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June 06, 2008

Swaziland urged to respect traditional farming methods

There is a general feeling that local farmers need to go back to traditional methods of farming so as to increase production and avoid some of the challenges brought about by some modern methods of land cultivation.

Participants at the Food Crisis Dialogue suggested that the country (Swaziland) needs to promote indigenous methods of farming instead of the ‘Western’ ones, most of which are chemically based.

“We’re at a crisis point, at war with high price of food and at war with food security,” said UNISWA agronomy lecturer Professor O.T Edje, adding “and since we’re at war with fertilisers too, let’s find a substitute. Let’s go back to basics.

"What happened to the earlier methods of growing crops?” He said Africans did not want to hear about organic farming, for instance, because they think its primitive, whereas when they travel to Europe or elsewhere overseas, they’re the first to want organic products.

“Traditionally, we were the organic farmers and this is one possibility of addressing the fertiliser issue. "Organic fertilisers have proven to be very effective and a good substitute for the chemical fertilisers that have become too expensive,” he pointed out.

The professor said water harvesting was also one other possible solution to some of the challenges faced by the agricultural sector. He noted that the country needs to promote irrigation systems for maize like it does for sugar cane. “It’s high time we go back to the use of water harvesting,” he said.

He said the maize Swaziland recently received from Malawi had all been produced through the use of traditional as well as horse-drawn hoes for land cultivation.

Professor Edje also said Swaziland needs to go back to its coping strategies and reduce its reliance on tractors and instead, go back to the use of oxen for cultivation. He said the country appears to be too reliant on tractors, which were expensive to maintain.

World Vision Ministry Quality Director Russell Dlamini added that Africans had degenerated from its indigenous farming practices and adopted Western systems which were proving to be too costly. He said for example, the use of hybrid seeds and fertilisers was not only environmentally unfriendly, but also costly to maintain. However, he pointed out that despite this, these chemical farming methods were still being promoted among farmers.

“We need to start promoting indigenous farming practices and even include them in our curriculum,” he recommended. “Government must begin to subsidise production rather than consumption so as to promote food production.”

Thami Dlamini from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) added that even though the need to increase local production was great, government also needs to look into minimising post harvest losses incurred by farmers.

He said farmers lose about 50 percent of their yield between the field and market. “We need to facilitate post harvest and storage training for our farmers as these losses are substantial. Moreover, soil fertility has declined, which raises the need to put in more fertiliser.”

Dlamini pointed out that certain organisations were looking into conservation agriculture and permaculture, which could improve the output margin and subsequently, the prices of products as costs would be minimal, adding that there was need to follow these studies up.

The Swazi Observer

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