Urgent measures are needed to increase food security in rural households
South Africa has a dualistic or bi-modal production structure in the agriculture sector, combined with concerted efforts toward transformation. This involves the empowerment of mainly subsistence farmers, who are predominantly producing for household food consumption, and their integration in food value chains with commercial farmers producing for local and export markets.
The strategic goal of the agriculture sector plan, released by the Department of Agriculture in 2001, stresses the generation of equitable access and participation in globally competitive, profitable and sustainable farming activities. Service delivery and implementation of programmes of action are guided by, amongst others, fair rewards for innovation and risk taking, security of tenure, and market forces which are directing resource allocation in farming activities.
“Approximately 1.3 million South African households, or about 9.5% of the total population, are active in different forms of supplementary food production on at most 3.3 million ha of homestead backyard gardens, and on rain-fed or irrigated agricultural land” says Dr Gerhard Backeberg, Water Research Commission (WRC) Director responsible for Water Utilisation in Agriculture, in a paper presented at the 6th Asian Regional Conference of ICID, held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 10-16 October 2010.
Several studies have shown that households, mostly headed by women, rely on multiple sources of income, with rain-fed and irrigated farming on average contributing respectively 10 and 30% to rural livelihoods, as reported by a 2008 WRC-initiated and funded study.
According to Backeberg, the biggest challenge for increased future food production in South Africa is the investment in human capital and empowerment through knowledge that enables decisions and actions. The reason is that productive use of soil and water for food production depends on education, health and practical skills of women and men cultivating the land. This empowerment is urgently required because of the widespread household food insecurity and under-nourishment currently experienced in rural areas.
“Given the current access to land, an estimated 17.5% of households can potentially produce food in their homestead backyard gardens. With generally low formal education levels, prioritising the provision of informal, practical, hands-on training and skills improvement is absolutely essential” adds Backeberg.
Through participatory action research the WRC has developed training resource material and guidelines for homestead food gardening and smallholder irrigation farming, based on projects initiated and reports published by the WRC in 2007 and 2009.
Dr Andrew Sanewe, Research Manager responsible for ‘Agricultural Homestead Food Gardening Systems’ at the WRC, says that the material has been designed to present the required techniques for rainwater harvesting, soil cultivation and crop production in backyard gardens that will impact on dietary needs and improve food security of poor households. “The rough guide provides action-oriented references for implementation according to a holistic development approach, working towards profitable farming enterprises and social upliftment on existing irrigation schemes and surrounding areas” says Sanewe.
Further research is currently being done by the WRC on the development of a comprehensive learning package for education on the application of rainwater harvesting and conservation practices.
“The even bigger challenge in the country is to encourage entrepreneurship, particularly amongst all smallholder farmers, that will progressively lead to profitable farming enterprises. This initiative will contribute to employment opportunities and more equal income distribution” says Backeberg.
The available training material for homestead food production and guidelines for revitalisation of smallholder farming has been purposefully brought to the attention of officials in government departments and lecturers at agricultural colleges through knowledge dissemination actions supported by the WRC in 2009 and 2010.
In this process it was confirmed that a gap exists within the agricultural education and training sector for learning material that is practically useful to meet smallholder farmer training needs.
To fast-track this training process, the co-operation and assistance of agricultural colleges, non-government organisations and community-based organisations across the country is needed, to train the trainers, facilitators, farmers and individual household members, in particular women. The support of senior managers at provincial and local government level is essential for successful implementation of this training programme.
For more information:
Dr G R Backeberg
Director: Water Utilisation in Agriculture
Tel: (012) 330-9043