Peter Stuart has taken his parents’ and grandparents’ visionary conservation and regenerative farming practices and further developed them to create an innovative and sustainable farming operation near Botrivier in the Western Cape. His 35-hectare farm is called Natimby (an acronym for Nature In My Backyard), which reflects a “closed ecosystem” of regeneratively farmed fields, pastures and vineyards. He has a compost production operation of 10 000m3 to supply compost to 500ha of apple orchards in the Elgin Valley. The compost is made from municipal garden waste and dairy slurry, both of which would contribute to global warming but are now contributing to regenerative agriculture and soil health. Invasive trees are used as the compost aeration chamber, clearing the land of these alien plants. He has developed a composting domestic water heating system that provides an energy-free source of hot water and compost for a small-scale farming operation. His agricultural and other sustainable living developments have provided skills and employment for more than 50 people. Peter is working with the Overstrand municipality to reduce landfill waste, and has founded both the Organic Stock Exchange and the (Green) Day Zero initiative to assist municipalities to achieve their “zero compostables to landfill” target by 2027. He is working with RegenAg SA on a certification scheme to reward farmers for improving their soil health by measuring soil carbon and microbial population density. Peter has also cleared invasive plants from 130ha, resulting in water flowing into dry waterways and wetlands. This has attracted endemic bird and animal species. About 50% of the 130ha has been rezoned as a conservation area, including a 15ha Cape Nature Stewardship site to protect threatened botanical species.
What’s been your/the organisation’s greatest achievement in your field?
I have developed the first ever convectionally aerated static pile composting method that does not require turning or forced air to aerate microbes that break down the compostable materials. The system can be used in small-scale or large-scale composting operations. The method has reduced the cost of compost production by more than 40%. It also allows high quality compost to be made in any location — close to the fields or crops and close to the source of raw materials.
Please provide specific examples of how your organisation’s practices and work have a positive effect on the environment
The innovative and cost-effective compost making method that I have developed has:
1. Reduced the use of fossil fuels in compost production by more than 70%;
2. Reduced the transport of compost raw materials by up to 80%;
3. Reduced the water required in the composting process by more than 50%;
4. Reduced the overall cost of compost production by more than 40%, bringing the final cost of plant available nutrients in compost in line with chemical fertilisers;
5. Replaced 20% of chemical fertilisers used on 500 hectares of apples and cereal crops in South Africa;
6. Diverted 30 000m3 of organic waste from landfill and has the potential to divert 100% of all organic waste from landfill sites in South Africa, extending the life of all the landfill sites by another 25% of the current lifespan;
7. Successfully been incorporated into a rotational cropping system to enrich soils and achieve sustainable cereal crop yields using zero chemical fertilisers and instead using residual plant nutrients, plant nutrients provided by soil microbes and soil organic matter; and
8. Reduced the cost and carbon footprint (zero burning) of alien and invasive plant clearing by incorporating the larger stems and branches into the compost aeration chambers of the compost piles .
The 55 hectare eco-equestrian estate (Maremmana Estate) that I have developed has provided an example of a successful and sustainable eco-estate to future property developers and allowed 52 landowners to:
1. Experience a sustainable (off the grid) living experience
2. Contribute to the removal of alien invasive trees off 130 hectares of land and rehabilitate the endangered Renosterbos on 55 hectares;
3. Contribute to the significant increase in biodiversity in and around the estate — plants, water birds, raptors, insects, frogs, reptiles and animals;
4. Gradually develop a number of “closed ecosystems” using organic and other waste in the compost and other soil ameliorants to produce vegetable and food for the landowners and surrounding community; and
5. Partner with Cape Nature to conserve 15ha of critically endangered botanical species
The Shiraz and Chenin Blanc vineyards that I have established on Natimby Farm:
1. Have not used chemical fertilisers for eight years and instead have been treated with compost; and
2. Have hosted a number of field days and demonstrated to other influential viticultural experts that vineyards can successfully be treated with compost instead of fertiliser without compromising wine quality and grape yields
What are some of the biggest environmental challenges faced by South Africans today?
1. Global warming and resultant climate change and extreme weather conditions — floods, coastal storms, extreme heat, sea temperature, drought, fires;
2. Air and water pollution and disposal waste; and
3. Loss of biodiversity, deforestation and desertification.
Our theme this year is Celebrating Environment Heroes. What do you believe could be the repercussions for millions of people in South Africa and the continent if we do not tackle problems exacerbated by climate change, encompassing issues like drought, floods, fires, extreme heat, biodiversity loss, and pollution of air and water?
The repercussions if we do not tackle problems exacerbated by climate change will be:
1. High food costs;
2. Food and water shortages;
3. Loss of property and homes from fires;
4. Declining health of the population through poor diet, air and environmental pollution; and
5. Possible civil unrest.