Sustainable agriculture among subsistence farmers in Swaziland : a study of adoption and practice of conservation agriculture at Shewula.
The study comprises five separate but related research papers intended to document the introduction and adoption of conservation agriculture in Swaziland and the status of crop cultivation in this country. It further provides empirical evidence on adoption and performance of conservation agriculture in improving the soil production capacity. The study was conducted at Shewula in Swaziland and employed a mixed methodological approach that included literature review, questionnaire interviews (survey), focus group discussions and laboratory analysis of soil samples. Ethical clearance was acquired from the institution’s ethical clearance committee which approved all the instruments for data collection used in the study. Moreover, the candidate made an undertaking to hide identities of all respondents that were interviewed during the study. The study investigated the prospects and challenges of adoption of conservation agriculture and established that there were high prospects for the adoption of conservation agriculture. It also established that farmers were cultivating traditional crops while intercropping was the paramount crop cultivation pattern which was viewed as significant to facilitate the adoption of conservation agriculture in the country. The study of the level and pattern of adoption of conservation agriculture revealed a very low adoption level of the system since only about 5% of the farmers were practicing the system more than 10 years after its introduction to the area. Adoption level varied with the socio-economic context of the farmers and was mainly on an experimental basis. The influence of basic conservation agricultural practices on soil moisture and organic matter content revealed that some farmers were able to achieve the requisite minimum soil cover of 30% though problems of crop residue management were observed. Moreover, levels of moisture and organic matter content were significantly higher in soils under the system than those under conventional farming. The study concluded that conservation agriculture has a positive influence on retention of soil moisture and organic matter content not only for organised agriculture (where this is well documented), but also at the level of the subsistence farmer. A comparative analysis of soil pH and levels of nutrient content in the soil under conservation agriculture and conventional farming did not reveal significance different between the two farming systems. The soils were generally acidic with an average pH of 5.0 while the Student t test performed indicated that the difference between the two farming systems in terms of nutrient content levels was not significant (p > 0.005, df. at 18). Although the pH and nutrient content levels did not show significant differences between the two farming systems, however, the levels were slightly higher in the soil under conservation agriculture. The study argues that cconservation agriculture has the potential to stabilize soil pH and to improve nutrient content, and the observed lackluster performance of the system to have higher nutrient content compared to conventional farming is attributed to improper management of soil cover and crop residue. This leads to the conclusion that compelling factors exist in facilitating the adoption of the system in Swaziland especially along the conservation agriculture awareness project focus and other information emerging from the study, centered largely around a conflation of the principles of conservation agriculture, and the use of indigenous seed strains. However, there are still challenges pertaining to particular aspects of conservation agriculture especially retention of crop residue which raises questions about the current animal husbandry practices.