A land suitability evaluation for improved subsistence agriculture using GIS : the case study of Nkwezela, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
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Rural farmers in the Nkwezela Area, with an average family size of 10 people, face a number of problems. The crops that are predominantly cultivated in the area, for subsistence (maize, dry beans, sorghum, potatoes, cabbages and turnips) have very low yields compared to the potential yield of the land. Natural resources in the area are increasingly deteriorating. In addition, arable land has shown remarkable signs of soil erosion that may lead to loss of soil fertility. This study evaluates the current land suitability for subsistence agriculture in Nkwezela based on climatic, soil, topographic and crop requirement data collected from different sources. The spatial parameters of the land resources were digitally encoded into a GIS database to create thematic layers of the land resources which was then compared to the crop requirement data of the selected crops grown in Nkwezela namely, maize, sorghum, dry beans, potatoes, cabbages and turnips. A GIS was used to overlay the thematic layers of the resources to select areas that satisfied the crop requirements of the selected crops. The results of the analysis of the land evaluation in the study area showed that the very hot summers, very cold winters together with the high clay content in the soils are the two limiting factors in Nkwezela. The land suitability maps indicate that sorghum is highly suitable in the area with dry beans and maize being relatively suitable. Cabbages are the least the least adapted crop with potatoes and turnips being not suitable due to the high temperatures during the growing season and the very cold winters. In conclusion Nkwezela is in a high rainfall area that is suitable for subsistence agriculture where warm season crops like dry beans, maize and sorghum are used for daily consumption by the community and can be cultivated in a sustainable manner. In addition the correct farming methods, procedures, liming and fertiliser requirements must be implemented, adhered to and maintained in order to improve crop yields in a sustainable manner and to encourage subsistence agriculture by the community.