South Africa’s Agricultural Struggles
Farming is crucial for growing Africa’s political economy. However, South Africa’s agricultural struggles have allowed the rest of the world to outpace South Africa’s agricultural outputs and economic prospects. Thankfully, for many South African farmers, the total income for agriculture and related goods services increased by about 4% in 2020, bringing new value to South African farming. New technologies and practices could further improve the value of South Africa’s farming by billions while bringing capital and investors into the developing nation. Such income could lift millions out of poverty and launch a new age of agriculture to benefit an entire country.

Africa’s Agricultural Economy

Despite South Africa’s agricultural struggles, the farming community remains at the heart of the South African economy. In the rural regions, more than 70% of the workforce works in agriculture and depends on it for their livelihoods and regional economic growth. South Africa’s agricultural impact expands beyond the regional farmers. Commercial farmers also strive to ensure the future of South Africa’s agricultural economy. The larger-scale farms experienced the most economic growth in 2020, increasing the South African corporate farming averages by 13% from the previous fiscal year. The commercial farmers are responsible for bringing new investments and technologies to South Africa. Still, large-scale corporate farms have their fair share of agricultural troubles.

Both the large and small-scale farms battle soil erosion, which often stems from failing or low-drainage systems and access to water, especially in the bouts of drought South Africa is prone to experience. South Africa’s agricultural struggles heavily impede a farmer’s ability to have a successful harvest and the nation’s high poverty and low-income rates strongly reflect this.

In South Africa, more than 55% of the population lived in poverty in 2014 and many economic experts believe that agriculture holds the key to poverty reduction for the nation. With such dependence on agriculture, it is necessary for South Africans, the government and farming corporations to introduce new farming technologies. Such new technologies could improve the status and quantity of South Africa’s agricultural community.

New Farming Technologies and Methods For South Africa

South Africa’s agricultural struggles have many causes. One is using soil and farmland without proper fertilizer and revitalization of soil in between harvests. To prevent soil erosion, farmers can harvest everything from their land, including the crops that did not grow sufficiently and set them aside to compost. The composted crops become mulch fertilizer. Mulch helps keep the necessary vitamins, minerals and nutrients plentiful in the soil. Mulch is only a temporary solution, though. For longer-lasting improvements in preventing soil erosion, agricultural experts are advocating for “no-till farming.”

No-till farming inflicts little disturbance on farmland. Farmers should begin their first no-tilling growing season after harvesting everything in the fields to limit diseases leftover from previous crops. No-till farming mandates fertilizer to revitalize the microbiome required for providing nutrients to the soil and crops. Due to the lengthened process to prepare a field for no-till farming, South African farmers fear they could lose out on income and delay harvests, or worse, risk crop infection and lose entire harvests. In the meantime, soil erosion sauces income losses annually until the land can grow no more.

Improper Water Irrigation

A second issue affecting South African farming is improper water irrigation. South Africa has a dry climate, with an intense rainy season between November and March. The majority of the rain falls during this period, meaning farmers must make all averaged 18 inches of rainfall count while properly irrigating the fields. The purpose of an agriculture’s irrigation system is to properly remove excess water that could cause crop damage while maintaining a healthy flow of water around the farmland. If the excess water remains, a crop is can lose sunlight and aeration and nutrients can flood the soil.

To fix poor water drainage and irrigation systems, one dominant idea has been to use Geo Positioning Software (GPS) with Light and Ranging detection technology (LiDar) to assist with curving land surfaces to appropriate levels given a region’s specific terrain and needs. Such technologies are attached to necessary plows that can then place a soil-safe, low-cost drainpipe for irrigation where it needs to go for optimal drainage and water coverage.

How South Africa Can Benefit From New Farming Technologies

No-till farming is rare in South Africa, but the few farmers who have ventured into the practice have witnessed immense improvements in the health of their crops and crop output. One farmer who began the practice only recently has had the most productive harvests in his tenure as a farmer. If both corporate and subsistence farmers were to introduce the method of no-tilling their land, there would significant improvement in a farm’s production, which could entice international investors to invest in a historically rich agricultural nation.

South Africa’s agricultural community is strong enough to have a trade surplus. Sadly, the poorest members of the farming community see no benefits. They need the help of investments and new technologies to flow in South Africa. Farming experts worldwide see potential in bringing new technologies and techniques into South Africa’s agricultural businesses. They believe that the latest tricks to the trade can improve the output and value of the region’s farming community by several billion Rand annually, benefitting all community members. New technologies and farming practices could end South Africa’s agricultural struggles, and South Africa’s high poverty rate could decrease exponentially.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

 Agricultural Innovations
Argentina is notable for many things—be it for the most visited city in South America, Buenos Aires, for its exquisite native flora or for its sugar production. However, Argentina needs recognition for its agricultural innovations that are helping to eliminate food insecurity.

New Techniques to Combat Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is common in Argentina. In fact, 35.8% of the population suffered from food insecurity from 2018-2019. That number increased to 37% through 2020. However, farmers are tackling this issue through new farming practices to increase annual crop yields.

Argentina is a country of unique potential, a country with the capacity for strong eco-friendly and sustainable agricultural practices. While Argentina is susceptible to changing weather patterns and natural disasters, farmers are actively examining sustainable practices to reduce their carbon footprint and increase food production in the face of disaster.

Soil Sequestration

Soil, which consists of decomposing plant materials, holds or “sequesters” carbon from the atmosphere. That is how the soil becomes enriched and food production increases. Soil sequestration creates cleaner air and benefits human health.

In colder climates, the soil can store carbon for longer durations, making the next harvest cycle yield greater crops. Additionally, perennial crops that live beyond a single year can store a greater amount of carbon in the soil. This method allows for deep roots to form and spread the carbon deeper into the soil. Farmers can seed cover plants such as beans and peas after they harvest the perennial plants. That promotes year-round soil sequestration.

Soil Sequestration Initiatives in Argentina

Currently, Grupo Avinea, the largest organic wine producer based in Argentina, has implemented soil sequestration practices. The company made the switch in 2022 because of the health benefits to its crops, along with the benefits of lowering carbon in the atmosphere. It is only one of the many companies which agreed to make the switch based on conversations held at the  21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known as COP21 that took place in Paris in 2015.  The COP21 initiative that Grupo Avinea adopted is “4 per 1000.” That refers to annually increasing soil carbon capture by 0.4%. The COP21 summit felt this “4 per 1000” is an amount that will substantively reduce the carbon in our atmosphere. Other companies that made the switch in Argentina include Bodega Argento and Otronia.  

No-Till Farming

A second of Argentina’s agricultural innovations is the adoption of no-till farming. Tillage is the act of using machines to turn soil before seeding. For a long time, farmers considered tillage as the best practice for attaining large crop yields; however, farmers now recognize evidence that suggests that tillage has several downsides. These include causing the release of unnecessary into the atmosphere from the soil during tillage, harm to the microbes and insects that affect the health of the crops and tilling machines wasting immense amounts of fuel. Not to mention that tilled soil is susceptible to natural wind and water erosion. It also makes irrigation difficult, keeping water from seeping into the soil below.

Instead, now farmers are opting to till less. Around 80% of all Argentinian farmers have adopted no-till farming practices. This makes Argentina a world leader in no-till farming. Argentinian farmers use organic plant matter as soil toppers to prevent weeds that would take moisture from the soil that is intended for the crops. They also strategically use herbicides and insecticides. The Argentina Association of Direct Seeding (no-till) Producers researches and guides farmers in best practices for no-till technologies.   

Precision Agriculture

A third of Argentina’s agricultural innovations is “precision agriculture.” With precision agriculture, farmers use technologies to monitor and collect data about their soil and crops. It helps farmers accurately target what their crops need in order to flourish. These technologies include geospatial data analysis, cloud computing and machine learning. Precision agriculture can help eliminate over-watering and over-fertilizing, which will save farmers money and lowers the negative impact on the environment.

Currently, the leader in precision agriculture in Argentina is the Asociación de Cooperativas Argentinas (ACA), which continues to develop technology for farmers to increase their crop yields. ACA has worked with more than 50,000 farmers in Argentina. Farmers can share the data gathered from ACA’s data platform with each other. This strengthens the farming communities and advances healthy farming habits.

Irrigation Networks

Argentina continues to expand its farmland with row crops, but it lacks waterways and irrigation networks to support its farms. In fact, only 7% or 5.6 million acres have proper irrigation networks. A lack of irrigation networks can lead to underwatering, overwatering and flooding. Of course, all of these situations are detrimental to crop yields. Farmers are currently hoping to increase irrigation networks by 28% and that will greatly affect the amount of viable food farmers produce each year. When this expansion occurs, it should revolutionize the crop yield, waste less water and save money.

Looking Ahead

The combination of soil sequestration, no-till farming, precision agriculture and increased irrigation networks should greatly strengthen Argentina’s food production and crop yields. Argentina’s agricultural innovations will also allow an increase in the country’s ability to export goods around the globe. By using these agricultural innovations in this multi-faceted and deliberate manner, Argentina is on a good path to the sustainability of its people and its land.

– Thomas LaPorte
Photo: Flickr