UKZN Research in Swayimane Profiled

The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) recently toured sites at Swayimane as part of a visit to profile the uMgungundlovu District Municipality’s (uMDM) uMngeni Resilience Project (URP) which UKZN is involved in.

The URP is a climate change adaptation project led by the uMDM in partnership with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES). The global Adaptation Fund finances the project through SANBI with development targets including the implementation of early warning systems, climate proofing settlements and enabling climate resilient agriculture.

The UMDM faces high climate change risks and the URP aims to reduce vulnerability faced by communities and small-scale farmers in the municipality’s area by building up their resilience to climate change.

The visit by SALGA began with discussions and an overview of SALGA and uMDM programmes at the municipality’s offices in Pietermaritzburg and included an interview with uMDM Mayor Cllr Thobekile Maphumulo.

The SALGA and uMDM teams then went to Swayimane where they were welcomed by UKZN staff and postgraduates working at research sites in the area. At a local high school, they met small-scale farmers and youth who were busy planting green peppers and onions; employing intercropping as a technique to maximise land productivity, soil fertility management as well as to provide protection against pests and disease.

‘We want to encourage organic farming where people don’t have a lot of land or resources and are exploring alternatives to conventional fertilisers, such as using kraal manure and intercropping techniques,’ said UKZN’s Professor Albert Modi, who is project leader for the URP.

URP Co-ordinator Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi explained that project leaders were promoting agriculture that conserved water in the soil, while Modi added that they encouraged year-round planting by investigating crop water use to advise on which crops to plant when, since climate change was producing periods of heavier rainfall as well as periods of drought.

Guests viewed the Agrometeorological Instrumentation Mast (AIM) linked to soybean crop trials, with Modi explaining its usefulness for teaching in the high school and how researchers were acquiring indigenous knowledge in the area.

Mabhaudhi said information from the system warns farmers about the potential for events such as mudslides or conditions including disease pressure. Modi added that the multi-year URP was also enabling researchers to collect data over time to make recommendations.

PhD candidate Ms Maqsooda Mohamed showed visitors the unique lightning warning system installed at Swayimana High School, explaining how it alerts the community in danger areas to the threat posed by lightning.

Visitors also had the opportunity to visit the school’s computer LAN, containing equipment donated by the URP to enhance teaching and learning for scholars.

URP Project Manager Ms Lungi Ndlovu thanked stakeholders for their attendance and UKZN for its interest in the project. SALGA’s Acting Programme Manager for Municipal Infrastructure, Ms Slindile Maphumulo, thanked the uMDM and the community of Swayimane for the opportunity to see the area as well as Mayor Maphumulo for her time.

Swayimana High School Principal Mr Mkhizwana Dlamini expressed his gratitude to the visitors from SALGA, UKZN and the uMDM on behalf of the school and its governing body; saying the school felt empowered by the URP project on its grounds.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod