UWC’s Professor Ndiko Ludidi has demonstrated that knowledge generated in university laboratories can make a tangible difference in the world outside the halls of academia.
Prof Ludidi, of the department of biotechnology at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), funded by the Centre of Excellence in Food Security (COE-FS), with the help of his plant biotechnology research group (PBRG) collaborators, Dr Marshall Keyster of UWC, and Dr Ifeanyi Egbichi of Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha, assisted a group of smallholder farmers. The farmers were led by former UWC student Sisiphiwo Dingana, to remodel the practices on their collective, small-holding farm.
The UWC researchers are currently helping the farmers, who run a small-scale cooperative named DI Farms in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, improve their farming practices. As a result, DI Farms could soon become a major producer of soya beans in the province.
Ludidi introduced planting practices to DI Farms in 2017 to improve soil health. This meant the adoption of additional crops such as sorghum, maize and soya beans.
The soya beans, which generally fetch a better price than maize, were also a key crop for enriching the soil. Soya beans, are nitrogen fixers capable of taking in atmospheric nitrogen and converting it with the help of microorganisms into ammonia and other nitrogen-related compounds in the soil. This, explained Ludidi, eliminates the need for nitrogen fertilisers as the nitrogen is provided by the soya beans themselves.
Ludidi also recommended the use of drought-tolerant soya beans and soya beans that needed regular watering. This benefitted Dingana, who was not irrigating his lands, and the UWC group that could see how different soya beans fared outside a lab environment.
It was a mutually beneficial arrangement, explained Ludidi. “He grows our soya beans to improve his yield and generates seed for himself that he can use for soya bean production on a larger scale, while we benefit because we get the data from his plantings.”
So successful was the collaboration that Dingana has now started planting soya beans, using the seed from the 2017 crop, on a bigger land of about 4ha. (An international-standard rugby field measures about 1ha.) DI Farms has also secured funding to expand its soya bean production.
Since the inception of the partnership, Ludidi and others in the PBRG have presented seminars on self-sufficiency in their town and spoken to youth at schools on issues of food security.
While capacity is limited, Ludidi would like to see more collaborations like this one, with DI Farms, scaled up substantially.
“We want to see small-scale farmers in rural areas, specifically in the former homelands, and across the country attaining success in sustainable crop production,” Ludidi said. – Mologadi Makwela, Centre of Excellence in Food Security.