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University of KwaZulu-Natal (2005)

Assessment of agro-ecosystem sustainability across varying scales in South Africa.

Walker, Nicholas James

Titre : Assessment of agro-ecosystem sustainability across varying scales in South Africa.

Auteur : Walker, Nicholas James.

Université de soutenance : University of KwaZulu-Natal

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) 2005

Résumé partiel
Maize production plays an important socio-economic role in rural communities of the Highveld region of South Africa, yet it is becoming increasingly difficult to produce maize economically with current agricultural policy conditions and existing management systems. This has direct socio-economic impacts for both commercial farmer and small-scale farmer. Sustainable commercial maize production is not only a question of yields, but also of protection of the environmental resource base, social welfare, and the livelihoods of farmers per se as well as the surrounding rural and urban communities. Sustainability for the small-scale farmer, on the other hand raises questions of equity, economic viability and household food security. Therefore, information is required to ascertain whether an existing agro-ecosystem can be identified as sustainable, and what facets of that system make it sustainable or unsustainable. To begin to answer these key questions it is important to state, and to some extent attempt to standardise, the definitions of agricultural sustainability. Agro-ecosystem sustainability with regard to maize production was assessed at the regional scale of the Highveld of South Africa as well as at, the Quaternary Catchment scale and the smallholder farm scale. Von Wiren-Lehr’s (2001) goal orientated system was considered an appropriate and practical system by which agro-ecosystem sustainability across a range of scales could be investigated. At the regional scale, optimum management strategies for each of the 497 Quaternary Catchments in the Highveld region were devised, based on present climatic conditions and using an index which was based on mean yields and yield variability. Economic returns and their impact on sustainability were then also assessed under plausible future climate scenarios. At the Quaternary Catchment scales optimum management strategies were ascertained by using a sustainability index. These strategies were then modelled under present and plausible future climate scenarios.

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