30 June 2022

Professor Kutu first outlined the African Union (AU) 2063 mandate which seeks to deliver on a set of seven key aspirations that reflect the collective desire for shared prosperity, wellbeing, unity and integration; and how the South National Development plan aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality.

Regrettably, over 237 million people in South Africa still suffer from chronic undernourishment; under-investment in agriculture research and poor seed quality that are not adapted to climate change,” he said, mentioning that the agricultural research for development in the 21st century should deal with issues of global change, hunger and unemployment.

South African smallholder farmers comprise four million mostly black and female farmers from about 2.6 million households working on a small piece of land which is about 13% of South African productive agricultural land.

Professor Kutu notes that smallholder farmers use small pieces of land for farming activities and rely on a small income from the government grants. They are exposed to very high production risks, which include climate change, and soil fertility decline. Insufficient market access is also a limitation, and the resources available for production are very poor.

“Yet these are a group of farmers who can produce diverse crop species that are nutrient-rich and can help protect the vitality and good nutrition of most homes.”

Smallholder farmer challenges

Professor Kutu explained that in South Africa, because of the dualistic nature of agriculture, the smallholder farming sector is poorly developed for many reasons. Some include that historically they have been neglected in terms of the benefits of agricultural research, high-quality seeds and input fertilizers which they cannot afford.

“Smallholder farmers are vulnerable for some reasons, with the majority being women and elderly men because farming in the past decades has not been attractive to the young generation - people are now interested in quick money.

There is a need to transform the sub-sector so that beyond the production of stable food, they can also produce profitable crops that are market demand which can help the improvement of the livelihoods.

The national development plan of 2030 demands that we allow these groups of farmers to contribute to the food basket of the country,” he said.

UMPProgramme leader for Bachelor of Agriculture in Agricultural Extension and Rural Resource Management, Dr Ndoro gave a note of thanks.

Professor Kutu explains that the challenges faced by smallholder farmers include their ability to increase productivity gap, which is large when compared to commercial farmers.

“The comparison disadvantages them and it’s a major concern on their field, and the reason being that we do have water regime challenges in terms of the rainfall. South Africa is not a water-rich country and when water is a challenge, agricultural production is a challenge.

Climate change and extreme climate variables, weather events such as drought and floods lead to stress and losses. Access to a variety of resources challenges their cropping systems and management practices while soil fertility and land degradation are also widespread.”

“Only 13% of 122,5 million hectares of South African land is useful for crop production, and only 22% of that amount which becomes above 4 million hectares is considered agriculturally useful and described as having high potential for marginal land. That’s why we say the issue of land reform needs to be addressed urgently," he added.

“Looking at the number of smallholder farmers involved in the production, the support required to guarantee an improved increase in production needs to be provided by the government. It is now that the transformation of the smallholder farming sector in South Africa needs to be undertaken to deliver healthier, equitable and sustainable food and nutritional value.”

Robust interventions

To counteract the challenges faced by smallholder farmers, Professor Kutu suggested that a robust approach is required, and this includes the development of resilient crops or new livestock systems that can withstand climatic systems.

“The major benefits are the development of resilient new crops and livestock systems that can withstand extreme climatic conditions,” said Professor Kutu, adding that another solution is to come up with sustainable agriculture intensification," he continued.

"This would offer a viable income and livelihood, provide nutritious food, increase resilience, and reduce environmental degradation. Development of climate-smart agriculture practices that are site-specific, not just generic, and promote environmental sustainability in nutritional sectors is vital."

The smart protection of crops with the development of integrated real-time surveillance is also a product of agricultural research. Forecasting systems with agronomic, genetic and chemical control measures to deliver new, safer and durable modes of actions.

“Such agricultural research can also bring about digital, and data-driven agriculture which is a key enabler for a better understanding of the complexity that characterises sustainable agriculture intensification. The general aim is that agricultural intensification can bring nutrient mining and land degradation but through research, there are improvements in a recommendation on how best to deal with these complexities and reduce nutrient losses.”

In closing Professor Kutu noted that innovative technologies are needed to increase crop value, reduce post-harvest losses, improve food security, livelihood and sustainability; and that smallholder farmers have to be included socially and economically in terms of market access.

@ Story by Lisa Thabethe. Picture Supplied.