Current Research

 ‘Developmental Research Activities to Support Food Security in Selected Municipal Districts’

 This is a multi-disciplinary research project funded by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and running from mid-2013 until early 2016. It consists of 13 ‘subprojects’ of which the common denominator is to establish a better understanding of the challenges facing small-scale producers in the Eastern Cape and their possible solutions. The subprojects are led by scientists from the Department of Livestock and Pasture Science, the Department of Agronomy, the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, as well as from Fort Cox Agricultural College. ARDRI is the overall project coordinator.

 ‘Government and small-scale agriculture: understanding the successes and failures in respect of learning, planning and implementation’

This research project is funded by the European Union through the auspices of the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development under ‘PSPPD-II’.  The purpose of the initiative is to examine in detail the manner in which government and small-scale farmers interact. Broadly speaking, the development literature recognises the distinction between the ‘blueprint approach’ and the ‘process approach’, where the former involves centralised planning and often frustrated attempts to implement, while the latter is a more people-centred, bottom-up approach. The point is not necessarily that one approach is always better than the other, but that in certain contexts or for certain tasks there may be good reason to lean in favour of one over the other. The premise of this study is that current approaches to promoting the small-scale farming sector in South Africa appear to be tilted too far towards the blueprint end of the spectrum. The issue is not just government policy, but the ‘readiness’ of small-scale farmers themselves to seek their development on different terms. The study seeks to provide evidence in hopes of facilitating a more balanced approach.

 'Promoting Community and Regional Food Systems in the Eastern Cape, South Africa’

The goals of the research initiative are to

1) better understand the current ‘market failure’ characterising the ex-Bantustans of the Eastern Cape, South Africa, whereby, despite significant production capacity, food consumption depends relatively little on food production within these areas; and

2) determine to what extent innovations pursued in the US and elsewhere can address this market failure.

 Joint research with the Nkonkobe Farmers’ Association and the eDikeni WUA

Since mid-2015 ARDRI has undertaken a number of joint research initiatives with the Nkonkobe Farmers’ Association and the eDikeni Water Users Association. The Nkonkobe Farmers’ Association is an umbrella farmers’ association representing the interests of black farmers throughout Nkonkobe Local Municipality. The aim of these research initiatives is to provide a better factual understanding of challenges and opportunities facing farmers in the area. Research initiatives that have been concluded include: a survey of market-oriented producers in order to determine existing production levels, market strategies, and future production/marketing potential ; a survey of tractor owners to establish the number and status of tractors owned by local farmers in the area; and an ‘action research’ project to determine the feasibility of using labour-intensive methods to clean local dams.

 

Job creation in agriculture, forestry and fisheries in South Africa

This research project is led by the DST/NRF Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, Professor Ben Cousins, who is with the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) of the University of the Western Cape.  The research project will collect and analyse secondary and primary data on the potential for expanding employment in a variety of sub-sectors, commodities and locations. The research will include analysis of existing data sets, gathered from both government and commodity organisations, plus primary field research on a sample of producers, to collect relevant quantitative and qualitative data. Detailed data will provide the basis for an informed discussion of the prospects for employment creation in the rural economy in general and its potential impacts on poverty and inequality. ARDRI is pleased to have the opportunity to play a role in this initiative. In particular, ARDRI will contribute to the analysis of the scope for employment creation on smallholder irrigation schemes, and in the commercial citrus subsector in the Eastern Cape.  

[1] ‘Developmental Research Activities to Support Food Security in Selected Municipal Districts’

 The 13 ‘subprojects’ comprising this research study, together with their respective leaders, are as follows:

 •             Improving the contribution of livestock (chickens) to household livelihoods in selected villages (P Masika, Fort Cox)

             Investigate interventions to improve productivity of rural household chickens in Alice (P Masika, Fort Cox)

             Climate change effects on small-scale livestock farmers (V Maphosa and J Mupangwa, UFH)

             Investigate critical success and failure factors in Conservation Agriculture and its adoption in Eastern Cape and the rest of South Africa (P Mnkeni, UFH)

             Investigate ecologically sound integrated nutrient management strategies compatible with the resource base of smallholder farmers (vermiculture) (P Mnkeni, UFH)

             Investigation into agricultural based projects success and failures in Eastern Cape (T Chiguware, UFH)

             Use of  woody plants for livestock in a changing climate: Assessing biomass production and nutritive value (S Beyene, UFH)

             Private sector community forestry partnerships in the Eastern Cape (T Chivinge, Fort Cox)

             Categorisation of non-timber forestry products (T Chivinge, Fort Cox)

             Effects of home gardens on food security (M Aliber, UFH)

             Socio-economic benefits of agricultural projects to surrounding communities (A Mushunje, UFH)

             Parent characterisation and combining ability of quality protein maize (QPM) varieties for yield and its components (C Mutengwa, UFH)

             Data collection in the province (T Chiguware, UFH)

Selected policy briefs and research outputs will be accessible from this page in the near future.

 

ARDRI and UFH would like to thank DAFF for its support, and acknowledges in particular that this project has funded the studies of over a dozen Honours, Masters and Doctoral candidates.

 

[2] ‘Government and small-scale agriculture: understanding the successes and failures in respect of learning, planning and implementation’

 

The South African government embraces rural development as a national priority, and within this identifies the need to promote food security and rural livelihoods through small-scale agriculture, particularly within the former homeland areas. This position makes eminent sense: there is both a dire need, and vast potential, for a more vibrant small-scale farming sector.

 However, this unrealised potential also reflects our collective, inadequate record over the past two decades (and longer) in promoting small-sale farmers. Despite significant increases in expenditure on support to small-scale farmers, too few people benefit from these interventions. Most smallholders are below the poverty line, many subsistence producers are still food insecure, and vast stretches of arable land in the former homelands of Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga, remain under-utilised. And yet, there is little agreement as to why, and just as little as to ‘what to do about it’.

 This research project is inspired in large measure by the idea made popular by David Korten regarding the role of the ‘learning organisation’ in rural development. Korten’s insights from 30 years ago sound poignantly current where South Africa’s small-scale farmer development processes are concerned:

 “In hindsight the results [of governments’ and donors’ various rural development initiatives] seem quite predictable…. It remains the rule rather than the exception to see in development programming: a) reliance, even for the planning and implementation of ‘participative’ development, on centralized bureaucratic organizations which have little capacity to respond to diverse community-defined needs or to build on community skills and values; b) inadequate investment in the difficult progress of community problem-solving capacity; c) inadequate attention to dealing with social diversity, especially highly stratified village social structures; and d) insufficient integration of the technical and social components of development action.”

 

Broadly speaking, the development literature since Korten has recognised the distinction between the ‘blueprint approach’ and the ‘process approach’, where the former involves centralised planning and often frustrated attempts to implement, while the latter is a more people-centred, bottom-up approach. The point is not necessarily that one approach is always better than the other (moreover, the advantages of hybrid approaches are also recognised), but that in certain contexts or for certain tasks there may be good reason to lean in favour of one over the other. The premise of this study is that current approaches to promoting the small-scale farming sector in South Africa appear to be tilted too far towards the blueprint end of the spectrum. Moreover, the issue is not just government policy, but the ‘readiness’ of small-scale farmers themselves to seek their development on different terms. As the quote from Korten above suggests, one reason a more process-oriented approach is urgently needed is because the challenges that small-scale farmers face can best be overcome by means of their own problem-solving skills; but when the rigid blueprint approach prevails, the problem solving capacity is not harnessed, never mind cultivated. At the same time, the blueprint approach also inhibits the implementers themselves from learning, adapting, and in fact listening.

 

The study seeks to provide evidence in hope of facilitating a more balanced approach. In short, the study will carefully describe and analyse current practices among small-scale farmers, among associations/groups that serve and represent small-scale farmers, and within government, and reveal whether and how they inhibit learning and problem solving, among other things. In addition, it will seek to demonstrate alternatives through active engagement with farmers’ associations and, if possible, local-level officials who are meant to support small-scale farmers. The vision for the participatory processes that will characterise this aspect of the study, is broadly sketched out by Korten in his discussion of the role of social scientists in improving how we do rural development: “The task is to make a demystified social science available as every person’s tool, turning agency personnel, and in some instances the villagers themselves, into more effective action researchers….”

 The study began in July 2015 and will carry on for 18 months.

 

The study is funded through the Programme to Support Pro-poor Policy Development  (PSPPD), which is situated within the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation. The ultimate funder is the European Union.

eference: D. Korten, 1984, “Rural Development Programming: The Learning Process Approach”, in In D. C. Korten and R. Klauss (eds.), People-centred Development: Contributions Toward Theory and Planning Frameworks, Kumarian Press, West Hartford, Connecticut. 

[3] ‘Promoting Community and Regional Food Systems in the Eastern Cape, South Africa’

 South Africa’s ex-Bantustans are an enigma. Several decades ago these areas were home to a vibrant peasantry which produced a marketable surplus of meat and grains. Presently, however, these same areas are largely dependent on food produced by large-scale commercial farmers far afield and sold via national supermarket chains; meanwhile, only a minority of rural households are surplus producers, and a large amount of the available arable land lies idle.

Eastern Cape is one of South Africa’s nine provinces, and is characteristic of these contradictions. Within the province’s ex-Bantustans of Ciskei and Transkei, there are about 600 000 subsistence households and 30 000 semi-commercial smallholders, most of whom live below the poverty line. However, in a country where arable land is in short supply, these two ex-Bantustans reportedly encompass about half a million hectares of unused, good quality arable land (BFAP, 2011). In sum, the land is there, and the market demand is there, and yet somehow markets do not successfully intermediate between local production and local consumption. Both consumers and (potential) producers lose out; the current situation represents a major inefficiency with significant economic implications.

Upon achieving multi-racial democracy in 1994, South African agricultural policy made an abrupt about-face, in which supporting small-scale black farmers suddenly took precedence over promoting the generally white, large-scale commercial farm sector, and in which attention to household-level food security superseded concern for national-level food self-sufficiency. Notwithstanding this visible shift, achievements have been modest. The small-scale farming sector is effectively static, and household-level food insecurity remains a pervasive problem despite the productivity and efficiency of South Africa’s commercial agribusiness sector.

Over these past two decades, there has been much concern for improving small-scale farmers’ access to markets. However, this has focused largely on how to improve these farmers’ ‘integration into modern value chains’, which in turn is generally interpreted to mean facilitating their ability to supply agricultural products to urban and/or export markets (e.g. Obi and Pote, 2012); for instance, when government commissioned a feasibility study in 2008 for the establishment of fresh produce hubs, the explicit purpose was to “confer a competitive advantage for this group of farmers to produce for established fresh produce markets all over the world” (MAC, 2008: 8). This is true of both government’s interventions, as well as of the bulk of academic research, except to the extent the latter has also included countervailing critiques of modern value chains and their implications for small-scale farmers (e.g. van der Heijden and Vink, 2013).

Only recently has government begun to think that the question of small-scale farmers’ market access should be considered in the context of South Africa’s abiding food and nutrition insecurity challenges. Notably, in March 2015, Cabinet approved the Agricultural Policy Action Plan (APAP), which among other things calls for the “development of local food economies” (DAFF, 2015: 16), thereby acknowledging that the gap between local production and consumption is a serious yet tractable market failure. Yet promoting ‘local food economies’, or what are elsewhere known as ‘community and regional food systems’, remains a theoretical possibility more than a practical programme.

The search for a more solid basis for promoting community and regional food systems/economies thus constitutes the primary rationale for the proposed research project. This can be translated into the following research project objectives:

 

Objective 1: To establish a detailed understanding of existing agro-food marketing arrangements and patterns within and to/from the Eastern Cape, with a particular focus on the ex-Bantustans.

 

Objective 2: To identify the key factors which inhibit a higher degree of market intermediation between food production and food consumption within the ex-Bantustans of the Eastern Cape.

 

Objective 3: To assess the feasibility of strengthening and/or introducing community and mid-tier distribution systems so as to improve the intermediation between producers and consumers within the ex-Bantustans.

 

Objective 4: To engage with relevant policymakers at provincial and national level so as to ensure that the insights from the research are appreciated.

 

The research project is designed to capture the multi-scalar nature of existing food production and distribution systems, which means not merely understanding the component parts, but understanding how these systems function as systems. This requires a research strategy characterised by a number of complementary research activities. Further points of leverage include comparative analysis between different types of space (e.g. ex-Bantustan versus commercial farming areas) and different commodities, and attempting to understand how and why these systems are changing over time.

 This study is supported by a research grant awarded in August 2015 by the US Government’s Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) Program in partnership with the South African Government. ARDRI would like to thank the US Agency for International Development, the National Academies (NAS), and South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology. ARDRI would further like to thank the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is a key partner in the study, specifically through its Community and Regional Food Systems Project.

References:

BFAP (Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy) (2011). South African Agricultural Baseline 2011. www.bfap.co.za,  accessed 4/10/2011.

DAFF (Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) (2015). “Agricultural Policy Action Plan,” Pretoria: DAFF.

MAC (Mokgongoa Agricultural Consulting) (2008). “Feasibility Study for Establishment of Two Fresh Produce Depot Facilities Per Province in South Africa,” study commissioned by the National Agricultural Marketing Council and the Department of Agriculture.

Obi, A. and P. Pote (2012). “Technical Constraints to Market Access for Crop and Livestock Farmers in Nkonkobe Municipality, Eastern Cape Province,” in H. van Schalkwyk, J. Groenewald, G. Fraser, A. Obi and A. van Tilburg (eds.), Unlocking Markets for Smallholders: Lessons from South Africa, Wageningen Academic Publishers, The Netherlands.

 van der Heijden, T. and N. Vink (2013). “Good for Whom? Supermarkets and Small Farmers in South Africa - A Critical Review Of Current Approaches to Increasing Access to Modern Markets,” Agrekon 52(1). 

[4] Joint research with the Nkonkobe Farmers’ Association and eDikeni WUA

Since mid-2015 ARDRI has undertaken a number of joint research initiatives with the Nkonkobe Farmers’ Association and the eDikeni Water Users Association. The topics of the research initiatives were and are being identified through open discussions as to the challenges and opportunities facing farmers in the area. Thereafter the general approach is simple: the NFA and ARDRI sit down to discuss the purpose of the research initiative, plan the survey (or implementation) approach, and design the questionnaire (where relevant). Then, the survey is conducted by a team comprising both members of the NFA and ARDRI staff. ARDRI and the NFA then discuss the data/findings, and collaborate on the write-up.  The dam cleaning exercise was somewhat different, in that it did not involve a survey or even interviews, rather a jointly-planned ‘experiment’ to determine whether a labour-intensive method could be employed to clean out silt and mud from a typical communal area dam.

 

The report from the market survey can be downloaded here

 The report from the tractor / tractor owner survey can be downloaded here

 The report from the dam cleaning exercise can be downloaded here, and the scaling up of labour-intensive dam cleaning proposal can be downloaded here

 The report from the Fetsa Tlala study can be downloaded here 

 The report from the wind-pump rehabilitation survey can be downloaded here

 Presently, the NFA and ARDRI are in the process of collecting and assimilating oral histories of farming in the Nkonkobe area.