The 2023 calendar year is now behind us, and the euphoria of winning the Rugby World Cup is a distant memory. In the context of some of the challenges that we have experienced in recent years, 2023 was a significant improvement, with a sense of some normality returning. I would like to commend SASRI staff on their continuing resilience, commitment, delivery and the progress made in various research projects during the difficult times that the industry has been experiencing.
Many climate experts are warning that this summer will be one of the hottest and driest on record, which could have a significant impact, particularly on the agriculture sector. Forecasts for the 2023/24 El Niño have been in place since the latter half of the southern hemisphere summer and northern hemisphere winter and, while uncertainties remain about the event’s intensity, a substantial majority of forecast models are predicting an El Niño occurrence. SASRI will continue to provide updates to the industry as the predictions become firmer.
Engaging with and encouraging adoption of technology by small-scale growers is by no means unique to our industry. SASRI has been actively addressing this. During the second half of 2023, under the guidance of a consultant social scientist, empowering participatory research methodologies have been customised for engaging with small-scale sugarcane grower communities. The goal of the interactions is to provide growers with a safe space to express their views on their farming practices and preferences so that SASRI can better tailor technologies to the needs expressed directly by small-scale growers. A further important objective of the participatory research is to facilitate social learning and confidence building amongst peer farmers within the same community.
The final four of the first round of community engagements were recently completed (Pongola, Makhathini, Malelane, and Komatipoort), bringing the total number of engagements to eleven. The qualitative data collected during the eleven engagements are currently being analysed using a thematic analysis technique frequently used in social science research. The first of the eleven planned feedback sessions commenced in the Midlands during September 2023 and the consultant social scientist will continue to guide SASRI in devising the best approach for these knowledge exchange events with the small-scale grower communities.
Unfortunately, longhorn beetle larvae were discovered on one of the previously infested farms in Entumeni in August 2023. This occurred following a two-year period with no sightings of adult beetles, larvae, or any signs of damage to sugarcane within the containment area. Subsequent to the identification of longhorn beetle larvae in the fields, an extensive survey was conducted, covering 385 hectares on this and neighbouring farms. The survey revealed a total of four infested fields spanning an area of 12.5 hectares, all located on the same farm, and representing new fields not previously infested in 2016. As a result, eradication orders have been issued in adherence to the regulations governing the control of longhorn beetle. More recently, the pest has also been found on farms in the Melmoth region, an area some considerable distance from Entumeni.