Lambani community workshop, June 5, 2015

We have summarized the main discussions and conclusions after discussions with farmers about their activities and potential usefulness of the local early warning systems for the 2014-2015 growing season.

We warmly thank all participants for their time and valuable input, both farmers and LDA staff.

In total, 39 farmers participated in the discussions and workshop exercises.

The farmers said that it was useful to get the local early warning forecasts in Sept-Oct 2014. Because they heard it would be dry some planted in rows to save water. Others sold their cattle. Others said they can use the information to plan soil preparation and known which types of seeds to use. Since they heard that the coming summer season would not be that good for rainfall, they planted at first rain. They also considered using drought-resistant seeds, which they do not use in good rainfall years. In spite believing the year would be wet, they anyway planted on the entire area available to them, They planted maize, groundnuts and vegetables (cowpeas, spinach and tomatoes) to see what plants would make it. Other farmers said they did not take the forecast into account but just ploughed and planted as they always do.

Some farmers said that he signs in nature had also indicated to them that it would be a dry year. The moon was not covered with thin cloud during the night and the clouds during the day were not chased away by wind, both indicating a dry season. Others said they saw fruits on the mountain with a normal amount of fruits, not extra and swallows were flying about but not in large number. These signs indicated a normal rainfall year.
For these reasons, they are happy to get the forecast information. Some also said that the signs in nature are not always correct or show conflicting information (as indicated above).

Activities performed in 2014-2015
25/39 planted drought-resistant maize
2/12 reduced their herds
3/14 bought supplementary livestock fodder
0/11 stored water for livestock
28/28 stored water for household use
29/29 mulched
15/15 have indigenous cattle (of those with cattle)
7/329 ploughed early (Many planted in early Dec after a good rain) .
2/11 bought medicine for their goats in case of illness.
19/19 prepared for crop disease outbreaks

Timeline 2014-2015
Feb: Some sold their cattle already seeing signs that indicated dry conditions to come.
Aug-Sept: Waiting for rain.
Oct-Nov: Water is around but grasslands are exhausted. Cattle are getting thin. Rainfall came late. Farmers started planting from Oct until Feb.
Nov: Some ploughed in this month and planted maize and groundnuts.
Dec: Experienced first rain and they ploughed and planted in the first week.  The grazing improved a little bit after some rain. Some planted maize now due to late rains.
Jan: Grazing available, but little rain. Between Jan-May they took even their household water from the river, not from wells because of municipality water restrictions. Many realized now that it would be a very dry year.
Feb-Mar: Calves were dying of a previously unknown illness directly after birth. One had chickens that got sick at this time, but after buying medicine they recovered. Many gave up hope that there would be anything to harvest. From Mar-June they planted gardens but there was no water to irrigate. Some had problems with pests but were not able to afford pesticides.
Apr-May: Yields ranged from  1-3 bags of maize (80kg bags). At this point, they have very little reserve maize from the previous (wetter) year. Savings from last year helped a lot but if they get another bad year next year it will be very bad.

The activities that farmers pointed out as giving most benefit according to the effort required in terms of time and money were: using drought-tolerant seeds and ploughing with tractors. Few tractors are however available. Water harvesting and mulching are free of costs but both a lot of work.

Mokwakwaila community workshop, June 4, 2015

Below is a summary of the discussions and outcomes from the workshop. We appreciate the participation of all those that were present, both farmers and LDA staff!

All the farmers said that it was helpful to get the seasonal forecast information last year in Sept-Oct 2014. Many still ploughed even though the forecast said a dry year. They wanted to try their luck and hope for the best. With the information though they could better prepare for example by collecting maize stocks to feed their animals and some sold or culled unproductive animals. Some used drums to collect rainwater for irrigation of their gardens. However the rain events were few and the little they saved had to used for drinking water not irrigation. Some farmers used kraal manure to improve water holding capacity of the soil in their vegetable gardens. This was not specifically done because it was dry but rather it is for a long-term improvement of the soil. Some said that by the signs in nature they already knew early that it would be a dry year. They however also like to get the seasonal forecast information to confirm this information.

Activities performed during 2014-2015
14/33 planted drought resistant seeds
6/9 reduced herd
0/24 bought fodder (because of a communication problem about the subsidized fodder)
0/9 stored water for watering livestock
20/24 stored water for household use or vegetable gardens
26/33 mulched
2/9 have changed to indigenous cattle
29/33 ploughed early
9 /9 prepared for disease outbreaks in cattle
0/0 prepared for disease outbreaks in their crops

Timeline 2014-2015
Aug/Sept: We started worrying about the livestock. We had medicine already, we bought in June.
Oct: Some sold their animals. The body condition was already poor. The price was low. Some planted cowpeas. Some ploughed and planted maize.
Nov: We experienced the first rain and many ploughed. The grazing improved a little bit after some rain. But later in the month it was dry again.
Dec: Some planted groundnuts. Sometimes there was a shortage of drinking water. There were problems of wilting plants in the gardens because of dry periods. Most could not harvest anything.
Jan: Many realized it would be an exceptionally dry year. Those with livestock had no extra fodder. We took our cattle to faraway places, which was a strain for the cattle to walk up to 5 kms. Those with home gardens did not harvest fled crops (cowpea, maize, pumpkin) for seed to be used the following season and did not dry crop leaves for winter relish due to dry spells.
Feb-March: Many gave up hope that there would be any harvest. Most cattle died of lumpy skin disease. They died before we vaccinated them. Because we knew it was going to be dry, we did not vaccinate and the animals died. The small tributary close the community that they use for watering their livestock dried completely. Some that saved maize from last year’s good harvest had used up their reserve by February while some still had left in June. Some could not preserve enough through drying because there was not enough sun.
Some farmers planted spinach and mustard but did not harvest due to limited access of irrigation water. Most crops failed. Farmers got 0 to 25 kgs of maize after harvesting.

The activities that farmers pointed out as giving most benefit according to the effort required in terms of time and money were: using drought-tolerant seeds and ploughing with tractors. There can though be much stress waiting in queue for the tractors to be available. Water harvesting and mulching are both a lot of work.