National Extension Policy
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Extension Opinion No 9: Extension in the Western and Northern Cape Provinces

Previous extension services
Disadvantaged small scale farmers (SSF) in the Western and Northern Cape Provinces consist mainly of rural communities in the Coloured Rural Areas (CRA) and other church lands, and urban and peri-urban black vegetable growers. Neither category received any meaningful extension services before 1994. 

In surveys of CRAs, farmers could not recall any significant contacts with agricultural officials except for visits of livestock inspectors. Many SSFs had no knowledge of the Department of Agriculture, and most sources of agricultural information were from within the family or from fellow farmers. They were totally cut off from new crop varieties, and advances in modern fertilizer use and pest control.

The period 1993-95 saw transformation within the Western Cape Department of Agriculture (Elsenburg) and institutions of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) to rectify this situation. It was crucial to start closing the gap between the existing services, almost exclusively for white commercial farmers, and the very different needs of disadvantaged SSFs. 

Elsenburg established the Small Farmer Development Centre, which started working in several CRAs. They then retrained their research and extension staff, and adopted participatory methods. At the same time, agricultural courses at Elsenburg, and to some extent at Stellenbosch University, were restructured to accommodate the new clients. The ARC institutes, led by ARC-Infruitec, initiated the Farming Systems Research and Development Programme which coordinated work on the problems of SSFs growing fruit and vegetables. (Historically the institutes in the Western Cape had also served some farmers now situated in adjacent provinces.) 

Other noteworthy organizations involved in extension at this time were the parastatals: Boskop Training Centre which gave practical skills training to SSFs; and Lanok which ran agricultural and community development projects, and managed state farms adjacent to some CRS. The NGOs: Abalimi Bezekhaya supported vegetable growers in the townships on the Cape Flats from garden centres at Khayelitsha and Nyanga; and the Land Development Unit (LDU).

The LDU was established in 1992 for the support of resource poor and aspirant farmers, and peri-urban gardeners in the Western Cape Province and Namaqualand. Initiated nearly two years before South Africa’s first democratic election, it played a unique and pioneering role, acting as a catalyst and facilitator between the formal sector and SSFs. It served on a variety of the committees and working groups that abounded during these years of transformation. It convened and chaired the Interim Steering Committee for Small-scale Farmers in the Western Cape from 1992 to 1994, and also helped to restructure new diploma and certificate courses for SSFs. It was the first organization in the Western Cape to use the participatory rural appraisal (PRA) approach, and was the major provider of PRA training in the region. The LDU also ran a diverse training programme for government officials, development workers and farmers.

Perhaps LDU’s greatest contribution was the reorientation of government officials, researchers and extension workers, and other development professionals, giving them participatory skills and new approaches, and putting them in touch with disadvantaged SSFs.It carried out operational grassroots projects with rural communities and vegetable gardeners in the townships. Grassroots projects, at the very heart of LDU’s strategy, uncovered valuable indigenous knowledge, stimulated informal R&D, and investigated suitable models that could be replicated elsewhere. For instance, on-farm trials with farmer cooperators were indispensable for revealing local conditions and cultural practices -- and in developing innovation since the work is carried out under the actual conditions of farmers’ fields with the farmers as partners in the exercise. Group gardens were successful when there was strong, sustained leadership and a relatively low level of community conflict.Revolving funds were justified where farmers were situated a long way from the source of feedstuffs, medicines and other inputs, but thorough training and careful selection of the fund manager were essential.

Extension needs of small scale farmers
The Interim Steering Committee identified four major problems of SSFs: finance and credit; access to land and tenure; water for livestock and irrigation; training, extension and support services. The farmers themselves said they badly needed: agricultural information, soil analysis, advice on fertilizer use and pest control; and training in general farming skills, agricultural finance and marketing -- particularly for vegetable production, small stock farming and animal health. 

Other major extension needs identified were: research on specific crops, farming systems using lower inputs and smaller scales of production, and relevant audio-visual materials.It was recognized that the farmers themselves need to be taught 
(i) basic field skills such as measuring and calculating seed, fertilizer and pesticide rates for their fields; calibrating application machinery; the value of high-quality seed; recognition of pest and disease symptoms in crops and small livestock. 
(ii) business and organizational skills, financial management, bookkeeping, record keeping and marketing.

When the LDU closed down in 2004, Elsenburg’s Farmer Support and Development wing had been ‘designed and implemented on the LDU model’ and was being ‘replicated throughout the Province’ (Isaacs, 2008). The three relevant issues below remain important to this day. 

Strategy of field projects. Working constructively with disadvantaged SSFs is not easy and is much more than ‘technology transfer’. Before undertaking a development project it is essential to gain an understanding of the social dynamics and leadership situation in a community. Farmers are introduced to the concept of innovation, new agricultural potential is uncovered, and new capacities and skills are learnt. It should be a mutual learning process, both parties respecting carefully defined project responsibilities.

Technical recommendations for emerging and inexperienced commercial farmers. 
Farming systems must not be too costly, sophisticated or difficult to sustain, but should be appropriate to farmers’ resources, skills and understanding. Moderate cropping intensities, input levels and yields are gradually increased as farmer experience and confidence grows. The testing of new models and appropriate farming systems (best carried out by researchers in farmers’
fields) should take place simultaneously.

Vegetable growing in the peri-urban areas. The support services offered by NGOs are usually based on the organic approach (no fertilizers or pesticides) resulting in poor yields that discourage the growers. A more scientific approach needs to be introduced here.

Catling, David. 2008. An Elusive Harvest: Working with smallholder farmers in South Africa. Jacana Media, Johannesburg. 

Catling, H. D. and Saaiman, B. F. 1996. Small Scale Farmers and Growers in the Western Cape: The challenge of providing appropriate extension services. In Lipton, Michael, de Klerk, Mike and Lipton, Merle (Eds.) Land, Labour and Livelihoods in Rural South Africa. Vol 1. Western Cape. Indicator Press, Durban. pp 159-176.

Click the image for a view of: Donkey power
Donkey power
Click the image for a view of: A healthy crop
A healthy crop
Posted: 9/18/2012 (6:14:16 AM)


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