Letter – 4 May 2007

SA must ride the organic wave
No one’s talking about eradicating useful aliens
Issue date 4 May 2007

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SA must ride the organic wave

The Farmer’s Weekly report “Fertilisation: weed out the myths” of 30 March increases my fears about SA’s agricultural institutions and academics. Where have they been slumbering while international agriculture has been swamped by a tsunami of change? Why do our farmers, both small and corporate, have to pay experts from US and Australia to train them into the new agriculture? Where is our local competence?
Surely our universities and educational institutions should be the seedbeds for young enquiring students, rather than a limiting factor that stifles their natural curiosity
and intellect? These young people will be entering careers in a new era in agriculture totally unequipped for the role that will be demanded by their market. International market research has confirmed that health is the leading consumer trend. Modern consumers seek assurances that food is produced with their safety in mind. Foods produced with toxic contaminants and residues, which will compromise the family’s health, will be avoided. The move to organic and biological production methods has not been fuelled by input suppliers or large corporate promotional budgets, but rather by an increased knowledge and awareness by proactive farmers and health -conscious consumers who have experienced the benefits of the change. The health market has opened many new agricultural opportunities such as herbal medicines and indigenous teas, essential oils for therapeutic treatments, natural flavourings and perfume production. Value-added and ready-to-use products such as fresh cut will stimulate employment and enable SA agriculture to participate
as quality suppliers to the local and international market. My appeal to our educational institutions is to step out of their comfort zones and lead SA’s agriculture into a bright future. If they do not become proactive, SA’s agriculture will be joining the Dinosaur and Flat Earth Society in the realms of irrelevance and extinction. Jenny Slabber,

No one’s talking about eradicating useful aliens

It is clear that R Auret from Thornville is clearly misinformed about invasive alien plants, if the letter entitled “Whence this crazy cult of the indigenous” in Farmer’s Weekly of 30 March 2007 is anything to go by. Auret is obviously confused between the concepts of exotic, alien, introduced and invasive, and it is critical that the record should be set straight on these issues. I will only focus on plants because I have not heard of anyone in this country promoting the eradication of livestock because they are exotic, so the statement by Auret in this regard is totally unfounded. There are approximately 8 000 introduced plant species in South Africa, and these include all of our valuable crop and pasture species. Nobody in South Africa has ever promulgated the eradication or control of valuable crop species, the vast majority of which are not invasive other than guava, which is becoming problematic in higher rainfall regions.
Many of our important forestry species like black wattle, pines and gums (Eucalyptus spp) are invasive and at the same time important to our economy – which is why they are classified as Category 2 plants, meaning they can only be grown in demarcated areas, providing that there is a permit and that steps are taken to prevent their spread. Nobody in this “crazy cult” has ever suggested that we remove these important forestry crops from the face of South Africa – what we are trying to do is remove these invasive species from areas where they should not be growing.
Auret should note that the second-biggest threat to biodiversity after habitat destruction are alien invasive plant and animal species. Over 10 million hectares of land in alone have been invaded by alien vegetation. Invasions have reduced the value of fynbos ecosystems in South Africa by R80 billion, and the net present cost of black wattle invasions amounts to R14 billion. In the arid northern Cape it is estimated that mesquite (Prosopis spp), an invasive tree from the Americas, uses an 134 million m3 of scarce underground water annually, which could threaten the government’s ability to provide water for human demands. On there invasive plants reduce the yield of major crops, compete with preferred pasture species and in some cases, when consumed by domestic animals, taint their milk and meat and in extreme cases result in livestock mortality. Certain invasive plant species may also cause human health problems such as severe contact dermatitis and respiratory problems. Water weeds reduce the quality of drinking water and also promote the development of water-related diseases. uret acknowledges that invasive
species need to be controlled but notes that this should be the responsibility of farmers, which we are obviously in agreement with. Unfortunately, some infestations are so serious that farmers don’t have the means to control them, and others occur on state land. As a result, the Working for Water programme of the Department of Water Affairs was initiated in the 1990s, and employs thousands of previously unemployed individuals to clear areas of invasive plants. In this way the government “kills two birds with one stone” by creating jobs and protecting this country’s valuable resources. We are not a “crazy cult”– just passionate about protecting Africa’s natural resources, on which we all depend for our own survival. Arne Witt,