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New Maize Helps Create Self-Sustainable Farms - 2002-08-24

Agriculture is expected to be one of the key issues at the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development, especially the question of how to create self-sustainable farms.

Elias Sibiya is a tall, rail-thin man. He stands in his dirt yard not far from the border of South Africa's Kruger National Park and feeds maize to his chickens.

In a small field on a nearby hillside, Mr. Sibiya is making history. Just last May he became the first, black South African farmer to plant a new sort of what is called high quality protein maize. "I chose this kind of maize because I want to help the orphans, because I see children suffering," he said. "They do not have mothers. They do not have anything. Now that I know about this maize, I think this maize can help them."

Mr. Sibiya is growing a crop that could help improve the health of South African children. Their normal maize-based diet lacks essential amino acids. Because of this, millions of children are malnourished to one degree or another. Some scientists see the production of quality protein maize, as a solution to the problem.

Brian Beck is an agronomist. He works for EcoLink, a non-governmental organization that educates and trains South African farmers to be independent and self-sustaining. "Generally the protein level of the diets in poor communities is low and if they can take in the amino acids with their maize, then nutrition will be greatly enhanced and symptoms of malnutrition will disappear," said Brian Beck.

Over the last four years Brian Beck has worked with Elias Sibiya demonstrating the importance of irrigation, fertilization and seed selection on the success of his maize crop.

As Mr. Sibiya turns the rich, dark soil with a hoe, he talks enthusiastically about how the experience has changed things on his farm for the better.

Two vital elements of his success are the dam that EcoLink helped him build and the water pump provided by the local government.

The key to agricultural sustainability in southern Africa is access to water. Now that he has a dam and a pump to support his crop of maize, Mr. Sibiya can also grow vegetables for his own use year round. He also has become less dependent on outside resources.

He fertilizes with cow manure. And it will cost him far less next season to replant his crop than it will cost other black farmers. That's because part of this year's quality protein maize harvest can be used to plant next year's crop so he does not have to purchase new seeds every season.

As they walk through his field, Brian Beck praises the Sibiya maize crop. "It is a sustainable system," he says. "He's got all the inputs from his own farm, with the exception of diesel fuel and grease for the engine."

When Elias Sibiya harvests his first crop of high quality protein maize he will keep some of the seeds to plant next season. He will sell the rest to EcoLink who then plans to distribute it to local AIDS orphans.