Sibusisiwe Maseko is a senior agricultural analyst at GreenCape. GreenAgri is an information-sharing portal developed in collaboration with the Western Cape Department of Agriculture for farmers, researchers, the private sector and non-governmental agencies interested in smart agricultural practices. It supports green farming practices, balancing farming and conservation needs, resource efficiency and waste minimisation in the Western Cape. Sibusisiwe was instrumental in the running of the portal. Since its inception, more than 170 000 users have visited the site, which has information on topics such as sustainable agriculture, agri-resilience and funding. The agriculture sector desk also runs workshops on how to become energy resilient, which is vital considering the negative effect that load-shedding has had on this sector that is a large contributor to the economy and is a major employer. “It has been particularly enlightening to see how renewable energy solutions are perceived not just as an environment-conscious solution for producers looking to secure alternative energy but also as a cheaper, long-term solution in comparison to more traditional options such as diesel generators and grid electricity,” Sibusisiwe says. He adds that this work has been an important first step in conscientising agricultural producers about how incorporating sustainability in their operations can have a positive effect not only on a business’ environmental goals but also on its financial health. This project assists in communicating the strength of the business case for incorporating sustainable practices into agricultural businesses.
What’s been your/the organisation’s greatest achievement in your field?
The greatest achievement by GreenCape’s agriculture sector desk has been the success of the GreenAgri portal, www.greenagri.org.za, an information-sharing portal for all farmers, researchers, private and NGOs interested in smart agricultural practices that support green farming, balancing farming and conservation, resource efficiency and waste minimisation.
The portal provides users with information about plans and policies that would affect the sustainable agriculture sector in South Africa, information about agri-resilience, an agri-directory for relevant organisations, as well as funding opportunities within the sustainable agriculture sector in South Africa. In the last quarter, the site saw a 20% increase in users (year-on-year) and greater use with the content on the site.
Please provide specific examples of how your/your organisation’s practices and work have a positive effect on the environment
Load-shedding has had a severe effect on the agricultural sector, threatening the viability of a sector that makes a considerable contribution to the economy of South Africa and employs a significant number of workers. This could have ramifications for food security and lead to an increase in malnutrition.
One of the agriculture sector desk’s activities was awareness-raising workshops to support farmers investing in alternative energy solutions, particularly solar PV. These are ongoing and have been well received by agricultural producers who didn’t know where to start in trying to become energy resilient in the midst of rising costs and inconsistent supply.
What are some of the biggest environmental challenges faced by South Africans today?
In the agricultural sector, the biggest environmental challenge faced is the lack of agility in being able to respond to adverse weather events. The locality of the sector (mainly rural), lack of digitisation and lack of digital literacy among those in the sector means when disasters strike, responders are unable to accurately predict the resources required and direct them to the correct channels efficiently.
This is particularly alarming as the frequency of adverse weather events increases and the types of events fluctuate — droughts, floods, earthquakes, locusts, avian flu etc. To address disasters faster, limit the fallout and ensure production returns faster, the agricultural sector needs to embrace the digital world and the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development needs to provide educational programmes that can support producers in that endeavour.
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?
Within the scope of the agricultural sector, climate change threatens the ability of South Africans to put food on the table. It affects the production of food in quantities that allow it to be available on the shelves at retailers and be of a quality that ensures that South Africa’s population has access to a diversity of nutrients.
But it also speaks to the viability of an industry that is one of the largest employers in South Africa and one of its biggest exporters. Climate change and adverse weather events, such as droughts, floods and fires, threaten agricultural businesses and could lead to more business closures as producers face an environment in which it is no longer viable to operate. Moreover, because many agricultural operations are the centrepiece of the economies of many rural towns in South Africa, their failure would have a domino effect that could lead to the collapse of rural communities throughout the country.