktore oorweeg moet word. ‘n Volhoubare grondkwaliteitbestuurstelsel wat op Agro-ekologiese en Bewaringslandboubeginsels gebasseer is word voorgestel om grondeienskappe te verbeter. Praktykgerigte navorsing sal gedoen moet word om hierdie hipotese te toets.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/98417
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