Smart Farming that Helps the Environment

Posted 16 November 2011

Caring for the Earth is an important part of the mission of Heifer International South Africa and we think farmers– and especially small farmers – are exactly the people who can help to solve some of South Africa's environmental problems.

Heifer International South Africa (Heifer) partners with small farmers in rural communities to end hunger and poverty in South Africa and care for the Earth. Heifer works in three provinces- Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu Natal. Project families are provided with livestock, vegetable seedlings, fruit trees and training and support to start small farming businesses. The farmers are trained to use environmentally friendly practices such as zero grazing, water conservation and the use of organic fertilizers in their activities.

Zero Grazing

One of the environmental problems South Africa faces is erosion. Erosion is caused by many things with some of the biggest problems being overgrazing, run-away veld fires and deforestation. Heifer thinks top-soil is precious and we take action to help small farmers protect it.

All farmers involved in Heifer projects are encouraged to use zero-grazing or near zero-grazing techniques to care for their animals. This means that, instead of leaving animals to roam wherever they please in search of food, farmers grow fodder to feed their animals. When they do use grazing, they use small fenced areas and move animals around in a systematic, planned manner to prevent over-grazing. Zero grazing has many advantages. As well as preventing the overgrazing that leads to erosion, it helps to keep animals safe because they won't accidentally walk into the road. It stops animals from being exposed to diseases and it allows natural vegetation to grow back. Animals are healthier, farmers are happier and the environment is better off.

Water conservation

Water is one of South Africa's most precious resources. The marginalised rural families we work with often have limited access to water to begin with. For many of them, getting water isn't as easy as turning on a tap – they have to travel long distances to collect water every day and when the drought comes, they don't know about limiting water use to preserve what little water is available. Heifer helps them to find ways to use water wisely. This might be helping them to design or source water-harvesting technologies like water-tanks and rooftop collection systems. Or it could be training them on how to use grey water for farming, so that water can be reused, reducing the amount of water they need. Through involvement with Heifer's small farming projects, they become more responsible water users and help to preserve this crucial resource.

Organic fertilizer

Chemical fertilizers are very expensive and can harm the environment in ways the majority of people don't even understand. The small farmers Heifer works with use manure from their livestock to fertilize their vegetables and crops. This helps to grow fantastic vegetables without buying expensive fertilizers and protects the environment at the same time.

Rebuilding the soil

Erosion, overgrazing, over-cropping, poor tilling practices, incorrect hill-planting and the destruction of natural ecosystems have decimated the richness of the soil in many places in South Africa. Natural fertilizers, like animal manure, help to replace some of the soil qualities that have been destroyed over the years. As farmers work the land, digging in the manure and planting crops that improve the nutrient value of soil, the soil begins to return to the rich, useful state is should have, making farming more profitable and benefiting the environment.

Planting trees

Trees help to protect soil and prevent erosion. They also play an important role in providing shade and creating a micro ecosystem - providing shelter for some insects, pollen for others and fruits for humans and birds. Over the centuries, many areas of South Africa have had all their trees destroyed. Heifer International South Africa is helping small farmers to plant trees again – bringing shade, shelter, soil-protection, flowers and fruits back to their rural communities.

Heifer's small farmers are successfully regenerating the environment where they live, for current and future generations, through agro-ecological practices, while at the same time providing food and income for their families.