School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Community members from Tugela Ferry and a farmer from Kokstad display their produce at the URP Farmers’ Day.

Successful Farmers’ Day Brings Together International Researchers and Subsistence Farmers

As part of efforts to pursue excellent agricultural research that will enhance food security and resilience to climate change, the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) and the uMngeni Resilience Project (URP) recently hosted a Farmers’ Day event at Ukulinga Research Farm.

The more than 200 guests included international researchers working in the field of crop sciences and plant breeding, as well as small-scale farmers, extension officers and government officials.

The programme included small-scale farmers from across the uMgungundlovu District and beyond speaking about their experiences, challenges and aspirations. A video on UKZN and the URP’s work with farmers in the communities of Swayimane and Nhlazuka, and on how URP learnings are being out-scaled to Umbumbulu, Deepdale, Kokstad and Tugela Ferry, was screened at the event.

Farmers brought along their produce, enabling attendees to view and purchase crops and products directly from communities. A friendly competition between the communities added to the fun of the day, with the Swayimane community taking home the prize.

The URP is supported by the Adaptation Fund and administered by the South African National Biodiversity Institute in partnership with the Department of Environmental Affairs. The URP is led by the uMgungundlovu District Municipality, with UKZN as a sub-Executing Entity acting through the UKZN Foundation. The URP aims to increase resilience of vulnerable communities in the greater uMngeni catchment through interventions such as early warning systems, climate-smart agriculture and climate-proofing.

‘Climate change is challenging our food security base and is creating a situation where the diversity of crops that people can grow is narrowing,’ said Professor Albert Modi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science and UKZN’s URP project leader.

‘It is forcing farmers in the rural areas, who do not use a lot of chemicals, to act like commercial farmers to grow maize and major crops which are not making them money,’ said Modi, who advocates for the valorisation of indigenous crops and knowledge to safeguard food security in the face of climate change and other threats.

The Farmers’ Day coincided with a workshop being hosted by UKZN on the topic of breeding and modelling underutilised crops for community resilience. This workshop was funded by the British Council’s Researcher Links initiative through the Newton Fund and South Africa’s National Research Foundation (NRF), and brought together early career researchers from South Africa, Kenya, the United Kingdom and Malaysia. The workshop included discussions around enhancing agricultural and plant breeding research to improve communities’ resilience to the challenges they face.

The Farmers’ Day enabled researchers to hear first-hand from small-scale farmers about the challenges they face and what their needs are, allowing researchers to work together on developing effective strategies to ensure that their research has real-world impact. The goals of researchers at the event include improving resilience to growing threats to agricultural production that include extreme weather events, crop pests and diseases, drought, fire and more.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod