Are farmers changing from food production to biofuel production? : a case study of the northern agricultural region of KwaZulu-Natal.
Mbele, Fezeka Faith.
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A study was conducted to establish whether farmers are changing land use from growing food crops for human consumption to biofuel production to an extent that could significantly affect food security. Following concerns in the recent years about the excessive global demand for fossil fuel that drove prices to very high levels, biofuel alternatives derived mainly from agricultural food crops such as soybean, maize and sugarcane are being pursued in many countries. This study targeted a sample emerging farmers in the Northern Agricultural Region, one of the four administrative areas for agricultural extension services in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Biophysical suitability for change from maize food crop to soybean for biofuel land use was assessed using the locally developed Bio-resource spatial database. A sample of 11 emerging farmers was interviewed regarding land use change of food to biofuel production, farming operations, inputs and yields. Emerging farmers are black African farmers who were previously deprived of land and institutional support in developing into commercial farmers, but who are now recipients of land as well as financial and technical agricultural support services. This group of farmers arguably comes from vulnerable communities who depend on food crops for subsistence and who could influence change in land use with food security implications in their communities. Further information was obtained from an agricultural consultant regarding 7 commercial farms producing soybean biofuel. The study revealed that the Northern Agricultural Region had adequate suitability for profitable soybean production for biofuel. Furthermore, the majority of farmers interviewed had changed from maize production for human consumption to soybean production for biofuel. All the farmers interviewed applied farming operations with modern technology including land preparation and planting, fertilisation, irrigation, crop protection and harvesting. The majority interviewed farmers reported varied total earnings from soybean derived biofuel ranging from R 50, 000 to R 500, 000. The variability in earnings is consistent with the varied range of ages as attributable to experience and with the varied levels of education which may be related to management skills. Although the sample of farmers interviewed was too small to provide statistically valid conclusions, they represent an important sector in the farming community that shows future directions of food versus biofuel productions. The farmers indicated that they are fully aware of food production requirements and will endeavour to balance the two through soybean-maize crop rotation, a practice that not only ensures food security but also improves soil quality.
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