UKZN Water Research Commission Project Creates Strong Links with Biowatch and Small-Scale Farmers
UKZN’s Agriculture campus and Ukulinga Research Farm recently played host to a group of small-scale farmers from Tshaneni in northern KwaZulu-Natal, thanks to research being undertaken on farmer-selected landrace seeds of neglected and underutilised crops.
The farmers, who work in Biowatch South Africa’s Sphiwinhlanhla Gardening group, visited UKZN to meet with staff and students who have been using the farmers’ landrace seeds for research on describing agronomy and water use of indigenous cereal and legume food crops.
The current research is being undertaken as part of a Water Research Commission (WRC) funded project led by UKZN’s Professor Albert Modi.
The group of farmers broke into song at the start of the meeting, singing uThandolukababa, lubanzi lujulile in unison.
The visit kicked off with tea and introductions as well as a presentation by postgraduate student Mr Lindah Hlukayo covering the results of the characterisation and performance assessment of the pigeon pea seeds.
The group visited the University’s Seed Technology Laboratory in the Rabie Saunders Building and the Controlled Environment (CEF) facility on the Agriculture campus, before proceeding to Ukulinga Research Farm to see various legume trials being done using seed provided by the farmers.
Postgraduate students Ms Slindile Miya, Mr Sandile Hadebe and Ms Nokuthula Hlala guided the visit, which included the viewing of the WRC trials being conducted by postgraduate students in the Crop Science research group headed by Honorary Research Fellow, Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi.
The seeds are landraces which were donated by the farmers for use as part of the WRC project on ‘determining water use of indigenous cereal and legume food crops’. The on-farm selection by farmers under often unfavourable conditions has resulted in several of these landraces acquiring tolerance to several abiotic stresses, chiefly drought stress. However, there is little documented information describing how to grow these crops and supporting such drought tolerance.
This hypothesis and research gap has been at the centre of research being carried out by Modi’s group with on-farm and on station trials being conducted.
The visit to UKZN was part of knowledge sharing and capacity building, important aspects of the WRC study.
The farmers’ method of agricultural production is based on agroecological farming which aims to conserve and protect their land and agrobiodiversity. However, there are challenges in developing best practice management recommendations that will allow farmers to improve yields as well as documenting evidence of successes in using agroecology.
Biowatch South Africa assists these farmers, and promotes agroecology techniques in the training they give to the farmers, while also valorising the traditional farming knowledge put into practice by these farmers on their household and communal plots.
The Director of Biowatch, Ms Rose Williams, said the visit was important because the farmers were able to see what happened to the seed, and also because it emphasised that the knowledge they have to contribute was as important as academic and technical knowledge in institutions.
The visit was enlightening for both the UKZN and Biowatch participants, with exclamations of interest emerging from farmers in the laboratory, and postgraduate students receiving lessons on how best to grow their trials from the farmers during the Ukulinga visit.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) document being developed between Biowatch and UKZN will see partnerships between the University and the NGO grow as they work together to reach farmers, share knowledge and make UKZN’s research capacity useful to this sector of society.
Modi said that he was excited that the WRC project led to not only strong relations with small-scale farmers but it also allowed for a long term collaboration with a renowned institution, Biowatch. This outcome of the project would be a legacy beyond the term of the project.