The role of water conservation strategies and benchmark ecotopes for increasing yields in South Africa’s semi-arid croplands
Recently published results regarding South Africa’s cropping potential show that about one third of the arable land is of low potential, located mainly in semi-arid areas, with the main problem being water shortage. This is therefore an appropriate time to review priorities and procedures, for selecting benchmark ecotopes to represent marginal areas, and for research needs with regard to water conservation strategies to mitigate the problems of low yields. Relevant international principles encapsulated in the words agro-ecology, sustainability and socio-economic conditions, are discussed. Relevant new technologies are described, namely: digital soil mapping that will facilitate the identification of benchmark ecotopes; a stochastic procedure to predict rainfall intensity data from daily rainfall that will facilitate runoff predictions; a crop yield cumulative probability procedure that enables sustainability to be described quantitatively. As a case study, results from a successful field experiment using the infield rainwater harvesting production technique on benchmark ecotopes in a semiarid area, inhabited by subsistence farmers, are presented. The objectives of the study, procedures used and the method of expressing the results are recommended as guidelines for contributing towards mitigating the problem of low crop productivity across a large portion of the arable area in South Africa.
Keywords: water conservation, benchmark ecotopes, semi-arid areas, subsistence farmers, infield rainwater harvesting