CaseStudy 2: CosmasXaba investigateslocalbest practice
optionsinConservation Agriculture
Authors: Mazwi Dlamini and Erna Kruger
Mahlathini Development Foundation. 2 Forresters Lane Pietermaritzburg, 3201. Cell: (+27)828732289
Figure 1: Mr Xaba standing by his maize and bean intercrop trial
Mr Cosmas Dumezweni Xaba (50) is a family man with a wife, seven children and one
grandchild. He retired from the mines in 2008 to come and farm, growing crops and rearing
livestock. He strongly believes in doing things for the well-being of his family. He is a pastor
at a local church and is also quite influential in local agricultural community development
MrXaba owns 10 cattle and 53 sheep and uses 3hectares to grow most of his food, which
include spinach, potatoes, beans as well as maize. He sells access produce locally and
provides temporary employment to supportthe efforts of his family members. He is
supported in these efforts by a number of stakeholders including the Department of
Agriculture, KWANALU and Lima RDF, anNGO that supports smallholders with advice and
through a revolving loan fund, which supports his maize, broiler and potato production
efforts. His work with KWANALU led to his cooperative being awarded a 1-row animal-
drawn knapic planter through theDRDLR LandCare programme. His crop production and
selling enterprises has allowed himto buy a bakkie that he is now using to deliver orders
around the area. In the2015/2016 season,for example, he had a turnover of R8050 from his
The need for financial capital for Mr Xaba’s enterprises is significant, which led him to join a
village level savings group initiated by Mahlathini Development Foundation and Strategic
Action (a micro finance collaboration). The group was established in March 2017 and will be
used as a financial institution for his enterprises. He recently took a loan from the group in
attempts to source a maize thresher that will help him to reduce hours of work shelling maize
Figure 2: Left, an electric maize thresher lent from the ARC with a hut full of maize in the
background. Right, maize harvested waiting to be threshed.
He is currently the chairperson of a farmer association through KWANALU and a local
facilitator for the Grain SAFarmer Innovation Programme (FIP) for smallholders
implemented in Madzikane in collaboration with KWANALU.
Mr Xaba has been exposed to practices such as minimum tillage,improved seeds and a range
of agro-chemicals through collaborative work with PANNAR. He has tried minimum tillage
for a couple of years and has witnessed increased land production potential and efficient use
of inputs, saving both labor and money. However, he was not familiar with theother CA
principles and practices,such asincreased diversity (e.g. throughintercropping) and
permanent organic soil cover. He was eager to try this out with various planting methods
and implements to compare it with his normal mono-cropping practice.
Mr Xaba’s Conservation Agriculture Trial
Mr Xaba’s 400m² plot was planted on 22ndNovember 2016 using Sahara yellow maize seed,
gadra beans and cowpea seed varieties, plantedas tramline intercrops; thus 2 rows maize,
two rows legume. The learning group members worked together to lay out the plot, add lime
and fertilizer and plant the basins and rows. This process was then continued for the other
members of the group when they planted their own trials. Crop germination was not great,
due to crows eating planted seeds. Subsequent growth was however good.
Figure 3: Mr Xaba's trial planting, 22nd November 2016
Figure 4: Mr Xaba's maize and bean intercrop
On the 1stof February 2017 the learning group gathered again at Mr Xaba’s field for a second
round of planting trials. They wanted toexperiment with late season planting of beans to
compare that with early season planting and with planting of cover crops. They planted the
following three trial plots: 1) monocrop beans, 2) intercropping beans and a summer cover
crop mix (sunflower, sunn hemp and millet) and 3) summer cover crops (scc) only
Figure 5: Late season bean planting; Mr Xaba is using a hand pushed Haraka planter for the
scc seed (on the left) while the ladies are planting beans using hand hoes (on the right of the
picture). The maize in the background of the picture belongs to another cooperative member.
Figure 6: Left: A view of the bean and scc intercrop plot around 6 weeks after planting and
Right: the scc plot maturing towards the end of the season.
Crop Yields
Mr Xaba realized a somewhat low maize yield of 1,3 t/ha for his first year CA trial plot which
has been planted with hand held planters. Damage by crows after planting was substantial
on this plot that also had poor emergence of 53%. His maize CA plot planted with a tractor-
drawn 2-row no-till planter had good germination and yielded 3,6 t/ha. He sold his surplus
maize locally in the village and made an income of around R2400.
Agriculture has an important role to play in rural livelihoods for food security and income
generation, but many challenges still exist despite the presence of support organizations.
Stakeholder platforms for collaborative efforts and shared learning have a better chance at
strengthening the smallholder sector and communities shouldbe at the centre of dialogue
and decisions taken as they continue to research new options to strengthen their rural
The Grain SA FIP will continue to involve more smallholders in the area after having
witnessed the positive outcomes of crops grown under CA. Awareness events, such as
farmers’ days, are a great medium for sharing and informing people about CA and its
benefits. Innovative farmers, such as Mr Xaba, supported by learning groups and concerted
collaborative efforts from interested and caring stakeholders incommunities, have a big role
to play in improving smallholder agriculture.