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I visited a farmer recently, who I am very fond of, like most of the farmers I work with. We did not jump straight into business; first we discussed politics, culture, education and such other controversial topics. I enjoy discussing these (tactfully) as it gives me an outside glimpse into someone else’s way of thinking. This then helps me to process many issues that society struggles with nowadays.  In our discussion on politics, I asked what he thinks of our current grant system. He told me that he does not support the system except for the old age grant. He went on to say that the best way to elevate poverty is to use the funds to create employment and empower young people to work towards contributing to the economy. In his own words he said, “If you give people money they have not worked for; they will not see the value and waste it away. Rather empower people with jobs so that they can earn their own money and use it responsibly. In this way we will move towards balancing our economy and improve the country’s wealth”. This is when I decided to use his words against him. I said, “If you are of that opinion, then why is it so difficult for farmers to understand that applying too much fertiliser on soil is not the answer?” He looked at me like I was crazy because he did not understand the conundrum.  I then went on to explain to him using his analogy that the young people he is talking about are the soil organisms, jobs are soil carbon, money is the nutrients in the soil. The economy would then be your soil and the government is him, the farmer.

If farmers could challenge themselves and stop applying excessive nutrients in the form of fertiliser, especially N, and rather focus on building soil carbon, that would force the soil organisms to start working (mineralise organic matter) for their own nutrients. In the process they will release nutrients for the plant. Wouldn’t this be a better and more profitable system to manage? Soil organisms remain lazy and do not see the need to work for their nutrients when there is an abundance of external supply of nutrients. This means they do not have to work for anything in order to survive. Take away those nutrients and then they will get back to work!

The point that I am trying to get across with this blog is that you are the government of your soil.  Can you truly say, with pride, that you are implementing the best practices that will see you elected in the next election without the economy crashing?

Portia Phohlo

Portia is a Trace and Save researcher and has been part of the team that works on the Woodlands Dairy sustainability project for the past 4 years. She studied B.Sc in Agriculture where she majored in crop and soil science at the University of Fort Hare. She went on to do her honors and master’s degree in soil science at the University of the Free State. She is very passionate about soil health and soil microbiology and believes that applying soil health principles will rehabilitate degraded soils.

In her free time, Portia loves catching up on House of Cards and The Walking Dead series. The latter she says she finds it fascinating how a dead decomposed organic material can still be conscious, this actually breaks all rules of microbiology according to her. When she’s not watching that, she enjoys watching motivational videos from Ted, especially ones by her idols Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Brene Brown.
Contact Portia on any of her social media platforms or alternatively email her at
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Portia Phohlo

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