Crop production in KwaZulu-Natal/Information for smallholders

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This document is a guide to sources of information that may help smallholders in KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa) to produce crops and vegetables without expensive inputs.

Smallholder agriculture is practiced widely in KwaZulu-Natal. Although low-cost agriculture is unlikely to raise many poor people out of poverty, it can improve household livelihoods. This is because most households in the province have insufficient resources to generate a living wage from agriculture, and need other forms of income.

Smallholders in KZN generally have less than 2 ha (often less than 0.2 ha or 2000 m2) available for crop production. Despite this limitation, there are many successful smallholders; they often produce a variety of crops that may include a small patch of irrigated vegetables, a few fruit trees, and a mix of dryland (rain-fed) crops. There is a great deal of information available to help these farmers, but it is not always accessible. This document is an attempt to show what locally relevant information is available, and where it can be found (mostly on the world-wide web).


Smallholder spreading kraal manure on cropping land in KwaZulu-Natal


Natural resources[edit | edit source]

The availability of natural resources will limit the choice of crops that can be produced at low cost - Rainfall, temperature regime, soil type and terrain all vary considerably from place to place in KZN. At the scale of the smallholder, the soil and terrain usually require an on-site inspection to determine soil depth, soil drainage and slopes of individual fields. However, there are a number of mapping projects that can serve as guides regarding climate, soil patterns, terrain, and water availability for irrigation at the village or ward scale.

Camp, K.G.T. and Liengme, D. 2001. The Bioresource Groups of KZN. Agri Update 2001/1, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs. Republic of South Africa, Pietermaritzburg. PDF

Camp, K.G.T., 1999. A bioresource classification for KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. [1]

Schulze, R. (ed.) 2016. Handbook on adaptation to climate change for farmers, officials and others in the agricultural sector of South Africa. Project page

Schulze, R., Schutte, S. and Taylor., M. 2016. Agriculture’s Natural Capital 2: Weather and Climate – Now and into the Future. Thematic Booklet 3. In: Handbook on adaptation to climate change for farmers, officials and others in the agricultural sector of South Africa. DOI PDF

Department of Water and Sanitation. 2016. Revision of general authorisation for the taking and storing of water. Government Gazette, No. 40243. 159-192. PDF
These are the Department of Water and Sanitation regulations regarding use of surface water.

Climate-smart Agriculture[edit | edit source]

There are many low-cost technologies available that can help smallholders make the most of the limited climatic resources available to them. See: Information for smallholders in KwaZulu-Natal/Climate-smart Agriculture

Pest and Disease Control[edit | edit source]

Kaluwa, K., Kruger, E. and Breedt, P. 2012. Natural Pest and Disease Control Handbook. Mahlathini Development Foundation, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. PDF

Diseases[edit | edit source]

Nunkumar, A. 2018. Management of plant pathogens in irrigation water. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Research and Technology Bulletin, 2018-19/06. PDF

Nunkumar, A. 2017. Banana bunchy top disease: A threat to the banana industry. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Research and Technology Bulletin, 2017-18/04. PDF

Nunkumar, A. 2017. Mycotoxins: A threat to animal and human health. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Research and Technology Bulletin, 2017-18/03. PDF

Nunkumar, A. 2016. The correct use and application of fungicides. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Research and Technology Bulletin, 2016-17/11. PDF

Nunkumar, A. 2015. Disease management in crops. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Research and Technology Bulletin, 2015/19. PDF

Moodley, S. 2015. The application of plant based pesticides in sustainable agriculture. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Research and Technology Bulletin, 2015/08. PDF

Insects[edit | edit source]

Bezuidenhout, S.R. 2017. The tomato leaf miner, Tuta absoluta. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Research and Technology Bulletin, 2017-18/05. PDF

Bezuidenhout, S.R. and Nunkumar, A. 2017. Chemical control options for Fall Armyworm in maize. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Research and Technology Bulletin, 2016-17/09. PDF


Weed control[edit | edit source]

A smallholder hand-weeding a plot of dry beans in KwaZulu-Natal

Bezuidenhout, S.R. 2016. Weed management principles for maize. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Research and Technology Bulletin, 2016/04. PDF
This four-page document discusses the principles of weed control in a maize crop. It indicates the importance of good general agronomic practices to ensure rapid closure of the maize canopy, makes recommendations regarding the use of tillage and mulching and gives guidelines for the use of herbicides.

Allemann, L. and Young B.W. 1998. Vegetable Production in KwaZulu-Natal: Weed Control. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture. Republic of South Africa, Pietermaritzburg. PDF
A three-page document that outlines the importance of weed control in vegetable production and discusses the use of cultural methods and herbicides.

Bezuidenhout, S.R. 2015. Sprayer calibration. Research & Technology Bulletin 2015/10, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Republic of South Africa, Pietermaritzburg. PDF
A four-page document describing how to calibrate agrochemical spraying equipment. It includes sections on nozzle selection, water quality, and details of calculations used to calibrate knapsack sprayers and boom sprayers.

Soil Fertility[edit | edit source]

FAO. 2020. Soil testing methods manual – Soil Doctors Global Programme - A farmer-to-farmer training programme. Rome. DOI PDF
Abstract: The Soil Doctors programme is developed under the umbrella of the Global Soil Partnership and promotes the establishment of a farmer-to-farmer training system. The Soil Doctors Global Programme aims to build the capacity of smallholder farmers on the practice of sustainable soil management and, by doing so, support governmental agencies and organizations working on agricultural extension at the field level (promoting broader impact and a reduction of costs). Trainings will also rely on the establishment of demonstration farms and experimental fields by the Soil Doctors, which might attract the interest of research institutes and universities involved in the programme. The programme also aims to educate farmers on soil science principles for practices of sustainable soil management and aims to achieve this by providing them with a set of tools composed of some educational materials and a soil testing methods (STM) manual for preliminary soil analysis. The STM is a collection of locally relevant, and easy to use, soil analyses procedures that would be selected by each area where the program is implemented.

Miles, N. and Manson, A.D. 1998. Using Manures To Supply Plant Nutrients Agri Update 1998/4, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. PDF
A two-page guide to the use of manures. It includes information on the nutrient content of manures and suggested application rates.

Roberts, V.G. 2010. Soil Testing for Better Crops Agri Update 2010/06. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs & Rural Development, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. PDF
A four-page guide to soil sampling and the submission of soil samples for fertilizer recommendations.

Manson, A.D., 2020. Soil acidity and liming in KwaZulu-Natal. Research & Technology Bulletin 2020-21/03. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture & Rural Development, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. PDF DOI
Summary: Acid soils are very common in KwaZulu-Natal and yields of crops and vegetables are often poor. There are differences between the various vegetables and crops with respect to their abilities to grow on acid soils. Amelioration of soil acidity with agricultural limestone is often cost-effective, and is best done based on soil tests. Photographs of several acidity-related symptoms are included.

Mashiyana, B. 2010. Completing the Sample Submission Form. Agri Update 2010/03. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs & Rural Development, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. PDF
A pamphlet outlining the information requested when submitting soil samples for fertilizer recommendations.

Crop-specific guidelines[edit | edit source]

Allemann, L. and Young B.W. 1998. Vegetable Production In A Nutshell. Department of Agriculture, South Africa. Pretoria. PDF
This document has crop-specific guidelines for a range of vegetable crops grown in South Africa, along with general fertiliser guidelines. Suitable climate, soil types, cultivars, sowing times, seeding rates, plant population and spacing are outlined, and brief indications are given regarding the required fertiliser, possible pests and diseases, and likely yields. Vegetables included are beetroot, brinjal (eggplant), cabbage, carrot, chilli (hot pepper), trailing cucurbits (butternut, gem squash, hubbard squash, pumpkin), green bean (bush type), green pea, lettuce, amadumbe (taro), onion, potato, sweet pepper, sweet potato, swiss chard, and table tomato.

Brochures and Production guidelines for a wide range of crops are available on the website of the South African Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) https://www.dalrrd.gov.za/Branches/Agricultural-Production-Health-Food-Safety/Plant-Production/Production-Guidelines

Important rain-fed (dryland) crops[edit | edit source]

  • Maize
    • van Rensburg, J. 1998. Maize and cowpea intercropping research at Impendhle. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture. Republic of South Africa, Pietermaritzburg.PDF
    • Bezuidenhout, S.R. 2016. Weed management principles for maize. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Research and Technology Bulletin, 2016/04. PDF
    • Bezuidenhout, S.R. and Nunkumar, A. 2017. Chemical control options for Fall Armyworm in maize. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Research and Technology Bulletin, 2016-17/09. PDF
  • Dry beans
    • ARC - Grain Crops. 2020. Dry bean cultivar recommendations. PDF
    • Liebenberg, A.J., 2002. Dry bean production. Department of Agriculture, Pretoria, South Africa PDF
  • Pumpkins and other cucurbits
    • Allemann, L. and Young, B.W. 1998. Vegetable Production In KwaZulu-Natal: Cucurbits. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture. Republic of South Africa, Pietermaritzburg.PDF
  • Sweet potato
    • Osborne, R., 2002. Sweet potato: A new look at an old crop with tremendous potential. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs. Republic of South Africa, Pietermaritzburg. PDF
  • Irish potato
    • Potatoes South Africa - potatoes.co.za
    • Naidoo, M., Van Rij, N., and Arathoon, J. 2010. Potato production for KwaZulu-Natal. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Rural Development Agri Update 1999/5. Republic of South Africa, Pietermaritzburg. PDF


Minor rain-fed crops[edit | edit source]

  • Cowpea PDF PDF
  • Field pea
  • Dryland leafy greens - Japanese radish, kale, amaranthus, swiss chard [ PDF]
  • Sorghum
  • Millet
  • Vegetables (although most need irrigation or water harvesting) PDF
  • Trees for fruit, nuts, medicinal purposes, edible leaves PDF

Irrigated crops[edit | edit source]

Where irrigation is available for smallholders, it is largely used for vegetables and maize (especially for dry-season maize for "green mielie" production).

  • Allemann, L. and Young B.W. 1998. Vegetable Production In A Nutshell. Department of Agriculture, South Africa. Pretoria. PDF
  • Tomato PDF