South African farmers are having to adapt to a growing population and ensure that food security is guaranteed for the future. As the UN pushes for more sustainable farming practices, local farmers are trying to juggle food demands with a changing climate and more environmentally-friendly farming methods.
Farmers are using technological innovations to ensure that their crops still grow in times of less rainfall, increasing temperatures and drier conditions. The majority of these innovations have been developed with green farming practices in mind, minimising the farmer’s impact on the environment whilst maximising crop yield.
Greener innovations in farming
Many farmers are turning to green sources of energy to meet their needs. Wind farms have become popular in the Eastern Cape and solar power is an ever-expanding resource in the Karoo. Farmers are using wind and solar power to boost their agricultural efficiency and reduce their impact on the planet.
Computer technology and the internet are also changing the way farmers conduct their business. Advanced irrigation systems, such as centre pivots, are computerised and can be controlled from the farmer’s laptop. Real-time data is also sent to the farmer’s phone about crops, market demand, weather forecasts and more.
Global Positioning System (GPS) software allows farmers to survey their fields, monitor crop progress and gather accurate data for construction of new irrigation pipelines. This makes it more efficient and less costly for the farmer as they no longer have to pay for expensive aerial surveys or waste petrol by running farm equipment unnecessarily.
Aerial surveys can be done by precise GPS software or even drones. This geographic data collected by drones and satellites can provide the farmers with localised information that can benefit the environment. It can reduce the farmer’s dependence on fertilisers by observing the growth of natural vegetation around the fields. It also allows the farmer to monitor crops without using petrol and a car.
Sustainable farming methods
Farmers are constantly developing new practices that are better for the environment. The abundance of information that is accessible to the farmer by new technologies allow them to better monitor and track their practices. It helps them in the fight against climate change and to reduce their reliance on pesticides and fertilisers.
One of the growing sustainable practices is urban farming, where farmers grow crops in urban environments to reduce the costs of transport and supply. Food is in demand in urban centres and so growing small-scale crops in cities and suburbs is a feasible solution that benefits the environment and reduces the farmer’s expenses.
Another sustainable practice is that of hydroponics – combining fisheries and crops on one water-based system. The water from fish tanks is pumped onto gravel beds containing crops. This water is rich in nutrients from the fish waste so the crops thrive without the need for soil. The water is naturally filtered by the crops and the gravel and the clean water is then drained back into the fish tanks.
Hydroponics is a circular system that supports meat production and vegetable crops with minimal water usage. It is perfectly suited to urban environments too. If the hydroponics system is set up in a greenhouse, it also eliminates the seasonal restrictions on crops such as cucumbers.
As South Africa moves forward steadily into the 21st century, so do the farming practices. By reducing their impact on the environment and minimising waste, farmers are ensuring that food security is established and the population is fed despite harsh weather conditions.
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