New farmer wins with GM seed trials

Motlatsi Musi runs a Small farming operation in Olifantsvlei near Soweto, on land granted to him and five nominal partners by the government’s land reform programme
Issue date 24 August 2007

- Advertisement -

Motlatsi Musi runs a Small farming operation in Olifantsvlei near Soweto, on land granted to him and five nominal partners by the government’s land reform programme. Hampered by limited funds and stalk borer, he’s exploring the potential of Bt maize. Motlatsi first started farming his 21ha of land in 2003, assisted by his close friend Riaan Steyn from Farm in Protea Glen. “and I have been friends since our youth,” Motlatsi recalls. “He gave me maize seed to kick-start my operation. With the limited resources had, 5ha of rain-fed maize was enough.” With good rains, the 2004/5 yield was fairly impressive, and Motlatsi sold more green mealies than he anticipated at the Kliptown fresh produce market.

“The rest used for stock feed,” he recalls. T he farm is Motlatsi’s main source of income. For extra income he outsources his tractors to subsistence farmers in and around the township. “Sometimes help Riaan deliver cattle to Soweto,” he adds. Ever since his first harvest, however, stalk borer has been an expensive problem for Motlatsi. As an emerging and under-resourced farmer, he can’t afford pesticides. Instead, he investigated growing borer-resistant Bt maize. Although debate over genetically modified maize is still raging, Motlatsi planned to take full economic advantage of the benefits Bt maize offers. Getting a trial underway “got information about a biotechnology stakeholders’ association called AfricaBio from one of the farmers using my tractor services,” he recalls, “After some research requested to demonstrate the technology on my farm.” S uch seed trials are mutually beneficial to both the farmers providing land for the demonstrations and the GM companies providing the seed. “Motlatsi’s farm is one of 17 farms in the country AfricaBio used for demonstrations last season,” says Dr Dave Keetch of AfricaBio.

“Only three, including his, were in Gauteng.” Motlatsi reserved 2ha of his 5ha for the trial, which compared conventional and Bt maize grown together on the same land. The first planting was on 13 November 2005. “trial site received good rain and the yield was most satisfactory,” Motlatsi recalls. “maize was harvested by hand on 12 June 2006.” E ight 10m subplots yielded 516 non-Bt cobs, weighing 114,8kg, with a total of 11 cobs damaged by stalk borer. Bt maize on 10m subplots yielded 685 cobs weighing 154,1kg – a 34% yield increase. Only one cob had borer damage. Yield in cobs produced 14,4t/ha for non-Bt maize and 19,3t/ha for Bt maize. With the surplus, Motlatsi bought a second-hand, tractor-driven mill to process his maize. Bt triumphs despite dry conditions he 2006/7 yield was disappointing due to drought. Motlatsi planted again on 17 November 2006, but with the hot and dry weather, little rain fell. On 18 November, only 44mm fell and two days later only 1mm. “From 21 until 17 December, had no rain and it was very hot,” Motlatsi says. “About 28ºC to 30ºC.” The disastrous maize crop that followed was a serious setback. “replanted two weeks later, but ran out of non-Bt and Bt seed,” Motlatsi recalls.

- Advertisement -

“couldn’t find any seed in Gauteng, which delayed replanting.” The 2006/7 yield assessment was conducted on 12 April 2007. The same subplot size used during the previous season yielded 419 conventional maize cobs, weighing 61,3kg, with five cobs damaged by stalk borer. Bt maize, planted on a smaller plot because of the seed shortage, produced 331 cobs weighing 70kg, with only one cob damaged. The total extrapolated yield of cobs for conventional maize was 7,7t/ha. Bt maize yielded 8,8t/ha in total. Dr Keetch stresses that, despite poor rainfall, the Bt maize once again outperformed the non-Bt maize in terms of yield and level of stalk borer control. “Running these demonstrations is expensive, but if our budget allows it, we intend to repeat them,” Keetch says. During the past two seasons Motlatsi hosted journalists and government officials from the agricultural ministries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi, whom AfricaBio invited to see how the trials were conducted. The farm today Since the start of the demonstration, Motlatsi has planted his other 3ha with Bt maize, which he sells as green mealies at the Kliptown fresh produce market.

However, most of his clients buy in bulk directly from his farm. Motlatsi also has 2ha under vegetables such as potato, pumpkins and green beans. He’s also bought a water pump with the income from his second Bt crop to establish an irrigation system for the 2007 planting season. As the farm has no electricity, he’ll power the pump with his tractor and pump water from the Klip River. Motlatsi has two dairy cows with two calves and a bull. “Last year thieves stole seven of my cattle from the kraal,” he says. “We found them later, but the thieves managed to escape, leaving the cattle severely mutilated.” He also manages 37 pigs together with his eldest son, 28-year-old Moeketsi. Moeketsi and his cousin Motlohi Mosualle, the only permanent staff, live in a two-bedroom house on the farm.

Motlatsi hires seasonal workers to harvest maize by hand. He has also unofficially adopted a 12-year-old orphan, Mosa Mogesue, who lives on the farm. “I’m from the township, but I love living on the farm, as it’s near my school,” says Mosa. He helps voluntarily on the farm after school. Today, Motlatsi says he doesn’t want Mosa to experience life the same way he did. “Giving an orphan a plate of food and clothes for his back is not enough,” he says. Motlatsi tries to provide Mosa with as much knowledge and experience as he once received. Contact Motlatsi Musi on 082 225 1865, or e-mail Dr Dave Keetch at [email protected]. |fw