I am one of the co- founders of Dukathole Youth for Economic Social and Rural Development Cooperative which was established in 2014 to meet the growing demand and on-going need for fresh vegetables in South Africa. Our core business are hydroponic tunnels vegetables and open field vegetables, hydroponically produced vegetable are of high quality, need little wash, soil preparation and weeding is reduced. It produces high yields of vegetables on a small area because of an environment optimal for plant growth is created. All the nutrients and water that the plants need, are available at all time, most important water is used efficiently and crops are protected.
The proposed concept is low cost – recycling based organic crop production in cities and peri-urban areas, where principles of organic crop nutrition and organic crop protection are used in a holistic production process. The concept includes the development of a demonstration plot, and exploration of the potential to sell support services and products to aspiring urban and peri-urban farmers.
I looked at the growing populations in cities and peri-urban areas with limited space for food production and cities are being seen beyond residential infrastructure, and more multi-purpose, which should include agriculture, e.g. the city of Johannesburg is the largest urban forest in the world. Cities generally produce the most waste, which also includes a significant component of organic waste, which eventually pollutes waterways, e.g. higher concentration of nitrates and sulphates in cities due to concentration of consumption.
The crop production chemicals and fertilisers are generally produced in concentrations around the world and have high carbon footprints, with fertilisers being primarily oil-derived and use a lot of energy to produce. The market for organic produce is growing and sells at a premium, small scale peri-urban farmers could be taught production principles and sell to periodic markets in the cities; e.g. vegetable clubs to which fresh in-season organic vegetables are delivered on specific days.
The concept incorporates my Agricultural experience that I have gained in the past five years in the co-operative with the academic knowledge I obtained from Botany to come up with a sustainable organic crop protection.
The first part of the concept of plant nutrition which is primarily about nutrients, water and light. In this concept, organic compost fertilizer and use of earthworms, and plasticulture are combined. Organic compost fertiliser improves soil structure, nutrition in soil, water retention partially due to earthworm activity as they aerate soil. This allows for deeper penetration of water and roots, resulting in healthier plants. Healthy plants are more resistant to diseases as they are not stressed. To improve the soil moisture regime, the use of plasticulture mulching is incorporated, thereby retaining soil moisture, protecting germination of seedlings and prevention of weeds.
The second part of the concept of organic crop protection primarily for the control of insects that introduce and spread bacterial, fungal and viral diseases. Identification of prevalent diseases and pests for a specific crop, season and location will therefore be the first step in selecting appropriate control plants. Planting certain plants and herbs like springs onions, marigold, mint, basil, lavender and rosemary in alternate rows to your crops, cuts down insects and bugs damage. Introduction of lady beetles or ladybugs (Coccinellidae septempunctata) that feed off aphids and to other plants eating pests. A single lady beetle can gobble more than 5000 aphids and I consider this a better idea that prevents chemical use. Lady beetles are harmless to plants and humans.
The third part is weed control, which is primarily based on covering the soil with plastic 300 micron plastic that is coloured black on side (facing down) and white on the side facing up. It deprives weeds of light whilst the white reflects light for the crops above as such a multiplier for sunlight and enhanced photosynthesis. Weed control, particularly for bacterial and algal diseases is done through the treating of water with an organic spore kill.
The fourth part is the use of a green shade cloth structure for open field vegetables assists in keeping the plants moisture, protect plants from excessive sunrays and storm. Often wind damage to plants is mistaken as thrips and is treated chemically. Wind damage can be prevented with green shade cloth wind breaks.
The last part of the concept is introducing bee keeping within the green shade cloth assist in rapid plant pollination, longer flowering of plants, increase crop yield and harvesting period (longer plant life span). Reduces water pressure for plants therefore less irrigation.
Some other considerations include the drip irrigation system and storing water in Jojo tanks that are placed in an elevated position to feed plants through gravitational flow. Drip irrigation prevent leaves diseases caused by long term direct contact of plant leaves and water like pustules, blights, spots and specks as it waters directly to the roots of the plant.
Organic crop protection takes time, and can be location specific based on climatic conditions, incidence of pests and diseases and available type of composting material, as such requires lot of steps to be followed to ensure soil is being prepared proper before planting and it is labour intensive but it is worth exploring. The mandate for this proposed idea is to tackle the following key issues facing the country, food security, unemployment, poverty alleviation and transfer of permaculture skills.
The key stake holders is local municipality, district municipality, Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and beneficiaries will be employees, agricultural student for different universities and the community at large.
Organic Crop Protection idea will have positive social impact through addressing problems such as unemployment, poverty, lack of knowledge and less development skills. I have gone through trial and error period and learnt my lessons with that experience I am confident to make this opportunity a success story. I discovered that organic crops protection display best results in yield and market demand.
It is always essential to acquire knowledge, this opportunity will offer financial support, mentorship, professional working relationship with season researchers and practitioners, and also network with other agricultural youth and organisations. This will be huge learning opportunity for me and I will definitely pass on the knowledge to the community though workshops and mentorship programmes.
Andile Nkosenhle Vilakazi, South Africa