Our history, culture and past, shows that our ancestors had an intimate understanding of their environment and lived in harmony with their natural ecosystems. Our traditional agricultural practices were not harmful and were developed over centuries to be in sync with the natural surroundings. But with colonialism, this all came under threat as settlers used farming practices which were often destructive to the environment and changed the landscape significantly. A lot of these practices also caused the extinctions of a wide variety of species.
Globalisation has escalated the commercialization and industrialization of agriculture. Today, the foods in shops generally contain less quality nutrients, a lot of the food is unhealthy and may even contain chemicals which could be dangerous to our health and wellbeing.
Following its launch in 2017, the Mopani Farmers Association responded to this crisis by promoting agroecology amongst small scale farmers and livestock breeders. Agroecology is the practice of farming without applying chemicals to the soil or the crops. About 100 people are being trained at Mopani Farmers Association’s agroecology hub in the Dzumeri village. The training is conducted by qualified agroecologist, Xitshembiso Mabunda. For their practical training, participants are spread across 13 cooperatives and are supervised by a lead farmer in various aspects of farming including soil preparation, scouting, compost making, harvesting, packaging and record keeping.
‘’I didn’t know how to tell when an onion is ripe or not. I always had a problem with how to determine whether my produce is ready or not,” says Nyiko Nkuna one of the participants at the eight-hectare Mayepho Primary Agricultural Cooperative. Other cooperatives such as the Dr Shongi Merekome Agroecology Centre, SEDA and Mvuleni Tinungu also offer participants an opportunity to practice what they have learnt on a portion of land. Currently, onions, okra, butternut, and spinach have successfully been harvested.
Through agroecology people can produce their own food to feed themselves, their families and their community. The surplus produce can even be sold to local supermarkets for an income. The current industrial farming methods are not sustainable and is bad for the soil as well as the environment! Agroecology is not only sustainable, but it also produces much healthier food!