Communal farmers do more with less

Through the support and motivation of the Underberg Farmers Association (UFA), black farming communities in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) have increased their yields, improved their knowledge and learnt new skills.

The UFA has a mission to bridge the knowledge gap in a practical way by teaching improved methods of planting maize.

“It’s an easy, cheap crop and most people know how to plant it,” says Wayne McNamara, community liaison member from the UFA.

Increasing yields

Communal farmers have reaped maximum harvests of 2t/ha in the past. Now, with the help of the UFA, the eNhlanhleni community has doubled the yield of planted maize from one ton per half hectare (1.23 acres) to two tons per half hectare.

Sifiso Ngcobo (36), a communal farmer from eNhlanhleni, took four tons off half a hectare this season. This is huge improvement from the 12/50kg (600kg) bags he got off last year’s planting.

Sifiso Ngcobo’s land is prepared and ready to plant. This season, with the help of his fellow farmers and mentors, Sifiso took four tons off half a hectare, compared to the 600kg he managed to harvest last season.

Skills improvement

More than 80 commercial farmer-members of the UFA help communal farmers with knowledge and skills transfer.

McNamara says three years ago there were very few farmers planting in the area and now more than 50% of the land is used for planting.

“Access to resources, knowledge, training, markets and a fellow farmer with whom you can share your agricultural problems makes a big difference,” says McNamara.

Ngcobo says the UFA’s farmers taught him how to prepare the land before planting, when to plant and how to assess the soil.

“Adequate planning is essential because it affects your budget,” he says.

Ngcobo also farms sheep and cattle and is learning about sheep shearing and wool classing.

“In 12 years I hope to have my own farm,” he says.

Sifiso’s maize shows excellent germination with very few gaps. Technical assistance and the sharing of knowledge and experience can make a world of difference to developing farmers.

First stock sale

Last month, the Makhuzeni community held its first livestock auction at the UFA stock sale facility on the Sani Pass road. The sale generated R786 445,00 with 105 cattle sold. The average price per kg was R23,07.

Goats were sold for an average price of R899,71 per animal with a total of 17 goats sold.

McNamara says when money generated from sales goes back into the community and benefits its members, people realise the value of livestock sales.

“Communal farmers add value to the agricultural sector easing the burden on commercial farmers for food security. They bring money and food into the community which is a major upliftment,” says McNamara.

The Underberg Farmers’ Association made its sale-yard available to black developing farmers for their first livestock auction. Successful working partnerships between white commercial farmers and black small-scale farmers have built bridges and restored relationships across communities.

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