Correct land use

I have hesitated for months to bring to the notice of authorities a matter of great concern. Having farmed with sugarcane, timber, livestock and other farming related ventures (I am now retired), I believe that I am able to address the following matter from my lifelong experience.

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A little more than a year ago we were driving through the Tugela Ferry area in KZN. We overtook five Landini 4×4 tractors (with KZN provincial number plates, each with a three-furrow plough attached), returning to the base in Tugela Ferry. We had just driven past an area of virgin veld freshly ploughed. My concern is that no structures are built, as suggested in the letter by ET Meyer (21 September, pg 8), to protect the highly erodible soils that are being ploughed in these communal areas.

As a farmer I know the importance of first analysing the soil to establish its nutritional status to successfully grow suitable crops. If conditions are not ideally suited to raise crops, then the veld should be upgraded through good management.
Prior to 1994, a network of extension services existed, with highly qualified extension officers available for advice and even surveying field and run-off layouts, in line with the aforementioned letter by ET Meyer.

Without the proper status of the crops’ nutritional needs having been established, I am convinced that in the communal areas the inhabitants request that these provincial tractors then plant the land adjacent to their homes on a willy-nilly basis. To prove my point: in autumn this year I happened to drive past the same area mentioned above. Maize had been planted in a freshly broken virgin veld. The maize had grown to a mere waist height and no cobs, on any of the maize stalks, were visible.

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The intentions of the provincial authorities are probably noble to alleviate poverty in the rural areas. However, I believe that it is only human nature that in the case of a failed project such as this one, the beneficiaries would not attempt to grow another maize crop in such an agriculturally marginal area and rather abandon the project.

Without proper assessments by suitably qualified advisors, these efforts are doomed to fail. One has to establish what the most suitable crops are that could be cultivated under the particular soil and climatic conditions. These areas that are abandoned, without fail, become eroded by the wind and rain because the vegetative cover has been destroyed. Driving through these areas, many abandoned fields can be seen which are visually badly eroded and the valuable top soil lost forever.

So, in summary:

  • The country needs suitably qualified highly motivated extension officers to hold field days and inform and educate the inhabitants of the rural areas about the benefits and advantages of correct land use and good farming practices, which includes good veld management.
  • Determine firstly which crops, if any, can be cultivated in that particular soil and under the prevailing climatic conditions. Good veld management must be promoted.
  • Determine the nutritional condition of the soil by analysis so that it can be corrected.
  • If the land is suitable for cultivation, first protect the soil by building and maintaining the necessary contours and waterways, roads etc, to ensure that the land can also be used for future generations.