Community engagement is a core pillar of Fort Hare’s mission (the other two pillars being teaching and research), and this is no less true for ARDRI. Presently, ARDRI has one main, established community engagement initiative in the form of ‘study groups’. However, we are also in the process of launching a second main initiative, namely bee farming, and undertake miscellaneous other initiatives at a smaller scale.
Study group initiative
In April 2015, ARDRI and the Nkonkobe Farmers’ Association initiated ‘study groups’ in four villages in Thyume Valley, specifically in a cluster of four villages collectively known as Gwali. The study groups are modelled on FAO’s Farmer Field Schools, which is a form of farmer-to-farmer extension (depending on how one defines ‘extension’) which places emphasis on farmers learning from one another, developing their ‘ability to learn’ through a focus on agro-ecology, and cultivating a sense of agency and self-dependence. However, at present we prefer to refer to these as ‘study groups’ rather than as ‘Farmer Field Schools’, because we cannot claim to have mastered the Farmer Field School approach. At present, five study groups have been formed which focus on vegetable production, and one on indigenous poultry. Each vegetable study group has 25 members, while the poultry group has 11. (It should be stressed that the study groups are not ‘group projects’, rather they bring together individuals who garden or keep poultry separately.) Each study group meets once per week, and these meetings are facilitated by a Fort Hare student from one of the agricultural departments. For more detail, click here .
While group-based agricultural projects are frequently problematic, bee farming is an exception because of its low labour requirements and generally simple management. This particular community engagement initiative was instigated by Dr Amon Taruvinga and Dr Folaranmi of the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, both of whom are experienced bee farmers. ARDRI’s role is mainly to finance the initiative, and assist with the community liaison. At this point three clusters of hives have been established and are partially colonised: one in Koloni village near Debe Nek, and two in Gaga Traditional Council area.