Farmers faced with water scarcity, loss of soil and deteriorating seed quality have a new weapon – five students who are the first in the country to hold a Master’s degree in sustainable agriculture.
The students graduated from Stellenbosch University, where as part of their course they worked with wine company Distell on biodiversity loss and soil degradation. The university said: “They investigated the potential use of indigenous plants as cover crops in vineyards and they interviewed a number of farmers about what they would ideally want from a cover crop.
“This was followed by an intense literature search, visits to indigenous plant botanic gardens and key informant interviews with conservationists and viticulture researchers. A number of indigenous plants were in the process selected that can be used as cover crops to increase vineyard biodiversity while also reducing soil degradation.”
Course leader Professor Kennedy Dzama said the programme was aimed at solving the complex problems facing farming. He said: “Current practices are not sustainable. Not only is the quality [of seeds] deteriorating, we are also losing soil. All the farmers are crying about input costs going up all the time but the prices that they are getting are not.”
The study programme was launched by the agriscience faculty at Stellenbosch with the support of Wageningen University in the Netherlands and Conservation South Africa.