Smallholder farmers in KZN shared their stories in a newly published book available free of charge. The book was compiled by environmental justice NGO, Biowatch to provide principles and ideas that could help others, with a focus on specific agroecology methods and techniques which vary according to local climates, soils and cultures.

Vanessa Black, the Advocacy and Research Coordinator from Biowatch, said that agroecology is working with nature and applying the principles that are seen in ecology.

“Pesticides and herbicides fight against natural processes and involve a system controlled by multinational companies that creates reliance. Pesticides are harmful to the environment in that they are toxic and harmful to people and farmers become reliant on them,” said Black.

The book aimed to assist farmers with alternative methods to pesticides. “We looked back on our work with farmers and pulled key principles that apply to the South Africa context. We work mostly with small holder farmers, but the principles can be applied to all farming,” she said.
Mavis Nhleko, one of the farmers whose story is shared in the new book, explains agroecology’s benefits in a nutshell, “I get good yields, I’m eating healthy food with my family, I record what I plant, and have shared my knowledge.”

Agroecology is a way to work towards food sovereignty where the control of seed and land remains in the hands of farmers, and the land is used in an ecologically sustainable way. Agroecology empowers smallholders to be more productive and helps to alleviate poverty. It creates abundance where it is needed, producing a greater variety and quantity per hectare than commercial agriculture, including food, medicines, fibres, fuels, and building materials.

Esikhalenisomthonga farmer, Doris Myeni is a Biowatch success story who was still picking greens and vegetables late into the recent drought as was Rhoda Mvubu of Manhlali who also had rich green crop fields deep into the drought.

Mvubu has always been an active farmer, and has been earning her living entirely from the soil for more than 25 years. When she began using agroecology practices, her maize yield suddenly improved, and she was able to finance a house for herself and her children from the sales. She implements a few simple agroecology methods such as preparing the soil ahead of time.

For Myeni’s plot on a dry, rocky hill, trench gardens made all the difference. The trenches, along with other water harvesting techniques, hold water and keep the soil healthy.

Agroecology is about applying a set of principles learnt from nature to create farming systems that are unique to each farm.

“Our children do not have to look after us. We are not a burden on them,” says Biowatch-supported farmer Selinah Mncwango. She grows more than 40 varieties of fruit, herbs, and vegetables on her homestead in Khwelelani, and also raises cattle, sheep, chickens, and goats. In her experience, traditional varieties of maize yield better in times of adversity, and she scrupulously collects and stores seeds from each harvest.

The book is available electronically on the Biowatch website: www.biowatch.org.za.Hardcopies are available and can be ordered off the website or by calling Allison Myeza on 031 206 2954.