Research by the Manstrat GIS Group over the last couple of months, focused to some extent on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Global Forecast System (GFS). A part of the GFS system contains... Read more
Background: Research by the Manstrat GIS Group over the last couple of months, focused to some extent on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Global Forecast System (GFS). A part of the GFS system contains a variety of weather prediction data. While SFLUX data proved to be precise and trustworthy (used by the George Mason University - wxmaps.org), PGRB2 was used for Relative Humidity data.
Similarities: Both datasets are produced at the same time for the same 16-day prediction sequence.
Differences: SFLUX data has a spatial resolution of 10 km with 114 data layers while PGRB2 has a spatial resolution of 25 km with 417 data layers. PGRB2 data also provide Relative Humidity and Dew Point data that can be used in modelling and development of advanced products such as disease warnings for crops.
October 2017: For the past month, overlapping data layers found in both systems were regularly calculated and compared with one another. Data layers compared included rainfall, cloud cover, wind speed, minimum & maximum temperature. 3 600 points were used for the regression analysis of the data layers. Results were mixed with some datasets showing a low correlation while others showed a high correlation. Examples of the correlations can be seen in figures 1 and 2.
Figure 1: Comparing SFLUX & PGRB2 rainfall data
Figure 2: Comparing SFLUX & PGRB2 maximum temperature data
Figure 3: Example of SFLUX rainfall data
Figure 4: Example of PGRB2 rainfall data
Datasets with a low correlation were mainly due to the resolution of the data being different and therefore directly affecting the spatial variability and range of the data. With the rainfall (figures 3 and 4) and cloud cover data there were often an over or under estimation of the area and values with the PGRB2 data resulting in the lower correlations.
Figure 5: Example of SFLUX temperature data
Figure 6: Example of PGRB2 temperature data
Looking at the Minimum and Maximum Temperatures and wind speed, however, an extremely high correlation was found - there was no significant difference in the spatial variability and range of the data, despite the resolution difference, as can be seen in figures 5 and 6 resulting in a much higher correlation.
PGRB2 Relative Humidity data has a similar spatial variably compared to temperature data and therefore should be precise enough to use in combination with SFLUX data.
The future utilisation of GFS data will mainly be determined by the availability of bandwidth to gain access to both datasets. SFLUX data remain far superior compared to PGRB2 data, but information such as Relative Humidity should be extracted from PGRB2 to have a complete list of weather variables available for product developments such as fire danger indices and plant pest and disease indices.
Subsistence farming, often referred to as smallholder agriculture - is a common practice in the poverty stricken rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa. Subsistence farming is crop and livestock production... Read more
Subsistence farming, often referred to as smallholder agriculture - is a common practice in the poverty stricken rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa. Subsistence farming is crop and livestock production mainly for consumption by the farmer and immediate family. Customarily practiced by the poor occupying small pieces of land, and often farming without the most basic resources like proper tools, result in low yields, hardly enough to feed themselves.
Despite all its imperfections, subsistence farming can play an essential role in many rural households by helping efforts to eliminate food insecurity.
In South Africa, approximately four million people are engaged in smallholder farming. The main reason - to put food on the table for their families - an activity that has been occurring over many decades as the main source of food for families to survive. Due to a lack of reliable long-term national data, it is difficult to determine the contribution of the subsistence/smallholder agricultural sector to food security.
Mainly due to the continuous struggle to survive, many families - and individuals - mostly younger people - have abandoned agricultural production to find relief in urban areas.
Low production and yield levels are caused by a host of reasons including the size and ownership of land being cultivated, the lack of proper irrigation, nutrition and protection of crops and livestock, the lack of knowledge, money and numerous other reasons. All these needs contribute to the significant challenges to rural smallholder farmers in the region - making farming an unsustainable activity.
For these farmers to increase their yields, production practices must improve to overcome the limitations placed on them by the size of their land, while new technologies must be promoted if we want to see inefficiency and food shortage risks radically reduced.
The subsistence farming approach is one of "low-input - low-risk," with the unfortunate result of "low returns."
The advantage of insurance of crop and livestock against losses will go a long way in mitigating the risk, encouraging increased inputs (quantity and technology) and consequently, higher returns. Ownership of the land they farm on will significantly improve their ability to raise funds to invest in a farming business of their own, instead of having to live a life of subsistence.
Since June, we have been focusing our GIS research and development work on the development of short and long-range weather forecasts. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) houses and updates various... Read more
Since June, we have been focusing our GIS research and development work on the development of short and long-range weather forecasts. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) houses and updates various forecast datasets for use in long and short-range forecasting. In this article, we focus on the product development of NOAA SFLUX data, and the different products under development.
NOAA SFLUX data is updated every 6 hours and consists of hourly values for various climate elements, and forecast to up to 16 days.Predictions become increasingly inaccurate the longer the forecast, but 7-day forecasts are estimated to be reasonably accurate.
For the processing of forecast data, we use a three-step procedure:
Figure 1: Predicted rainfall for 26 September 2017
Figure 2: Minimum Temperature for 26 September 2017
Figure 3: Maximum Temperature for 26 September 2017
3. Cloud Cover:
Figure 4: Cloud cover for 26 September 2017
Various cloud cover products are available. Cloud cover can be provided at three atmospheric levels: low, mid and high atmosphere. Figure 4 is an example of total cloud cover combining all three cloud cover levels expressed as a percentage for the day.
4. Frozen Precipitation:
Figure 5: Frozen Precipitation for 26 September 2017
Frozen precipitation includes snow, snow pellets, snow grains, ice crystals, ice pellets and hail. Today (26 September), the South African weather service issued warnings for possible hail over Mpumalanga. Hail was reported over various parts of Mpumalanga during the afternoon/evening of 26 September. This product shows the likelihood of frozen precipitation expressed as a percentage.
This is a versatile product that can be used to predict hail in the summer months as well as snow in the winter months.
5. Percentage snow & snow depth:
Figure 6: Percentage snow 17 August 2017
Figure 6 is an example of data predicting the last major snowfall over South Africa that occurred on 17 August. The percentage snow product indicates the amount of snow cover on the ground.
Figure 7: Snow depth 17 August 2017
Figure 7 highlights the snow depth on 17 August 2017.
6. Soil Moisture & Temperature:
Figure 8: Soil Moisture for 26 September 2017
The soil moisture product is available at for different depths or as a total soil moisture product shown in Figure 8. The different soil depths are:
Figure 9: Soil Temperature for 26 September 2017 at 0-0.1 meter.
The soil temperature product is available at for different depths:
7. Wind speed & Direction:
Figure 10: Average wind speed for 26 September 2017 and wind direction at 15:00.
Wind speed and direction are two of the more complicated products to calculate since there are two data layers, combined to determine both wind speed and direction. Average wind speed is displayed in figure 10, but maximum wind speed can be determined if/when needed. Since wind direction can change during the day, it is currently extracted every 6 hours and is displayed in figure 10 using direction arrows.
NOAA SFLUX prediction data will be beneficial to agriculture, especially when used in conjunction with the Fire Risk System as well as the Plant Disease Risk System. During the research done the last few months, the data has proven to be very accurate. However, accuracy do decline as the season changes, but the accuracy increases again once seasonal patterns settle in. The only negative of the SFLUX product is that there is no relative humidity data available. Relative Humidity remains an important climate element needed in various prediction algorithms.
The research will focus on other weather prediction systems (PGRB2) provided by NOAA. Some climate elements of note discovered so far include:
The PGRB2 dataset includes the same data as the SFLUX dataset, but fills Relative Humidity gap of the SFLUX dataset. Only negative aspect is that the PGRB2 is a coarser dataset that will have an impact on accuracy. More information on the PGRB2 dataset will be published in a future article.
South Africa's agricultural sector is a major employer, with a reported total labour force of 835 000, as reported in August 2017. In terms of our current employment market... Read more
South Africa's agricultural sector is a major employer, with a reported total labour force of 835 000, as reported in August 2017. In terms of our current employment market, this represents a relatively high number of jobs and shows a rise in employment in the sector of more than 29 % since 2011. The first quarter of 2017, however, saw 44 000 job losses with a further 40 000 job losses in the second quarter.
While these losses are in line with normal seasonal trends seen at the end of harvesting periods, a large number of these job losses also occurred as a result of the drought and losses in agricultural production. Hampering the agricultural sector further, are disease outbreaks including the recent avian influenza, foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks, as well as economic pressures affecting consumer spending patterns. A significant concern regarding job losses is the result of globalisation and trade liberation which is increasingly making employment in the agriculture insecure.
Since South Africa's agricultural sector is export-orientated, it is also more vulnerable to changes in rules of international trade. Globalisation describes the changes in foreign and domestic policy-making that affects the way people trade in goods. It is based on a liberalisation or a "free-trade" approach to economic management, opening local markets to products from other countries. In a free-trade approach, governments stay out of the way to allow competition to occur between domestic and foreign markets with little state interference or regulation.
To lower the tariffs South Africa faces in foreign markets and increase South Africa's share of the world market and promote its agricultural export, South Africa entered into trade agreements with the World Trade Organisation as well as with the European Union. These organisations put increasing pressure on South Africa to liberalise its trading practices and reduce barriers such as quotas, tariffs and price regulation.
This liberalisation in trade means that the South African government plays a limited role in protecting its agricultural economy from the adverse effects of international trade. Before 1996, farmers were heavily subsidised and protected from foreign competition. However for new entrants and small-scale farmers, the support they need to compete with established farmers who had benefited from years of state subsidisation, is limited.
The effects suffered by farmers also affect farm workers and other industries that depend on agricultural production. Competition with foreign producers has increased - rich countries subsidise their farmers - resulting them to export to South Africa cheaply - while South African farmers do not enjoy the same subsidised protection.
For farmers to continue with production, the only solution lies in the reduction of production costs. To reduce labour costs, permanent workers are often retrenched, or reduced to temporary workers - contributing to an increasingly insecure agricultural labour environment.
The South African government needs to acknowledge the negative effects of globalisation and trade liberalisation and join other countries in challenging the authority of the WTO. Together with the private sector and workers organisations they may be able to contribute towards compensating those negatively affected by globalisation and trade liberalisation.
Agricultural activities across Sub-Saharan Africa have always accounted for a significant part of all economies. Currently, the sector provides for three-quarters of employment and contributes to a third of the gross domestic product (GDP) for the area. Despite this, and with its vast agricultural potential, Africa changed from a net... Read more
Agricultural activities across Sub-Saharan Africa have always accounted for a significant part of all economies. Currently, the sector provides for three-quarters of employment and contributes to a third of the gross domestic product (GDP) for the area. Despite this, and with its vast agricultural potential, Africa changed from a net exporter of food to a net importer of food in the 1980's. This food-trade deficit has persisted and increased, and is a problem especially in cash strapped countries where shortages of foreign currency only exacerbate the difficulty of paying the ever-increasing, national food bills.
Both high-income and low-income countries have net food imports, but high-income countries do not have a problem paying the food bills because they have ample sources of foreign currency. Low-income countries import less food per capita, but their agricultural export revenues, and sometimes even their total merchandise export revenues, do not cover the cost of their smaller food import bills. These countries have the lowest yields and productivity, and any increase in their agricultural performance would help to reduce food import bills.
Over the years boosting agricultural performance has been extensively investigated and the constraints to improved performance have been analysed, identified and discussed. The food consumption per capita has not increased in these countries, only the population; the inability of these countries to provide food for their growing populations results in ever-increasing food imports and this must be used as the baseline to judge any improvement.
Constraints to production are varied, but common causes are the decreasing arable land available per person, limited access to inputs (quality seed, fertiliser and water), slow adoption of technology, degradation of infrastructure and social insecurity. These technical constraints often arise from distorting policies and weak institutional support affecting the flow of food trade in and between these countries. Agricultural trade between African countries is even less than exports out of the continent.
However, the role and the circumstances of the individual small-scale farmer in any strategy for change must not be neglected. They produce over 80% of the food and capacitating them with the means for improved production is essential. They operate on the principle of "low-input - low return and low risk." They are aware of the benefits of various inputs and technologies but adopting and investing in them comes with a high risk; any crop failure would mean food insecurity and ever-persistent financial debt for them. This means they are trapped in a low-productivity system that is becoming increasingly difficult for survival.
To improve productivity, the first step is to break this cycle of poverty; a strategy is being developed and implemented many places. That is, financial models are being used to provide farmers with insurance in poor or disastrous seasons which will enable them not only to weather poor times, but also to more easily consider improved production practices and technologies during the good times. This requires good institutional support and even involvement of the private sector, which is happening. It also requires understanding, willingness to participate and acceptance from the farmers.
Long range/seasonal forecasts play a significant role in agriculture South Africa mainly because of our highly variable climate. Seasonal forecasts highlight the risks for crop... Read more
Long range/seasonal forecasts play a significant role in agriculture South Africa mainly because of our highly variable climate. Seasonal forecasts highlight the risks for crop production including possible drought and severe temperature fluctuations. These forecasts assist livestock farmers in deciding whether to increase or decrease livestock numbers. With forecast systems becoming more accurate, the farming industry is increasingly using forecast information for planning purposes.
Just like short range forecasts, the accuracy of long range forecasts decreases when looking further ahead. Users must bear in mind that this type of information serves as guidelines only, and should therefore be treated as such.
The Climate Forecast system is updated daily and provides forecasts for up to a year in advance while research focuses on producing simplified prediction data for up to 6 months in advance for rainfall and minimum and maximum temperatures.
The following is an example of data downloaded and processed using Geospatial Data Abstraction Library (GDAL) at the beginning of August for a six-month period ending January 2018. Predicted rainfall for the next three months, September, October and November is as follows (Figures 1-3):
Figure 1: Expected rainfall for September 2017 (Extracted from 1 August 2017 CFS data)
Figure 2: Expected rainfall for October 2017 (Extracted from 1 August 2017 CFS data)
Figure 3: Expected rainfall for November 2017 (Extracted from 1 August 2017 CFS data)
Total predicted rainfall was calculated for every month and compared to the long-term average. A simplified map was developed to highlight areas of higher or lower expected rainfall. The product produced (Figure 1-3) show more detail compared to other prediction systems (Figure 4) because CFS data were interpolated to produce a much higher resolution product to compare with the long-term average.
Figure 4: Seasonal predictions from the South African Weather Service for September, October and November 2017
Results were validated by looking at long range predictions published by the South African Weather Service (SAWS), figure 4. Latest SAWS information indicates normal to above normal rainfall for most of South Africa in Spring. Validation of the rainfall product will continue by comparing the predictions with actual information throughout the season as well as recalculating monthly prediction updates to determine if rainfall/drought trends change or remain the same with every update.
Information will be published in our monthly newsletter, Kilima, to provide a seasonal rainfall outlook - Climatewatch
South African Weather Service, seasonal forecasts - http://www.weathersa.co.za/component/content/...
Women represent the backbone of rural development and national economies in many countries - an estimated 80% of the agricultural production in Africa come from small-scale farmers, the majority... Read more
Women are the backbone of the rural development and national economies in many countries - an estimated 80% of the agricultural production in Africa come from small-scale farmers, the majority of whom are rural women. On an international scale, women make up about 43% of the world's agricultural labour force, while in some countries it can be as high as 70%.
Even though women are major contributors to agricultural production, most still face no or limited access to critical agricultural resources - land, finance, technology, and infrastructure. These factors lead to women's exclusion from decision-making, preventing them from making an impact and positively influence their communities.
While the contribution of women in agriculture in Africa is enormous, the roles played by them is often discarded by those preferring to focus on the basic tasks performed by them. The perception maintained, is that women "are good at" production activities like land preparation (land clearing and ploughing), planting, crop maintenance (weeding, diseases, and pest control), harvesting and post-harvest processing (grading, packaging, and processing). This approach ignores the fact that women are involved in processing agricultural output in the form of final food on the table for their families; this ensures food security and nutrition for their household. The reality is that women on the continent are a major agriculture labour force as can be seen by the role played by smallholder farmers (mostly women) in providing food and employment.
Because of perceptions and discrimination, women do not have the same opportunities to land ownership as men. The result is that they struggle to gain access to credit, insurance and other financial and extension support services. Women as a group are also the lowest paid labourers in agriculture, despite the fact that there are female entrepreneurs, scientists, commercial farmers, and are also involved in policy making in the industry.
More and more people have become aware of the many important roles that women play in agriculture in the rural areas of the world, hope is that they will receive universal recognition and support sooner, rather than later.
The information age has given us access to several local and international geographical data sources. The challenge is often to find the most reliable data amongst everything that's... Read more
The information age has given us access to several local and international geographical data sources. The challenge is often to find the most reliable data amongst everything that's on offer. As it's hard to gather climate and weather data, cost plays a definitive role in the gathering and the eventual cost of data to users. Accurate and accessible data invariably comes at a high price with limitations on its usage. In this regard, Manstrat found find data providers abroad that can provide the required data at a reasonable cost.
The search for free climate and weather data sources to complement current environmental and satellite datasets used at Manstrat continues. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a US scientific organisation that focuses research on the oceans and the atmosphere. NOAA's Satellite Rainfall Estimated or RFE data (Figure 1) is utilised in monthly rainfall totals for South Africa, published in the Manstrat monthly newsletter, Kilima.Figure 1: Example of NOAA RFE data - Percentage of long-term rainfall
The National Weather Service (NWS)of NOAA provides weather and climate related information to the US, but it also houses weather & climate information for the entire globe. The information is freely available and utilised by many organisations worldwide. Two datasets are of particular interest - the data from the Global Forecast System (short term forecasts - 16 days into the future), and the data from the Climate Forecast System (Long term forecasts - up to 6 months into the future).
Forecasts from the Global Forecast System (GFS) are updated every 6 hours and provide information on more than 100 climate variables for the next 16 days. From this data, Manstrat publishes 7-day predictions for temperature (minimum and maximum), and rainfall, as can been seen in (Figures 2 & 3), in our weekly newsletter, Mutsho.Figure 2: Example of GFS rainfall predictions for a 7-day period Figure 3: Example of GFS average maximum temperature for a 7-day period
We recently completed research into the use of humidity data, while research in the exploration of more climate variables relevant to agriculture, including:
By using GFS data (short range forecasts), the Manstrat Plants Division. Can now provide warnings about possible outbreaks of certain pests and diseases for specific crops. Prediction data will also prove valuable information for our fire risk system by highlighting areas of high fire danger.
While research focusing on GFS data continues, data from the Climate Forecast System (CFS) will be useful in providing seasonal climate outlooks, assisting producers in preparing for possible future wet or dry seasons.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org stating clearly:
ICOSAMP: Information Core for Southern African Migratory Pest