School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Presenters and participants during presentations and workshops at the Ukulinga Howard Davis Memorial Symposium.

Small-Scale Farmers’ Adaptation to Climate Change Focus of Agricultural Symposium

UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science partnered with The Adaptation Network to host the fifth Ukulinga Howard Davis Memorial Symposium at the University’s Ukulinga Research Farm.

Focusing on the theme of Small-Scale Farmers and Climate Change Adaptation, the three-day event incorporated the annual Southern African Adaptation Colloquium and featured a variety of presentations from technical issues to topics involving agronomy, water resources management, innovative technologies, sustainability and farmers’ experiences.

First hosted in 2016, the symposium demonstrates theoretical and applied research carried out at UKZN’s Ukulinga Research Farm for the scientific community, agribusiness sector and farming community which facilitate the formation of relationships with agribusinesses and skill development and knowledge transfer for the benefit of emerging and current small-scale community-based farmers.

The event, supported by the Howard Davis Farm Trust based in Jersey through the UKZN Foundation, honours the educational legacy of Durban-based businessman TB Davis whose endowments enabled the building of UKZN’s Howard College in the 1930s in memory of his son killed in action during World War I.

More than 200 delegates attended, representing a wide range of interested stakeholders including academic staff and students from UKZN and Mangosuthu University of Technology, small-scale farmers, civil society organisations, agribusiness and farming organisations.

At the opening of the symposium, The Adaptation Network co-chair Ms Charissa da Costa said: ‘The Adaptation Network recognises that small-scale farming is the catalyst for maintaining livelihoods in vulnerable and disadvantaged families and communities. We are excited to engage with others who are also passionate about promoting awareness and implementing activities that empower communities to innovate and adapt to climate change.’

A member of the Adaption Network, UKZN’s Farmer Support Group (FSG), helped to organise the symposium, making it possible for the attendance of small-scale farmers who displayed their produce.

The opening keynote address was delivered by Group Executive for Research and Development at the Water Research Commission (WRC), Professor Stanley Liphadzi who spoke about the knowledge, education and the impact of a research-informed institution.

Liphadzi emphasised that research and innovation should link with teaching and stakeholder engagements for relevant solutions and their implementation.

‘Agriculture is a risky business, especially when you bring in issues of climate change, and it’s important that research supports such a risky business. The knowledge that UKZN produces is important and we are grateful to the Howard Davis Farm Trust for supporting this important event to connect students to farmers and industry,’ he said.

On the second day, UKZN’s Professor Julia Sibiya spoke about the role of plant breeding research and development innovations in strengthening the adaptive capacity of African small-scale farmers to climate change.

‘Information on climate is essential to optimise the different agricultural practices and daily operations that take place on the farm, from water use to fertiliser application to cultivar selection and planting dates,’ said Sibiya.

The main proceedings were facilitated by honorary research fellow Mr Duncan Hay and honorary associate professor Steve Worth over the two days, with presentations ranging from the academic to the entrepreneurial and social.

Delegates engaged with exhibits from smallholder farmers and initiatives including LIV Business and TruHealth while several posters provided insight into academic research and the history of the Ukulinga Research Farm, the Howard Davis Farm Trust, and the Adaptation Network.

There were presentations from key partners of the University at Ukulinga and in research more generally, including the KwaZulu-Natal Poultry Institute, the Institute of Natural Resources, and the Fuze Institute. Round table discussions also took place.

The main proceedings concluded with an engaging presentation by Ms Sibongile Mtungwa of the Women’s Leadership and Training Programme, accompanied by agroecology farmers from the Hlokozi and Centocow districts who described issues affecting their livelihoods, including climate change, urging closer collaboration between academia and farmers.

The third day of the event comprised a policy messaging workshop facilitated by the Adaptation Network that interrogated the key themes explored at the Symposium, provided opportunities for group engagements, and discussed how outcomes could feed into policy and be implemented for improved climate change adaptation.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Supplied