No plowing, no chemicals in South African farmers’ revolution

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Balfour, South Africa, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News – October 28, 2021): It’s springtime in South Africa, and Danie Bester’s tillers are rusting in a corner of her farm.

The freshly turned land stretches for miles on other farms while its neighbors prepare their fields.

“I still play golf,” said Bester, 37.

He might look like Aesop’s grasshopper, wasting spring days while the ants next door are working.

But he actually made the radical decision to rethink the way he cultivates, using techniques both better for his soil and for adapting to climate change.

“My seedbeds are already growing and my weed control is already on,” he said. “So I don’t have to do as much prep, a lot of prep like other guys do.” Its agricultural style has a fancy name – regenerative agriculture. But it’s a simple idea.

Instead of spraying the fields with pesticides, installing irrigation systems, and moving the soil with large tillers, Bester grows cover crops in the off season.

Cattle graze the plants, throwing manure as added fertilizer over its 1,100 hectare (2,700 acre) expanse, 90 kilometers (55 miles) southeast of Johannesburg.

The result: The worms do the oxygenating work that machines do elsewhere, while the shady, unplowed soil retains moisture and nutrients – and weeds are brought under control.

Its technique remains rare in South Africa, which has the most industrialized farms on the continent. Most use large-scale monoculture based on chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

But in addition to being climate-friendly, Bester’s corn and soybean yields are among the highest in the country, earning him national awards that he hopes will inspire others to do so. change.

“It’s like a little seed that you have to plant. The other guys are starting to see success (and) they’ll understand it,” Bester said.

South Africa’s climate is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, experts say, meaning changes in agriculture are crucial.

“As we pass 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) around the world, we will be at three degrees … this is going to put major strain on the commercialized and globalized food system,” the activist said. Vishwas Satgar of the Climate Justice Charter Movement.

South Africa is already a dry country and widespread irrigation is not a viable option.

The fields of Bester are rich without artificial watering. He pulls out a stalk, revealing some fungal growth and a wriggling earthworm – creatures not found on farms sprayed with pesticides, he said.

“There will be challenges in the future that will not be solved by chemical agriculture,” said Peter Johnston, climatologist at the University of Cape Town.

Across Africa, small farmers are using traditional practices that are less damaging to the environment.

– “Look to the future” – With real pressure to improve crops to feed growing populations, farmers are being encouraged by agrochemical companies to use particular seeds that require pesticides and chemical fertilizers, Johnston said.

These methods can withstand climate change, but at a cost.

“Industrial agriculture always comes to a point where it no longer really sees the soil as a resource, the soil is just a support for plants,” said Johnston.

“It’s not a holistic look at how farming should be.” Over time, these techniques mean the soil retains less moisture and produces less nutritious crops, Johnston said.

“We have to get the soils back to what they were a hundred years ago. We have destroyed everything,” Bester said. “The longer the soil is healthy, the longer we can produce food. Change doesn’t happen overnight.

Bester has spent years testing the quality of his soil, managing his fields in five-square-meter (54-square-meter) blocks, and learning by trial and error.

The payoff is not just high yields, Bester said, but the guarantee that the land will remain fertile for her two young children.

“You have to look very far into the future to make sure that you (make) the right decisions,” he said.

Bester’s neighbors begin to understand.

Plowing is becoming less and less common, he said.

“It will only get worse if we don’t change,” he said. “We have to keep now.”

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