Soil Testing

Soil Weight

Soil Structure

MDI – What do we do?

Magaliesburg Development Initiative (MDI) was created to help community members in rural Magaliesburg to develop their skills and social organisations for the benefit of the people of the area. 

The first small steps of social interaction with roleplayers and stakeholders in the area have developed into a formal Magaliesburg Stakeholder Forum that incorporates provincial and local officials and leaders. Forum members meet at the Nedbank Hub based in the Herformde Kerk Hall where they agree on how to collaborate with, and promote, the Nedbank Proud of My Town (PoMT) initiatives that MDI (represented by Ryan Marsden) brings to the community. This includes:

Rural Fire Training

Agriculture Days

Soil Rectification 

Crop Selection

The success of our work in Magaliesburg has led to MDI’S involvement in training for many micro-scale agricultural projects identified by local community activation coordinators in 7 provinces. The prime focus of our work has been on training women and youth in agricultural skills applicable to small sites in townships and informal settlements. Much of our work has been focussed on food production techniques at ECD’s and schools. 

The work we have done has been expanded to assistance being provided on request to social organisations such as the rehab centre in Kanyamazane near Mmombela in Mpumalanga. There are currently many other requests for training assistance and support that MDI is not sufficiently funded to provide, even though they could benefit many poverty-stricken people in various areas across the country. These include, inter alia:

School Open Days

Local Crime Prevention

Working with School Governing Bodies

Festival of Specialization

Why does MDI do soil testing?

Soil Science and Social Upliftment may sound an unlikely combination of issues, but after years of experience working to address the alleviation of poverty through successful small-scale farming in South Africa’s rural urban settlements, MDI has identified soil science as a very critical factor. Soil quality even impacts on the backyard gardener trying to grow a few vegetables for home use. In townships and informal settlements, women have very little chance of being rewarded with a decent crop to feed their families or make a few rand. Why is this so?

Over many years of human settlement fertile farming land has been damaged and degraded to a point where weeds, human waste, deteriorating rubbish and all manner of pests have reduced the nutritional content of soil that plants need to grow. This renders most women unable to grow food for their families at a time when retail food costs are generally beyond the reach of the poor and unemployed. Additionally, urban populations have seldom learned basic gardening skills, never mind how to farm when they are able to access suitable land. In recent years social upliftment initiatives have sought to bypass this issue by teaching communities basic gardening skills and alternative methods to grow food without conventional gardens. How have they done this?

Initially various food production initiatives backed by CSI-funding worked with communities to plant seedlings in containers and tyres. Tyres seemed suitable as a way of re-purposing old tyres but because of the physical limitations of tyres, most tyre initiatives had limited success in their first year. Chemical contamination and soil impoverishment did not lead to good crops thereafter, which left people frustrated and the tyres unused. The Nedbank Proud of My Town (PoMT) initiative, however, provided quality, locally sourced gardening/farming materials and MDI taught communities how to erect and equip shade-net greenhouses for long term use. We also trained community members in how to use those greenhouses to produce quality crops. PoMT also funded MDI to provide training in basic planting skills to school children, ECD school principals, NGO’s and NPO’s. MDI also trained communities to use enriched soils for seedlings and showed them how to use fertilizers safely. In a further developmental stage, community organisations and individuals have been provided with packs of seasonal seeds and appropriate types and quantities of fertilizers. Support has been provided whenever requested and the agricultural skills training project, funded by Nedbank PoMT, has expanded into seven of the nine provinces. 

A prime lesson learned from this social activation and upliftment exercise over a period of years has been that sustainable, successful community farming cannot be sustained without scientifically-based soil preparation before crops are sown. This entails soil profiling to establish ground’s suitability for preferred crops suited to local climatic conditions as well as the skills and markets of emerging farmers. As a collateral issue, emerging farmers need training in crop selection, planning, organisation, business management and financial matters. Hence, the opening statement that Soil Science and Social Upliftment are integrally linked. You might ask what MDI is doing to improve this situation?

While simultaneously undergoing the FERTASA qualification in soil and fertilizer science, we have linked with OBARO, the local farmers’ supply business in Magaliesburg, to assist community farmers and agricultural schools to profile their soils before planting. We have taken samples, developed a profile of previous use of the land and submitted the samples and profiles to specialist laboratories for analysis of the elements present in the soil. On the basis of those scientific reports, we identify the steps needed to bring the soil to a standard suitable for the crops that the farmers wish to grow. This may include:

Other issues related to soil testing and usage in communities

Farm potential

Over the past few years, citizens of South Africa have discovered through bitter experience that low-lying land and land next to water sources are vulnerable to flooding and destruction. Climate change has caused untold destruction. Hillsides have collapsed during excessive rain. Consequently, many people have lost their homes and possessions as well as being bereaved by loss of the lives of friends and family members. Although land unsuitable for farming is unlikely to cost human lives, it can lead to the death of livestock and poor crop yields. This destroys farmers’ ability to benefit from their investment in infrastructure and other inset costs. 

Just as property developers traditionally check soil structure before purchasing land and designing or building for profit, so too should entrepreneurs check on farm potential before investing time and money in a community agricultural venture that could be unprofitable.

A potential investor or farmer needs to assess:

Soil potential as per FERTASA 

Vast areas of South Africa have traditional been used for grazing – not only because livestock is traditionally associated with wealth, but because vast tracts of land have soil that has been impoverished by drought and concentrated grazing. Whereas wild animals will graze or browse and then move on, leaving the veld to recover, farmers and migratory settlers have generally drained the soil of goodness before seeking easier profits elsewhere. Fertile farms have often been appropriated as areas for townships or informal settlements, leading to soil degradation of farming land through pollution and overuse. 

A basic soil profiling test 

Soil Fertility as per FERTASA 

Plants have roots to absorb the nutrients present in the soil and enable the plants to flourish. For soil to be fertile it must provide the correct proportions of biological and chemical elements such as:

If well-prepared soil is used and the essential element are not periodically assessed and replenished to suit the needs of the planned crops, those elements will reduce and the crops will be poor.  Leibig’s Law proves that diminishing soil quality results in diminishing yields and crop-quality. This results in reduced profits or even in financial losses and bankruptcy.

Sol testing is therefore the cornerstone of successful and potentially profitable farming.

For more detailed and scientific information consult: Ryan Marsden 083 324 2651


6.Project risk assessment and risk management under the auspices of Lucidum