Efficient and sustainable small-scale farming has been identified by both provincial and national South African government departments as a key intervention to potentially boost economic development in rural areas and to improve people’s livelihoods.
The Donald Woods Foundation is assisting this initiative in the Eastern Cape by driving livestock health in our area of operation, and working closely with local subsistence and small-scale farmers to boost animal health and overall food security.
Children need nutritious food
To safeguard future generations, children need healthy communities and nutritious food in order to thrive. Many grandchildren, orphans and vulnerable children are often left in the care of rural grandmothers while their parents and guardians seek work in towns and cities. Section 28(1)(c) of the Bill of Rights in our Constitution gives every child the right to basic nutrition. According to the 2015 Child Gauge, more than 800,000 children aged less than five years are reported to have experienced hunger in South Africa. Young children are particularly vulnerable to prolonged lack of food with inadequate food intake compromising their growth, health and future development. Poor food security also increases their risk of infection and contributes to stunting and an ongoing failure to thrive. All this has a devastating impact on their future cognitive development and well-being. It is the most common form of malnutrition in South Africa and affects 25% of children under five.
Source – 2015 Child Gauge, October 2015: 117
The challenges we face
Supplementing the Foundation’s existing Livestock Support programme to assist local small-scale farmers to protect and enhance the health of their cattle herds and small ruminants such as sheep and goats; the Foundation is continuing to hold community consultations regarding enhancing food security through building skills in expanding improved small homestead gardens into crop farming.
But human development is equally important with good nutrition being a crucial building block in the development of children into strong, healthy and cognitively well developed adults. Many rural households in the Foundation’s area of operation are poor, food insecure and are unable to afford good nutrition with many surviving on one meal a day. Malnutrition is widespread and severe malnutrition resulting in the death of children under five-years is not unknown.
While Hobeni and surrounding districts have a temperate subtropical climate, good soils and a high agricultural, timber and livestock potential; subsistence farming is difficult and limited for many reasons including insufficient access to even micro-capital, lack of support services and constrained agricultural extension systems.
Communities need the skills, infrastructure and stimulus to make sustainable subsistence farming generate a surplus and to make profitable use of their natural resources. An analysis by a team of experienced rural development practitioners and academics, has confirmed that there is potential for significant increase in household food production. The environment is conducive for a number of profitable subtropical agricultural and livestock enterprises which can contribute significantly to homestead income, leading to a thriving business based, local economy.
Analysis further indicates that it is possible to build on traditional farming practices and promote climate smart, sustainable agricultural production. This can increase the production of food and other products and enable farmers to participate, through local processing and marketing, in the full value chain of their primary products. A method to achieve this by aggregating large numbers of small producers to achieve economies of scale, has been developed and is applicable to the communities around Hobeni.
Our vision for crop farming
Of prime importance is the training of local homestead producers, farmers, school learners and educators, youth and community leadership. People need training and demonstrations of what is possible, they need education in entrepreneurial and business opportunities. There is a pressing requirement for the development of appropriate skills in the technical, professional, production, marketing and general business sectors.
In addition the remoteness of the area, lack of infrastructure, a dearth of convenient and economic sources of production requirements and the absence of an organised market for livestock and agricultural products, makes profitable production by homestead and small farmer extremely difficult and risk prone. This may be precisely why, with all the efforts that the people and support agencies have invested in the past, there is still so little improvement in agricultural production.
A local and convenient Rural Service Centre (RSC) is required, which could provide the support for intensified and profitable production within the local community. The RSC could provide technical advice, training, skills development, entrepreneurial modelling, and make production resources and markets more easily available for producers.
Records show that in the past there was much greater local production from the land. Historically, this was significantly enabled and supported by services provided by the local Trading Store, which provided credit, production requirements at affordable prices, storage, processing and marketing facilities for local products. The Trading Store was a centre for communication with the outside world, and provided the equivalent of banking and postal facilities.
Hobeni is the historical site of such a Trading Store, which in fact served in the past as a de-facto functional Rural Service Centre. The Foundation has built on this site a modern and effective administrative and management facility, with residential conferencing, accommodation, administrative and training capacity. The Donald Woods Centre, with the addition of purpose built units, can form a platform for the facilitation of supportive and innovative rural development programmes for the Hobeni community and surrounding areas.
It is envisaged the Rural Services Centre could provide the base for a social and economic development strategy, which could stimulate this local community, to carefully use their environmental resources for their present and future prosperity.
The Donald Woods Foundation is currently fundraising to operationalise plans to enhance and build agricultural and business skills to enable local people to access the skills, inputs and technical support they need to create fulfilling livelihoods and reconstruct their own communities.