Mr Bhekani Zondo is a cum laude graduate after completing an MScAgric degree in Agricultural Economics for research into the adoption of and willingness to pay for organic fertilisers by smallholder potato farmers in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).
Supported by Potatoes South Africa (PSA) and supervised by Professor Lloyd Baiyegunhi, Zondo interviewed 189 farmers, analysing data the collected using applied econometric techniques. Zondo’s goal was to discover what factors influence the adoption and use intensity of organic fertiliser or manure by smallholder potato farmers, and to assess their willingness to pay (WTP) premium prices for organic fertilisers.
‘Through my undergraduate studies in agricultural economics at UKZN, I learned that smallholder farmers can contribute to South Africa’s food security, however, they face numerous challenges that inhibit their productivity potential and make it difficult for them to participate in the modern economy,’ said Zondo.
These challenges include deteriorating soil fertility, necessitating the adoption of fertility enhancing practices, and the use of fertilisers. The price of inorganic or chemical fertilisers and their negative environmental and health consequences are often problematic, and research recommends the adoption of sustainable, cost-effective agricultural technologies such as organic fertilisers.
Zondo looked for economic links between socioeconomic factors, fertiliser adoption, and farmers’ WTP in order to inform policy interventions and institutional innovations oriented towards these techniques.
He found that organic fertiliser was the most popular soil nutrient ameliorant among the farmers surveyed, who confirmed they would be willing to pay more for organic fertiliser to enhance productivity. This further justified the commercialisation of organic fertilisers to facilitate the availability of the products.
Zondo’s study recommended improved access to extension services to enhance technical information dissemination and knowledge of organic fertiliser usage, and the development of policies that institute security of land tenure among smallholder farmers. His findings also support the development of appropriate options for farmers with small livestock holdings to produce organic fertilisers.
Programmes that encourage this production and the subsequent increase in use of organic fertilisers would, Zondo said, encourage farmers to keep more livestock numbers, create jobs and improve smallholder farmer income, contributing to poverty alleviation and enhanced food security.
Growing up in the rural uMzumbe area on KwaZulu-Natal’s south coast where his community was highly dependent on smallholder agriculture, also inspired Zondo’s interest in this research. He hopes his familiarity with the economic aspects of agriculture will contribute to his goal of one day being a successful commercial farmer.
Zondo faced challenges on his academic journey, including the unemployment of both his parents, and the long distances he had to travel to school and back home, where he also looked after cattle.
‘This gave me the sense of purpose to persevere, be disciplined and work hard in order to obtain good results,’ said Zondo. ‘Through education, I can change the situation back at home; I knew that I was the hope of the family.’
Zondo now works as a commercial development and business banking intern at the Land and Agricultural Development Bank of South Africa, and plans to register for his PhD next year to further develop his research skills.
He thanked Potatoes SA for funding his master’s degree, and his family for their support and belief in him. He also thanked his sister, Ms Nontobeko Zondo, for supporting the family when she began working, as well as Baiyegunhi for encouraging him to further his studies plus his encouragement, guidance, constructive criticism, patience, continual support and direction.
Words: Christine Cuénod