FARMER FIELD SCHOOL REPORTS

Integrated Pest Management

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a systematic approach to pest management that focuses first on preventing problems. It involves monitoring pest populations, identifying pests and choosing a combi¬nation of tactics to keep pest populations at an acceptable level. IPM stresses trying the least toxic methods first. It puts put more focus on ensuring plant health and hygiene, monitoring pests and crop growth, establishing tolerance levels and developing a pest management strategy and then evaluating the results of the strategies implemented. IPM consists of four methods namely, cultural, physical, biological/ natural and chemical pest management. This ensures that not only one method is used to manage and control pest which increases the ability of each method to work. Bergville communities get extremely hot in summer and pest breakout is highly favoured by warm environments. Therefore it is essential that farmers have knowledge on how they can manage and control pests especially during warm seasons.

FSG team developed a pest management strategy which included all of the IPM methods through a curriculum of Farmer Field School sessions. The methodology of FFS sessions were as follows:

Field observation was done by conducting observations and recording the current status of pests, types; their cycle focusing on which they are prevalent and causes.

After observation, farmers were given an opportunity to discuss various issues related to pests and their control. Topics of discussions will include:

  • Farmers understanding on pest control
  • Factors that influence presence of pests (environment etc.)
  • Control measures used by farmers  

 

 
Discussions showed that farmers use various indigenous methods to control pests. These include burning cow dung, crushing the insects, boiling cigarette stumps and spraying the plants. Farmers also understood the concept of IPM and the importance of not using only one method. In terms of participation, all farmers were able to participate in practical activities whereas during the theory session some were quiet.

Demonstrations were done using methods such as planting marigold to repel pets, crop rotation and intercropping and using home remedies such as soap, chillies and onion sprays. These were monitored to document which methods are the most effective.

 

Soil preparation

Whether growing lawn grass, ornamental flowers or garden vegetables, preparing the soil before planting is essential. Soil needs to allow water to enter the ground efficiently so that it may be drawn up and used by developing plants. In addition, soil provides plants the required nutrients to allow them to grow and produce healthy fruits and flowers. Well-maintained soil is home to fewer garden pests, such as weeds, and ultimately results in the maximum production of blooms and vegetables. It was therefore important for farmers to have a session on soil preparation and garden design because in the past it was observed that farmers do not properly prepare the soil for effective water absorption, aeration and root depth, especially for vegetable crops.

The facilitator explained that it is important to prepare soil not only for root development and aeration but to ensure that when planting time comes, soils have organic matter which has various effects such as:

  • Enhances crumb formation which improves the respiration of the roots;
  • Increases the water infiltration rate;
  • Increases the water holding capacity;
  • Lowers soil compaction and crust formation; and
  • Limits the harmful effects of alkalinity and improves the leaching of salts

The facilitator demonstrated various basic ways of preparing the soil such as weeding, soil tilling, leveling the soil and making raised beds. In terms of raised beds, the facilitator explained and demonstrated effective raised bed designs to reduce run off and conserve water.


Soil fertility

Soil fertility is one of the most important aspects in crop production for both small scale and large scale farmers as it controls the supply of elements and plant nutrition. It is then significant for farmers to know all indirect and direct factors involved in land transformations and soil fertility management. FSG team decided to continue with soil fertility sessions so as to ensure that farmers have more in-depth understanding of all aspects of soil fertility and the methods that can be used. Various soil fertility practices and factors influencing soil fertility were discussed and demonstrated and these were the following: Factors such as soil colour, depth, slope, soil life, texture and vegetation were discussed. The facilitator explained the importance of plant residues and reducing soil erosion.


 

 

Figure 2 a - d (Top & Bottom): Soil fertility methods used by farmers; kraal manure, trench bed, composting and use of cans to add Iron to the soil.

 

 

 

 

 

Demonstrations were done with farmers using methods such as; applying cattle manure, making raised and trench beds, composting, making liquid manure and mulching. In Reserve B, New Stand and Busingatha manure showed to have a positive influence as the soil was more aerated, darker, had more organic matter and the plants looked healthier than where there was no manure (colour and size). Composting in a sack was affected by the type of grass that was used and farmers from Obonjaneni gave feedback and said using softer and smaller grass helps the compost decompose quicker and so they made their own using specific grass that decomposed quicker. In terms of soil fertility majority of the farmers have learned and tried various methods.

 

Water conservation

One of the biggest challenges faced by farmers in Bergville thus it was important for FSG team to also focus on water conservation methods. A field observation was done to identify moisture soil conditions, planting systems and water conservation practices done by the communities and factors that affect soil water availability. This was followed by discussions on water conservation management practices, importance of water conservation and ways to improve SOM. The facilitator explained other methods that could be used to conserve water such as:  leaving crop residues on the field, making seedbeds, applying compost, mulching, avoiding soil erosion, the contour ridge, infiltration pits, improved tillage techniques, earth bunds, planting pits or planting basins, planting grass strips, stonelines, retention ditches and irrigation scheduling.

Farmers understood the importance of these methods and most of them said that they use raised beds, composting and retention ditches to conserve water. Factors such as topography, soil depth, texture and colours were discussed and how they affect drainage, moisture availability and conservation of water. This allowed farmers to get to know the type of soils they have and how they can conserve the water they have.

 

Planting

FSG team and community members had a meeting to discuss what each group is going to be planting. This was to ensure that the Farmer Field School sessions are more focused and that there is more organised in terms of pest management and so on. Also it was to ensure that farmers upscale their production for market demand. Communities’ choices were as follow:

  • Reserve B-  Pepper ( green, red and yellow)
  • New Stand- Green pepper and tomato
  • Nokopela- Lettuce
  • Potshini- Cabbage, spinach and lettuce
  • Busingatha group 1- beetroot and butternut
  • Busingatha group 2- spinach, cabbage and butternut

 

Figure 3: Facilitator and community members planting green pepper

 

Facilitators conducted a planting session because it was identified that farmers struggle with planting in terms of spacing, depth and separating seedlings.

 

No till

In 2013 facilitators conducted a no till session with Bergville communities. However, because FSG bought the planters after the session, it was decided that there will be continuation session in 2014. The facilitator explained that the no-till system is a specialized type of conservation tillage consisting of a one-pass planting and fertilizer operation in which the soil and the surface residues are minimally disturbed. The surface residues of such a system are of critical importance for soil and water conservation. Weed control is generally achieved with herbicides or in some cases with crop rotation. It was also explained that no-tillage is used in form of conservation tillage and is a major step forward for some situations but it can have its problems. Unfortunately, without herbicides no-till crops become dominated by weeds and so yield poorly. Herbicides have their associated costs and may have unknown side effects or long-term impacts on the environment. Furthermore, some weeds have developed resistance to some herbicides, leading to a need to rotate both crops and herbicide groups in order to keep crops weed-free. It was explained that in order to reduce resistance farmers show rotate herbicides. A major advantage of using no till is the reduction in soil erosion and no till buries fewer fresh weed seeds and brings many fewer dormant weed seeds to the surface where they can germinate, so with increasing time under no-till, weed problems and herbicide applications can be reduced. A no till planter was then used for best bet demonstrations. As it had rained, using no till planter was much easier than in 2013, the soil was moist and thus easy to plant.

Farmers were shown how to use the planter. Farmers easily understood all the controls of the planter as it is not hard to use.  Farmers from Mlimeleni showed interest in the use of no till and five female farmers borrowed the planter from Nokopela farmers.

 

 

 Figure 4: Demonstration on the use of no till

 

Majority of the farmers who attended the sessions were female and they all showed interest in using the planter. However, the challenge seemed to be the use of oxen to pull the planter. Not all the farmers own the oxen and so they have to borrow from other community members. Also no till requires a lot of manual work and some women said they will need assistance from males. In conclusion, farmers responded positively to no till and some said they will start using it and move away from the conventional tillage systems which will ultimately spread across the communities of Bergville.

 


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