October 28, 2003

Poor land management affects harvests

Swaziland's harvest yields are expected to get steadily worse because poor land management is leading to soil degradation, a World Food Programme (WFP) crops survey has warned. "Crop yields are in general very low because most of the cultivated soils have low levels of fertility, high acidity and poor moisture retention capacity," the report said.

The kingdom is facing its fifth consecutive year of diminished harvests. By January 2004, 245.000 people, or about a quarter of the population, are expected to be dependent on WFP food aid. According to the report, maize could not continue to be mono-cropped year after year. Instead, crop rotation and inter-cropping practices with leguminous and other drought-tolerant crops were recommended. "The overall benefits are the improvement of soil structure and fertility, food security, cash incomes, dietary diversity and protection of the environment," it added.

However, the recommendation that fields be taken out of production and allowed to lie fallow for a year is not likely to be practiced in a country where a growing rural population encounters diminishing cropland. This week the African Development Bank granted Swaziland a US$24 million loan to boost agricultural production in the Komati River basin, in the hope that 20.000 people would benefit from anticipated projects and see improvements in their lifestyles.

In its latest quarterly report the Central Bank of Swaziland noted that food production on Swazi Nation Land had shrunk by 10.3% last year, after declining 27.3% the year before. Seventy percent of the working population is directly involved in agriculture, or indirectly through the canning industry. (IRIN)

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