New technologies are emerging and they are changing the way in which we learn, work and live. We are on the on the brink of a technological revolution, generally referred to as the... Read more
New technologies are emerging and they are changing the way in which we learn, work and live. We are on the on the brink of a technological revolution, generally referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an era where technologies merge with the physical, digital and biological worlds. The progression of this digital revolution is occurring at a rapid pace, evolving at a rate that could leave far too many of us behind - forever.
These developments will have a profound effect on every aspect of our lives, and dramatic effects on the agricultural sector. Joining the advances, and applying this all-embracing radical change, will assist in increasing food security for a growing world population.
Implementing "smart farming" and "precision farming" technologies in conjunction with other existing technologies will improve quality and quantity. It appears as if new technologies are introduced almost daily, and these developments will completely change the face of agriculture as we know it.
Robots and automated vehicles are already in use in some countries. The result is more efficiency, faster working ability, executed through almost unlimited working hours - thus, many advantages over human labour. Speed and accuracy of all these new technologies significantly improve productivity outcomes while also reducing unnecessary input costs.
Some of the new technologies that we can expect to see more of in the future include:
Known as Agbots, these agricultural robots pick fruit and do weeding and planting, while in the dairy industry, there are robotic milking machines and feed pushers already in use.
Cattle urine puts valuable nutrients into the soil. Robotic scanning technologies detect these areas and adjust the dosages of applied nutrition to prevent over application on the one hand and identify non-urinated areas for correct application. Furthermore, weed scanners recognise different weed varieties to limit spraying and adapt the spraying to concentrate only on unwanted weeds.
Farmers programme equipment like tractors with field coordinates and use GPS technology to plough, or spread fertilisers, and execute other tasks without operators and drivers.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are employed in the mapping of farms and record crop health and density of crops and foliage.
Sperm sexing and Laser Spectroscopy
Sperm sexing technology is applied in the dairy industry to produce replacement heifers and to reduce the number of bull calves born. Laser spectroscopy is used in the Layer industry to determine the sex of chicken eggs before they hatch.
Collars with GPS, RFID (radio frequency identification) and biometrics automatically identify and relay relevant information on livestock, in real time.
Many more technologies are under development and are on the brink of implementation. All have the potential to increase the standard of living for all. South Africa's agricultural sector will need to adapt and embrace the new technologies - robots that will be part of our future.
It is estimated that 1.25 billion or 14% of the global population will be between the ages of 15 and 24 by the year 2050. For many of these young people, entrepreneurial opportunities will be limited... Read more
It is estimated that 1.25 billion or 14% of the global population will be between the ages of 15 and 24 by the year 2050. For many of these young people, entrepreneurial opportunities will be limited, poorly remunerated, and lacking in quality, as we already see in today's world. This is particularly true for youths living in developing countries and economically stagnant rural areas - now, and in the future.
In terms of food security and economic stability, the agricultural sector should find and present opportunities to the youth to enable them to establish sources of income for sustainable livelihoods. Challenges like the lack of information, knowledge and education, limited or no access to land, financial services and markets can, to a large extend be overcome with the sector's intervention.
The absence of agricultural education and low skill-levels hamper productive agricultural activity, not only of young people, but the sector in general, while the lack of access to information and knowledge prevents the establishment and development of agricultural related business enterprises. Information and knowledge is required to address and overcome existing challenges, while formal education will provide young people with basic numeracy and literacy. But basic skills training should only be the initial goal - they desperately need advanced practical training including managerial and business skills training, and advanced agricultural training including production knowledge, processing, value adding, markets and marketing, and technological knowledge and skills.
Land is ultimately needed to efficiently and productively participate and excel in crop and livestock enterprises. The issue of access to land requires urgent attention: Inheritance and other laws, and customs should be addressed and changed if need be, to allow the transfer of land to young men and young females. The latter are often seen as those most involved in food production in rural areas.
Rural young people with skills and knowledge to farm, often struggle to perform without credit to acquire land and cover input costs, and the insurance facilities to secure their input risks. They also need the necessary knowledge and a mentoring foundation of financial products, start-up funding opportunities, etc.
In developing countries, access to markets can be particularly restrictive for the rural population, especially young rural women who, because of cultural norms are often not allowed the necessary freedom in participating in agricultural business activities. Also in this area, improved access to education, training and market information, will play an important role to allow more and more youths, including young women, access to markets and niche marketing opportunities.
Proper information, training and education, will hopefully, eventually lead to rural youth honing their financial skills, identifying and exploiting marketing opportunities, and understanding marketing procedures - allowing them full participation and success, in agriculture.
Youth and Agriculture: Key challenges and concrete solutions. FAO, 2014; ISBN 978-5-108475-5
We cannot talk about the future of agriculture and food security, without including talking about our youth. South Africa's current population of 54 million is largely made up of young people of which 66 % are younger than 35 years... Read more
We cannot talk about the future of agriculture and food security, without including talking about our youth. South Africa's current population of 54 million is largely made up of young people of which 66 % are younger than 35 years old. It is estimated that by 2035 the total will have grown to 82 million people living here. Furthermore, the average age of commercial farmers in South Africa is 62, thus making it even more important to focus on the youth and their involvement in agriculture. For various reasons, very few young people in our country, and in fact Africa, see a future for themselves in agriculture.
Urban life and the promise of job opportunities still attract many rural youths, and despite a youth unemployment rate of 51.4% for the period 2013 to 2016, in urban and rural settings, the agricultural sector remains unattractive to these jobseekers.
One of the main challenges faced by the youth is insufficient access to knowledge, information and education. Without a good education, or when access to education is insufficient, productivity and the acquisition of skills are low and the development of entrepreneurial ventures is limited.
Limited access to land and formal financial services is another challenge while land pressures and failed land reform has made it difficult to start a farm. The young also lack access to credit, financial services and productive resources that are necessary for agriculture. Limited access to markets and job opportunities, as well as labour unrest, further impacts the attractiveness of a future in agriculture.
Since the average age of commercial farmers in South Africa is relatively high, a generation often less likely to adopt the new technologies required to increase agricultural productivity sustainably, it is important to draw young people into farming while retaining those already in the agricultural fields.
The main driving force behind most farmers, however, is passion. Farming is hard work with many uncertainties and risks involved. Persons who try to farm without their heart in it may easily lose sight of their goals and give up - increasing the need to reignite this passion for farming in our youth.
Stimulating an interest in farming should start early. Schools can be encouraged to establish food gardens and practical training programmes. Practical education like repairing and maintaining farming equipment, together with subjects like farm management, production expertise and information technology programmes can be added to secondary-level school curricula. Existing agricultural colleges should also be revitalised to increase the number of skilled-labour training centres and research institutions can collaborate with organised agriculture to create jobs.
When the youth have an interest in farming and their skills levels are improved, their employment opportunities will increase. Providing youth with a supportive environment will attract them to the agriculture sector where they will see a future in contributing to their societies and communities.
The term biological diversity, or biodiversity, is used to describe all the diversity of life on earth; it includes the genetic diversity of plants and animals, the diversity of species and the diversity of ecosystems... Read more
Agrobiodiversity - Why does it matter?
The term biological diversity, or biodiversity, is used to describe all the diversity of life on earth; it includes the genetic diversity of plants and animals, the diversity of species and the diversity of ecosystems.
Agrobiodiversity includes all components of biodiversity with relevance to agriculture; it is a term related to the agricultural-based production of food, industrial products, medicinal products, ornamentals, clothing and all other products originating from plants and animals.
The diversity of the world's gene pool, plant and animal species, and ecological systems is under severe pressure through man's activities, because of the world's population reaching unprecedented levels. This is happening in a number of ways: Farmers have always selected plants and animals that are most productive and bred from them. In the past, there was a balance between the newly selected varieties and the natural, or wild, population.
However, in recent times the pressure to produce more food has resulted in new breeding techniques with the emphasis on high-yielding types of plants and animals. This has now progressed to the extent where most food and other products come from a limited number of varieties - formal breeding programs have often neglected the naturally occurring types of plants. The net result is the genetic pool or genetic diversity, has become narrower and more limited.
Wild species are often harvested and exploited for short-term gain to the extent where some species have become extinct.Lastly, the expansion of the population, is resulting in changes in the size and nature of ecosystems. Natural habitats are being removed to make way for human habitation, and human activity, in turn, leads to further degeneration of the ecosystem. For example, over-cropping and over-grazing result in soil degradation - conditions incapable of supporting the previous diversity of plants and animals.
The question is: "Why does this all matter?"
Firstly, the continual degradation and disappearance of eco-systems, with their natural vegetation, results in a constant reduction of carbon dioxide absorption globally. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, a primary indicator of climate change, are rising rapidly.
Secondly, the dependence of the human population on a limited number of highly productive varieties is a high-risk strategy. The breeding for a few specific characteristics can be at the expense of other inherent naturally-occurring traits, and the loss of these traits during breeding cannot be monitored. This means the variety may at any time be susceptible to the attack from a pest or disease that has developed new invasive capabilities. This applies in particular, to bacterial and viral diseases that rapidly produce new generations of genetically diverse individuals - increasing disease outbreaks are a symptom of this.
Furthermore, with a more limited population of wild relatives, plant and animal breeders find it harder to locate the genetic characteristics they require for pest and disease resistance, higher yields, and drought tolerance at a time when the adaption of varieties to climate change is needed.
Despite this, and together with a greater awareness of the need for biodiversity, there have been significant advances in understanding the complex genetic mechanisms of many species, and progress has already been made in some areas.
The Departments of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and Rural Development and Land Reform are collaborating with various government departments in establishing Agri-Parks in all 44 districts of South Africa. The purpose of the Agri-Park project is to... Read more
The Departments of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and Rural Development and Land Reform are collaborating with various government departments in establishing Agri-Parks in all 44 districts of South Africa. The purpose of the Agri-Park project is to begin a process of rural economic transformation by establishing agro-production and farmer support systems that include processing facilities, training and extension, and logistics and marketing services in each district by 2019.
Before July 2016, Manstrat AIS had created and was maintaining 21 infrastructure datasets for DAFF on its Extension Suite Online (ESO) agricultural decision support system. The Agri-Parks Development emphasised the need for new and updated datasets to add value to this programme. As a result, the GIS team at Manstrat started to develop new datasets focusing more on services, organisations and commodities (Agricultural Products & Producers). As a result, 13 new datasets have been developed since July 2016:
1. Agro Forestry
3. District Municipalities
4. Fruit Organisations
5. Goats Organisations
7. Ostrich Organisations
8. Pork Organisations
9. Seed Companies
10. Sheep Organisations
11. SPCA Information
12. Transport Services
13. Water Infrastructure
The development of these new datasets, involves more than merely collecting information and publishing it - data is gathered by various means - including internet searches and directory inquiries. Once a list of institutions and organisations is established, they are individually contacted to verify all their detail including the services they provide. Once the information on a institution or organisation has been verified, coordinates of its physical position are added.
To properly complete and present a commodity database, a lot of work needs to be done. The information on animal production will be completed in the next few months, while information focusing on plant production is 50% complete with information on vegetables, grains, oil seeds, industrial crops and roots and tubers to be developed. Newly developed datasets will also be improved and expanded as more information becomes available through the Agri-Parks development.
The completed, new Infrastructure Databases will provide significant added value for the farming community. For the first time, farmers will be able to access information for the entire value chain, from start to finish, for their products. For instance, farmers will be able to access information from specific commodity organisations when they require assistance in the sustainable use of the environment. They will also have access to information specific to their products/produce for their area supporting cost effective farming.
Like all other entrepreneurs and business owners, food producers are subject to risks. Managing agricultural risks includes the identification, evaluation and prioritisation of risks, and then making decisions on how best to... Read more
Like all other entrepreneurs and business owners, food producers are subject to risks. Managing agricultural risks includes the identification, evaluation and prioritisation of risks, and then making decisions on how best to deal with them. While risks are unavoidable, Extension officers play a valuable role in helping emerging farmers manage the different agricultural risks they face.
The volatility and number of added risks in the agricultural sector have created the impression among many that the risks in agriculture are impossible to manage. For successful farmers, agricultural production's inherent volatility, only add to the importance of risk management to ensure long-term sustainability, rather than posing an insurmountable obstacle. Continuous technological development has made it easier to assess risks and plan how to manage them and their possible effects.
Emerging animal production farmers face many risks, including some they have no control over, including:
Unpredictable and drastic weather like droughts, floods, hailstorms, and extreme temperatures affect animal nutrition and health. These events are particularly detrimental to farmers caught unaware and unprepared to manage these events.
Logistics planning and infrastructure:
Access to infrastructure, transport and skilled labour may be limited amongst emerging farmers. Sometimes emerging farmers are unable to access technology or adapt to technological developments available to them, and maintenance of equipment and infrastructure are often also a limiting factor.
A lack of information, knowledge and experience as well as the unwillingness or inability to change and adapt existing production methods, can lead to poor forecasting and planning, resulting in ineffective management decisions.
Funding and financial planning:
Limited funding and inadequate cash flow planning and management can set emerging farmers even further back. Market price fluctuations between inputs and outputs as well as the affordability of risk mitigating products, such as insurances, add to emerging farmers' risk.
Politics and policies:
Many uncertainties created by land reform, slow or ineffective government intervention with disasters, limited support in the developing agricultural sector, poor infrastructure, etc. prevail. City councils, provinces and national government change regulations and rules without consultation with disrupting results to all levels of farming.
In managing risks, emerging farmers need to make rational decisions while often still not sure of how things will turn out. Ignoring risks will not make them disappear, and deciding not to do anything, is still a decision that will have consequences.
Failure is not always due to no or ineffective risk management support, but often due to poor logistics, infrastructure and financial support. Extension officers, by using Extension Suite Online (ESO) can provide invaluable support to emerging farmers in overcoming obstacles by teaching and assisting them to start planning for the risks they have no control over, i.e. weather, disease and price fluctuations.
ESO provides extensive production guidelines for the different livestock commodities, veld management as well as weekly market price updates, enterprise budgets and more. Weekly and monthly climatic and weather reports are also available to help with planning for possible adverse weather conditions.
Extension officers have an important role to play in helping to transform the emerging sector become part of a viable commercial sector through the knowledge they impart. Over time emerging farmers will build on their knowledge and experience, and put their own risk management plans in place. This is essential to ensure long-term sustainability through severe and unfavourable seasons.
Tropical cyclone activity in the Mozambican channel and in and around Madagascar between January and February is nothing new to our region. These systems rarely make landfall on the African continent, but when they do, they seem to have extreme... Read more
Tropical cyclone activity in the Mozambican channel and in and around Madagascar between January and February is nothing new to our region. These systems rarely make landfall on the African continent, but when they do, they seem to have extreme influences on our weather patterns, often causing dry weather over South Africa, before anything else.
These weather systems normally tend to move southwards in the Mozambican channel, and then eastward - away from the African continent. It may happen that they change direction from the norm and move westward towards the African continent, making landfall. Mozambique generally serves as a buffer between South Africa and the Indian Ocean, often playing an important role in their weakening before they hit Mpumalanga and Limpopo, causing KwaZulu-Natal to take their full brunt, with the danger of floods and winds when making landfall over southern Mozambique and north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal.
Climate records of the last 60 years, show a number of tropical cyclones experienced over southern Africa:
1. Astrid - January 1958
2. Claude - January 1966
3. Caroline - February 1972
4. Eugenie - January 1972
5. Danae - January 1976
6. Emilie - February 1977
7. Kolia - March 1980
8. Justine - March 1982
9. Domoina - January 1984
10. Imboa - February 1984
11. Eline - February 2000
12. Dineo - February 2017
Figure 1: MODIS Terra image captured on 14 February 2017 at 10:45 of Tropical Cyclone Dineo
Tropical Cyclone Dineo was the latest tropical storm to affect southern Africa since Eline in 2000, fortunately, not causing any major damage, but rather having a positive impact over southern Africa, as it caused widespread rainfall, bringing major relief to many drought-stricken areas. The one exception was flood damage caused in North West province due to Dineo.
Figure 2: Total rainfall for February 2017
February 2017 turned out to be the wettest month of the summer rainfall season, with the largest part of the region, receiving more than 100mm of rain resulting from the tropical temperate trough. Tropical storm Dineo had a bigger impact over Mpumalanga than expected, while Limpopo received much less than expected - with some areas receiving only as little as 50mm.
Figure 3: Percentage of long term rainfall for February 2017
Most the summer rainfall region received more than 100% of its normal rainfall for February - indicated by the different shades of green. The darker green colours indicate those areas that received more than 200% of their normal rainfall (North West, and northern Free State). Isolated areas that received more than 200% of their normal rainfall are in Limpopo, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga and KZN.
Figure 4: Levels of major dams in South Africa, 1st week in February 2017 compared to 1st week in March 2017
Because of the good rainfall caused by Dineo and the tropical, temperate trough over much of the summer rainfall region during February 2017, dam levels in these areas show dramatic increases in their water levels. The Vaal Dam, rose from 63% to 100%; Bloemhof Dam from 37% to 94%; and the Gariep from 54% to 92%, within a week.
After the devastating drought of 2015/16, South Africa had good summer rainfall up until the end of January 2017, but not enough to completely break the drought with water restrictions still in place in many areas. The good rains in February 2017 proved to be a major catalyst to finally in breaking the drought and bring about an end to water restrictions in large parts of the summer rainfall region.
In contrast, however, the Western Cape is still experiencing dramatic declines in dam levels due to the persistent drought in the winter rainfall area.
Potable fresh water is a limited resource that makes up 1% of the global water supply, and it is diminishing. The remaining supply consists of 97% salt water and 2% made up of icebergs. With the increasing demand for fresh water to meet the worldâ€™s industrial, municipal and... Read more
Potable fresh water is a limited resource that makes up 1% of the global water supply, and it is diminishing. The remaining supply consists of 97% salt water and 2% made up of icebergs. With the increasing demand for fresh water to meet the world's industrial, municipal and agricultural needs, it is becoming increasingly important to implement effective water conservation strategies. One such strategy is the use of drip irrigation in preference to conventional watering systems - sprinkler and flood irrigation - by the agricultural sector. An industry, that consumes up to 69% of the world's available fresh water supply.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, drip irrigation involves dripping water from a network of small, fitted plastic pipes with outlets called drippers, onto the soil at around 2-20 litres/hour.
Drip irrigation delivers water directly to the plant's rhizosphere, unlike surface and sprinkler irrigation, which involves applying water to the whole soil surface. Drip irrigation is suitable for a variety of row crops such as maize, soybean, soft fruit, tree and vine crops through one or more drippers per plant.
Applying water at the right place for each individual plant carries a number of advantages including:
Drip irrigation unfortunately requires high skill in its design, installation and operation. Problems like the blockage of the drippers; problems caused by the intrusion of roots; solid particles sucked from the soil matrix; and the difficulty of detecting and repairing potential leakage problems. Installation and implementation costs of drip systems are higher than that of conventional watering systems.
Of course, farmers can expect a return on investment within 2 to 5 years due to more efficient and less energy intensive water use, with the added knowledge that they are contributing to water conservation in general.
Science commonly plays a role in supporting governments to make informed decisions about its natural resources. The purpose of science is to investigate and offer solutions for the various problems the world face. Earth sciences have played a role in our understanding of... Read more
Science commonly plays a role in supporting governments to make informed decisions about its natural resources. The purpose of science is to investigate and offer solutions for the various problems the world face. Earth sciences have played a role in our understanding of earth and all the different processes such as the geology, weather, climate, oceans, atmosphere and land processes. It has also played a significant role in modern-day research to understand climate change and to find innovative ways to combat it. A better understanding of one's environment leads to the sustainable use of your environment.
Most researchers around the world regularly use and access NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) data for various types of research. A senior presidential advisor of the Trump administration recently announced that funding might be cut to NASA's earth sciences division as the administration was of the opinion need for "politically correct environmental monitoring" has significantly diminished. This announcement was experienced by many as a warning to scientists that Earth sciences might be viewed in a different light by the new administration. The perception is that the future of science in the US will be put under increasing pressure.
The intentions of the new US government were clear just a few days after the inauguration when they placed a gag order on the employees of various science institutions in the US including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NASA, NOAA and the USGS (United States Geological Survey).
The announcement that the government would in future approve all science and research publications to the public was met with trepidation, as scientists fear that peer review of scientific papers will be replaced with "government review".
The scientific community showed its disappointment and outrage in the US, as well as worldwide, and a march for science is planned for 22 April 2017 in Washington DC.
NASA, NOAA and the USGS play a significant role in research, development and as a source for data. With the future of these organisations unclear, researchers worldwide will have to look at alternative sources of data and information.
Manstrat acquired satellite data from the Copernicus programme; a European Union funded system developed and maintained by the Flemish Institute for Technological Development (VITO). The data from the Copernicus programme will ensure that grazing capacity, drought and fire monitoring developments and applications will continue. Despite these steps to compensate for the potential loss of NASA data, there is still a possibility that other crucial datasets will not be replaced in time. One example of such non-replacement is the satellite-derived rainfall data that we currently download free of charge from NOAA - and alternatives will come with an increased price tag.
The science community must find ways to compensate for the loss of crucial datasets should the current US government's perceived antagonism towards science continue. This might be the ideal time for the European Space Administration (ESA), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), China National Space Administration (CNSA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to step into the gap left by US agencies and take the lead in environmental and earth sciences.
The African armyworm, Spodoptera exempta, is a pest of cereal crops and pastures in Eastern and Southern Africa. During an outbreak of this pest, serious damage is done to the crops, while it also causes losses in livestock with infestations resulting in toxic residues on the pastures... Read more
The African armyworm, Spodoptera exempta, is a pest of cereal crops and pastures in Eastern and Southern Africa. During an outbreak of this pest, serious damage is done to the crops, while it also causes losses in livestock with infestations resulting in toxic residues on the pastures.
Damage is caused by the larvae (caterpillars) feeding voraciously on the leaves of cereal crops, particularly maize, sorghums and millets, crops which emerge at the time that outbreaks often occur.
Tanzania is the focal point for primary outbreaks of armyworm. Adult moths migrate on the winds of the southward seasonal movement of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) from October to January. The life cycle from the eggs to the adult moths can take 3 to 5 weeks. The moths can then travel up to 700km before landing, laying eggs and repeating the cycle. This means the moths travel to the countries of Southern Africa within a few months; outbreaks often occur from November onwards in Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Certain conditions control the severity of the outbreak and on average it is only about one in ten years that the problem arises in Southern Africa. This is associated with very strong convergence of the ITCZ and heavy rains. These conditions enable:
These conditions were prevalent during the (2016-17) season, with excessive rains in Zambia and Zimbabwe from November to January. Under these favourable conditions the pest can multiply 10 000-fold in two to three generations.
There are various insecticides that control the pest but timing of application is critical to prevent damage and loss of crops - controlling mature caterpillars will be too late as the damage will have been done. This means populations of the moth and their movement need to monitored annually, using pheromone traps and other means. However, outbreaks are infrequent and monitoring systems often break-down after some problem-free years. Despite this, there are formal monitoring systems such as the International Red Locust Control Organisation for Central and Southern Africa (IRLCO-CSA) - based in Zambia. They are mandated to monitor and control large outbreaks of armyworm in the region.
Larvae (caterpillars) can be controlled by registered pesticides (synthetic pyrethroids, organophosphates, carbamates) or with the nuclear polyhedrosis virus (NPV), a biological control agent. However, these control measures are only effective in reducing crop damage if applied before the caterpillars develop and start feeding. On-farm the activity of adult moths can be monitored by checking fields at night for their presence; if they are seen, spray applications can be made at the appropriate time (obtain advice on application from a specialist). S. Exempta is a noctuid which means they are active at night and not noticed during the day.
It must be noted that the African armyworm is endemic to Eastern Africa and migratory movement to Southern Africa is not a new occurrence. However, there is debate on whether this is the Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) of Central American origin. The impact of the pest is assumed to be similar to the African armyworm but it is a new pest to Africa as a whole; it was first noted in West Africa in July 2016.
If you have experienced or observed any outbreak of this pest, please send an email to the ICOSAMP Co-ordinator (Margaret Kieser) at email@example.com stating clearly:
ICOSAMP: Information Core for Southern African Migratory Pest