Biologicals and biochar -
A look at sustainable farming trends in South Africa*

South Africa has a rich agricultural heritage, with farming contributing significantly to the country’s economy. In 2021, agriculture had contributed around 2.47 percent to the GDP of South Africa, whereas industry and services had contributed 24.5 and 63.02 percent of the total value added, respectively.[1] However, unsustainable farming practices have taken a toll on the environment, leading to soil degradation, water scarcity, and biodiversity loss. In recent years, there has been a growing movement towards sustainable farming practices in South Africa, with farmers adopting new technologies and techniques to improve the health of the soil and the environment.

Biologicals for sustainable farming

One of the key trends in sustainable farming in South Africa is the use of biologicals. Biologicals refer to living organisms, such as microbes and fungi, that can be used to enhance plant growth, control pests and diseases, and improve soil health. Biologicals offer several advantages over synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, including lower environmental impact and improved long-term soil health. Biologicals are used on a wide range of crops both globally and in South Africa.[2]

In South Africa, farmers are using biologicals to improve the health of their crops and reduce the use of synthetic inputs. For example, some farmers are using microbial inoculants, which contain beneficial bacteria and fungi, to improve soil health and promote plant growth. These inoculants can improve nutrient availability, increase water retention, and reduce soil-borne diseases. The use of soil inoculants has promise for use in agricultural systems for improving nutrient status, reducing plant diseases and pests, and improving yields. However, management practices such as rotating crops, growing cover crops and adding organic fertilizers and soil amendments provide similar benefits.[3]

Biochar for sustainable farming

Another trend in sustainable farming in South Africa is the use of biochar. Biochar is a type of charcoal produced from organic waste material, such as crop residues and wood chips. Biochar can be used as a soil amendment to improve soil health and fertility. Biochar can increase water retention, improve nutrient availability, and promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms. Biochar may prove a key and accessible input for sustainable agriculture, as it could efficiently sequester large amount of carbon in soil over the long-run, thus improving soil fertility, crop productivity, and mitigate global warming.[4]

In South Africa, biochar is being used by some farmers to improve soil health and productivity. For example, some farmers are using biochar to improve the fertility of degraded soils, which can increase crop yields and improve the sustainability of their farms.

Conservation agriculture

In addition to biologicals and biochar, sustainable farming in South Africa is also characterized by a focus on conservation agriculture. Conservation Agriculture (CA) is defined as a sustainable agriculture production system comprising a set of farming practices adapted to the requirements of crops and local conditions of each region, whose farming and soil management techniques protect the soil from erosion and degradation, improve its quality and biodiversity, and contribute to the preservation of the natural resources, water and air, while optimizing yields.[5] Conservation agriculture involves minimizing soil disturbance, maintaining soil cover, and rotating crops to improve soil health and reduce erosion. By adopting conservation agriculture practices, farmers can improve the health of their soils, reduce the use of synthetic inputs, and increase the resilience of their farms to climate change.

Closing remarks

Overall, sustainable farming in South Africa is driven by a desire to improve the health of the environment and the profitability of farms. By adopting new technologies and techniques, such as biologicals and biochar, farmers can improve the health and productivity of their soils, while reducing the environmental impact of their farms. As sustainable farming practices become more widespread in South Africa, they have the potential to transform the country’s agricultural sector and contribute to a more sustainable and equitable future.

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*Editor’s note: The content in this article is mainly AI-generated and is for general informational purposes only. Whilst the content herein has been screened, certain inaccuracies which may not be apparent, might necessitate further corroboration and fact-checking. The content has however, been enriched—with additional facts and citable sources provided, in a bid to corroborate some of the primary statements being made, thus providing reasonable additional credibility to the information herein.

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