Indigenous knowledge systems cues essential in agricultural management and tracking seasonality in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, South Africa

Magaya, Sinoxolo Magaya
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More than 10% of the South African rural population practice subsistence farming to supplement food sources and secure livelihoods. Therefore, subsistence farming is critical for food security, particularly for rural communities in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape Provinces in South Africa. Community members in the rural areas within these provinces, including Umzimkulu and Lusiksiki, produce various crops to ensure food availability accessibility for their households. Climate change stressors undermine the efforts to produce food in most rural areas across the globe, more so in rural subsistence farming. However, community members in these areas are not passive actors. They develop and employ pragmatic adaptive strategies using several environmental variables to infer weather forecasts and facilitate adaptation methods. The indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) cues are based on observing the sequence of recurring, and mostly seasonal plant or animal life events. Therefore, species phenology is a significant part of traditional weather forecasting. The study used interviews to investigate the use of IKS cues important in agricultural management in Umzimkulu, KwaZulu-Natal and Lusikisiki, Eastern Cape, South Africa. The results indicates that community members in Umzimkulu and Lusikisiki use several phenological, meteorological and astronomical cues that are essential in short to medium-term weather forecasting. These include peach tree flowering to indicate spring onset, moon with a hollow to indicate windy conditions on a certain day and croaking of frogs to signal oncoming rainfall. People in these communities also note that the reliability and abundance of indicator species are decreasing. This indicates that IKS cues based in phenology are threatened. Meanwhile, the reliability of meteorology based indicators has not changed but is less significant for agricultural activities. Meteorology indicators are mostly used for short-term (hourly-daily) weather forecasting, thus do not afford farmers enough time to implement significant adaptation methods or exploit the oncoming weather conditions. Therefore, these indicators are less relevant iii for the growing season preparedness. Changes in the reliability of IKS cues can have detrimental impacts on food production in rural areas.
A dissertation submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science to the Faculty of Science, School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2021