Overview Objectives

Increasing the income of smallholder wool producers in South Africa’s Eastern Cape has been a focus on national and provincial efforts. This has included wool and sheep management and wool classing, resulting in increased incomes. The main constraint to continued growth is pasture quantity and quality. Pastures are generally small do not support animal production as well as in similar conditions elsewhere. The introduction of legumes adapted to such conditions, of rhizobia and improved management strategies that are equitably implemented at the communal level will address this remaining production barrier. Both native and non-native legumes will be evaluated, including for potential application in combating salinity in Australia.

Progress Reports (Year 1, 2, 3 etc)

We have raised the profile of forage management for animal feed amongst the communities through workshops and meetings, both in the community lands, and on nearby Department of Agriculture Research Stations. In six communities in the target regions of the Eastern Cape we have arrangements in place for arable lands to be set aside for experiments, fenced and prepared for legume introduction experiments. We have identified two MSc students from the community backgrounds, enrolled them at local Universities, and defined their research projects around some key aspects of legume ecology. We have put in place a strong sociology team that encompasses representatives of the local communities, end-user and next user groups. The sociology group has met with the target communities on 12 separate occasions in this reporting period.
At three community sites we have sown (in Autumn 2007) annual legumes and (in Spring 2007) sub-tropical legumes selected on the basis of three small plot experiments sown on nearby Research Stations in Spring 2006. Despite severe winter conditions and some uncontrolled grazing events, several species in the autumn sowings have flourished and are setting appreciable quantities of seed. Scientific reports on the ECCAL project have been presented to the International Nitrogen fixation Conference in Capetown in January 2007, and the South African Grasslands Society meeting at Grahamstown, July 2007. The opportunity to use the successful legumes in neighbouring veld rangeland is being openly discussed.
At three Research Stations we have sown a wide range of sub-tropical and temperate forage legumes, with and without inoculation with rhizobium, and applications of phosphorus, to gain a more comprehensive understanding of legume response to the soils and climate. In Australia, we have transitioned 10 new legume species collected in RSA through Bio-security Australia, and WAQIS, have conducted controlled rhizobium experiments with them, and arranged seed increase activities for the most promising five species through DAFWA. A botanical survey in the target regions has revealed the complete absence of forage legumes in the grazing lands. These lands (veld) are rangelands dominated by relatively low quality perennial grass species, which are nitrogen limited, and provide very little feed in the critical winter months. The logistics for a major seed and rhizobium collecting expedition for the project have been planned, and will be undertaken in November 2007.

The project aims to increase household livelihoods from livestock production in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Livestock (and wool) production in this region is currently based upon summer growing perennial grasses of varying quality, which deteriorate rapidly in autumn, and senesce in winter. The project will increase animal productivity by developing legume pasture species capable of growing in the cool months and alleviating the autumn / winter feed gap currently limiting sheep / wool production. The first challenge to the project has been to engage rural communities who wish to participate in the forage improvement research. This has been achieved and we are working with six communities spread across the former Ciskei / Transkei regions. The second challenge has been to determine the types of legumes that will be suited to the climatic and soil constraints of the region. Because the climate transitions the classic temperate and sub-tropical definition, we have found it necessary to investigate a wide range of species sown both within, and outside, their normal growing conditions. From October 2006 until May 2008 we have sown both sub-tropical and temperate legumes in comparison trials established in autumn and again in spring. We have also compared effects of inoculation with rhizobium and application of phosphate fertiliser. These trials have been sown within each community, as well as at three Department of Agriculture Research Stations that service the region.
Despite a very dry winter of 2007, establishment of legumes at most of the sites has been satisfactory, and at some sites, excellent (see attached photos). Interestingly, some annual legumes of Mediterranean origin have ‘perenniated’ through relatively mild summers in 2006/07, and 2007/08. As well, the seeds and inoculant of some sub-tropical legumes which failed to germinate in autumn 2007 because of drought, have survived to grow through the summer. Specifically, two species of Ornithopus (serradella), two species of Trifolium (clovers) and Biserrula pelecinus, which are hard seeded annual legumes from the Mediterranean basin, as well as Lotus, Lespedeza, Coronilla varia and Desmodium subsericeum, which are temperate perennial legumes, have emerged as strong candidates for establishment in the abandoned arable lands of the EC province. This data has been collected from approximately 12 establishment trials at 3 Research Stations and within 6 communities living in the abandoned arable lands.
Interestingly, the “hard-seed” of some of the annual legumes has broken down over the moist summer months to be available for germination in the second autumn. An MSc study by an ECDA employee (Ms Unathi Gulwa) has been initiated to follow the dynamics of hard-seed breakdown and general seed ecology on the basis of these observations. The project knowledge base has moved from substantial uncertainty as to which (if any) plants might be adapted to the soils and climate, to a position of confidence of the performance of some several Mediterranean and sub-tropical species. An important component of the success of the project to date has been the input of an Australian small seeds farmer, Mr Neil Ballard, who has travelled to the Eastern Cape as part of the project team to assist in developing methods and machinery with which to establish the pastures in the community fields.
The community participants have, in the main, shown strong interest in the forage evaluation and have been actively engaged in establishing and monitoring the success of species. The expectations of the communities are being captured in video and survey interviews (attached). The sociological aspects of the project are being managed by Murdoch University graduate Mr John Davis and ECDA scientist Mrs Nobuntu Mapeyi.
In the next 12 months of the project we expect to monitor forage production and species reproduction, especially under some controlled grazing pressure. In the final year we will also establish some larger (several hectare) sowings with which to assess animal performance when grazed on mixed swards containing the introduced forage species.

The project has two parallel aims: in the Eastern Cape of South Africa we aim to increase household livelihoods from livestock production by provision of improved autumn and winter forage based upon introduced legumes and rhizobium. Livestock (and wool) production in this region is currently based upon summer growing perennial grasses of varying quality, which deteriorate rapidly in autumn, and senesce in winter. The project will increase animal productivity by developing legume pasture species capable of growing in the cool months and alleviating the autumn / winter feed gap currently limiting sheep / wool production. The second aim is to identify and collect forage legumes and their root-nodule bacteria that might play a role in adapting agriculture in Southern Australia to a drying climate. A suite of legumes from the fringes of the Kalahari desert have been identified and are in the process of being evaluated at Murdoch University and DAFWA, mainly in student projects. Several talks and posters on this activity were presented at the International Nitrogen Fixation Conference in Montana, USA, June 13-19 2009.
In South Africa:
Six village communities have been chosen to host the experimental work, as well as the Dohne, Tsolo and Mpofu Research Stations of the ECDA. Legume sowings into the community owned grasslands through 2007, 2008 and 2009 have identified that the climate restricts sub-tropical legume performance in regions south of the Kye river, and also in the northern mountainous regions (e.g. at Alan Waters, Rockcliffe, Roxeni and Lushington). In these regions the annual winter growing legues from the Mediterranean basin have been successful. However, north east of the Kye river the climate softens, and in these communities both the Mediterranean and sub-tropical legumes have been successful (e.g. at Dudemashe and Nyandeni).
Within the southern communities, the harsh winters of 2007 and 2008 have allowed some separation of adapted species, and the most successful were sown as mixtures in 2009. Under limited grazing lucerne has been successful, although this is at the cost of production from the summer grasses, which share the same growth cycle and appear to compete for moisture. As reported last year, two species of Ornithopus (serradella), two species of Trifolium (clovers) and Biserrula pelecinus, which are hard seeded annual legumes from the Mediterranean basin have emerged as strong candidates for establishment in the abandoned arable lands of the EC province. In the milder climates, the perennial species Lotus, Desmodium, Lotononis and Lespedeza can be added to the list of adapted species. This data has been collected from approximately 14 establishment trials at 3 Research Stations and within 6 communities living in the abandoned arable lands.
Significant undertakings in 2009 included:
the establishment of a 22 ha site on Dudamashe for the purpose of generating animal performance data
undertaking a training workshop in small seed sowing techniques in March
identification of potassium and molybdenum at critically low levels at some sites, and the requirement to alleviate this for optimum nitrogen fixation
new sowings of selected legume mixes at Roxeni and Rockcliffe
because hard-seed breakdown and general seed ecology will be crucial to the success of species, Mr Gideon Jordaan has submitted a PhD study proposal into these aspects.
Perth seed ecologist Dr Brad Nutt visited the project in July 2008 to offer support to Mr Jordaan, and to present findings to the Grasslands Society of SA (GSSA).
a visit to Perth and regional wheatbelt centres by members of the ECCAL team was hosted in September 2008. The ECCAL team was accompanied by the Research and Cropping Directors of Dohne Research Station (Mr Leonard, Mrs Tembakasi). This is an indication of the importance that the ECDA attach to this program.
An unanticipated development from the project has been the interest shown in the use of annual legumes in the maize cropping programs (and hence the visit by senior staff of the ECDA to Perth and regional WA). Experiments were initiated in 2009 on Dohne Research Station by the maize agronomists to evaluate ways in which the annual legumes can be used to provide an N input through the winter into the summer growing maize crop. In parallel, the Gates Foundation (BMGF) has launched a program for the introduction of legumes into sub-Saharan Africa and the potential synergies between this initiative (N2FixAfrica) and ECCAL are being explored. A visit to Canberra by Dr Prem Warrior and Prof John Howieson (BMGF) was hosted by ACIAR in April 2009, where talks on possible co-investment were undertaken.
In Perth:
The fynbos genera Lotononis, Lebeckia and Lessertia have been identified as key genera within which well adapted forage species are found. Seed and rhizobium have been collected from major expeditions in 2007 and 2008. The root nodule bacteria from many of these species are unique, including several from the beta proteobacteriacea (see 2009 publications and posters in appendix). Lotononis bainesii and Lotononis angolensis have been established at several sites in the WA wheatbelt by our DAFWA collaborators and have been widely successful. An agronomic limitation (small seed size) has been identified in Lotononis and a small breeding and mutation program has commenced at Murdoch University to overcome this. Seed increase of the second set of likely candidate species for serious evaluation in southern Australia was completed in January 2009, and a second level of seed increase is underway this winter. Agronomic trials will commence with Lebeckia ambigua and Lebeckia sepiaria in 2010 and funding agencies are being canvassed to provide a research officer in legume breeding and agronomy to assist the program. The inoculant for the lebeckia will be a strain of burkholderia and we need to investigate the implications of manufacturing an organism that is from the beta sub family of nodule bacteria.

The autumn of 2010 saw two new communities join the ECCAL program, a new experimental farm sowing at Bathurst on a very sandy soil, as well as the cropping scientists at Dohne (Stutterheim) introducing some of the more successful pasture legumes into their maize cropping trials. Since 2007 we have sown 23 experimental demonstrations at 8 communities and on 3 experimental farms, as well as conducting training courses on sowing and inoculation of pasture legume seeds. Grazing of the legumes has begun at the 10ha site of Dudamashe and experimental data has been accumulated for legume biomass, persistence and N fixation at Lushington and Dudamashe. Data will be collected on companion grass response to legumes in 2011. We have three students enrolled in PhD and Masters programs at Universities in RSA studying aspects of soil nutrition and microbiology, and legume hard seed dynamics. An extension to the program has been requested for the calendar year of 2011.
We have now 3 seasons of observations from legume sowings and it is evident that several annual and perennial legumes are well adapted to both the edaphic conditions and the grazing management. Of the perennial species, Lespedeza cuneata has persisted and flourished at several sites under heavy grazing (see below), and through seasons of well below average rainfall. This is a summer growing perennial in the Eastern Cape, but one which extends the period of green feed into early winter. Similarly, Desmodium subsericeum and Lotononis bainesii have shown excellent adaptation as summer growing perennials. Of the annuals, biserrula, arrowleaf clover and both pink and yellow serradella have shown the capacity to persist and regenerate under local conditions

ECCAL has been extended for 18 months until June 2013 - with key activities to be:
Measurement of animal impacts utilising a 10 ha sowing at Dudumashe, establishment of seed increase sites in communities with irrigation capacity, measurement of N fixation by the legumes and N transfer to the grasses, quantification of hard seed breakdown of the legumes in the moist conditions and selection of appropriate genotypes for the Eastern Cape.
Animal benefits: A Bryan King-led evaluation of animal performance on the improved veld is underway at Dudumashe. A smaller activity is also underway on 2 ha at Dohne. Data from last season showed a doubling of sheep live weight (24 kg to 50 kg) as a result of a 10 week period grazing the improved veld at Dohne, relative to weight loss of 1-2 kg per head on the unimproved veld. The sheep on the legumes for 10 weeks also cut an extra 1 kg of wool per head than the control group. This is an outstanding result which vindicates the focus on legume introduction to the veld for autumn and winter feed. Other ways to add value to the animal study are being sought - such as the diet selection technique using carbon isotope fractionation developed at CSIRO (Floreat).
New sowings: 10 ha of legumes have been established at Kubledana where the community has taken the responsibility for fencing the field. Grazing studies will commence at the Kubledana sowing in winter 2012.Two ha. have been established at Roxeni. A range of Biserrula genotypes has been established at Dudumashe to evaluate genetic differences in hard seed breakdown. A rhizobium comparison trial has been established to evaluate whether the Australian clover strain WSM1325 should replace the South African trifolium strain in local commercial production. A further large site suitable for animal benefit studies in the Transkei has been identified and will be inspected for suitability on the next visit.
Community Seed increase: Community-based seed increase sites have been selected and prepared near Lushington (1 ha), Allen Waters (1 ha) and Roxeni (1.5 ha). These sites are for local production of the commercially unavailable sub-tropical species Lotononis bainesii and Desmodium subsericeum (to be in October 2012).

Mapping of land-use using GIS: A Dohne-based program has commenced to map the land-use and characteristics surrounding the communities that ECCAL is working with. Historical data has been accessed also. The purpose of this is to develop evaluation tools that will enable us to identify drivers of change and to compare outputs from the improved lands relative to unimproved lands as the forage planting program extends. Sociologist John Davis will again be engaged to conduct interviews in association with the remote sensing data, to understand the drivers of clearing and subsequent changes to the use of the arable lands.

Capacity development: Two postgraduate students are enrolled, the last being Ms Unathi Gulwa, who will research the Nitrogen transfer from Trifoliums and Lespedeza to grasses at 2 sites in an MSc. This is a major aim of the extension period. John Davis will resume support of the sociology at Dohne (Mrs Nobuntu Mapeyi) at the back end of 2012. Mr Zolani Mikile, from Dohne and enrolled in a PhD at Rhodes, has been invited to a Crawford Fund sponsored Master Class run by Murdoch University CRS to improve techniques in working with rhizobium.

The Botswanans have regularly approached us to assist in developing an ACIAR proposal based around forage legumes in mixed animal- cropping systems. We are willing to do this but have no clear route forward as it falls between ECCAL and SIMLESA. Similarly, the Director of the ARC Cropping Program based in Pretoria would like to explore the use of annual forage legumes in cropping systems in the highlands of the Eastern Cape, as we have trialled on Dohne. Again, this falls between ECCAL and SIMLESA and while this current project can offer guidance, it is beyond the scope of the project to actively assist.

Outstanding results
There has been outstanding impact of forage legumes growing in the winter in the Eastern cape, when the C4 grasses have senesced, causing an acute feed shortage.

Australian benefit
Lebeckia ambigua This perennial legume collected from RSA is adapted to very infertile sandy soils, and has now been grazed successfully through the summer of 2011 and we are moving to development of three major evaluation sites in wheatbelt WA (with potential funding to come from MLA and AWI). Rhizobial ecology studies have identified and overcome challenges to developing a rhizobial inoculant for lebeckia (through funding from ARC). I expect the species and its unique nodule bacteria to now become a commercial reality and anticipate commercialisation of the first cv in 2014/15.

Project ID
Project Country
Inactive project countries
Commissioned Organisation
Murdoch University, Australia
Project Leader
Professor John Howieson
08 9360 2231
08 9360 6486
Collaborating Institutions
Agricultural Research Council, South Africa
Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia, Australia
Eastern Cape Department of Agriculture, South Africa
National Wool Growers' Association of South Africa, South Africa
Project Budget
Start Date
Finish Date
Extension Start Date
Extension Finish Date
ACIAR Research Program Manager
Dr Peter Horne