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Extension Opinion No 12: The importance of localisation - implications for extension

The importance of localisation (and what this might mean for the focus and design of extension services)

NMB Transition Network has recently conducted a pilot study of urban agriculture projects in two wards of Nelson Mandela Bay. Our findings and recommendations have been given as input to the development of an urban agriculture policy for the City. However, we believe that the study has opened our eyes to a number of critical issues for agricultural extension services in both urban and rural areas of South Africa.

NMB Transition Network comes from a starting point of promoting sustainable livelihoods in order to create resilient local economies. We believe that improving the quality of life of the poor is completely compatible with the transition to a low-carbon (even a zero carbon!) society. We aim to demonstrate this through practical, grassroots projects. In addition, we try to influence policy on a number of levels, in the city, the Province and nationally, on energy, rural development, agriculture and other related policy debates, by suggesting more natural processes that are the bedrock of sustainability. 

Our research shows, disappointingly but perhaps not entirely surprisingly, that almost all the urban agriculture projects in these wards are unsustainable. By unsustainable, we mean both economically and environmentally. The projects are dependent on external finance, in order to buy inputs – in particular chemical fertilizers and seeds. Moreover, they buy water from the Municipality, and many are dependent on the Municipality for the provision and maintenance of water and electricity infrastructure. 

The government departments supporting these projects have no training in permaculture or other principles of sustainable food production; moreover, the project members have little training in financial management or marketing. It was also found that a lack of coordination between the many projects’ initiators and financers caused large wastes of resources as well as contradictory messages that impede projects from joining their efforts. Weak initial planning and ownership by most beneficiaries were also found to be factors that caused these projects to be unsustainable.

The problem of these urban projects are similar to those experienced by many agriculture and vegetable gardening projects established in rural parts of the Eastern Cape over the past decade. The government departments have a ‘top down’ approach that involves a set ‘input formula’ for the provision of a ‘starter pack’ of seeds, chemical fertilizer and sometimes tools, water tanks and training. Assessment of the environment, use of local resources, rainwater harvesting, preservation of seed banks, cross support for other projects such as school nutrition programmes, use of fertiliser from livestock, use of household waste and grey water –most of the time these are not included in the training provided. 

Yet it seems eminently possible to put into place, at very low cost, a programme for sustainable food production, based on three principles, namely localisation (including planning and a starter pack  to secure ownership), Permaculture (to secure sustainability and quality) and external involvement  according to local needs (such as compost or seedling production, and marketing, to secure coordination and cooperation) . Such a programme would be premised on localisation – the growing of local produce using local resources, by local people, for local consumption and creation of local wealth. 

Integration of other programmes with local procurement policies – for example, school nutrition programmes and other large institutions buying their fresh produce from local farming projects – would be one way in which such local economies could be supported and grow. 

External involvement and inter-governmental cooperation, by responding to local needs for infrastructure, markets, and financial services, and by setting up of local production of inputs such as compost, harvested water or seedling banks,  would not only create synergies but also support the emergence of local community economies. These would link through local economic development programmes into municipal-wide economies and hence larger markets where appropriate. 

The principles of localisation, diversity, quality, no wastage, and multi-usage – all principles practiced in permaculture – are easy to learn and to put into practice. They are profoundly empowering, and best of all, they are inexpensive, both in terms of finances and natural resources. Finally, this would be, if broadly implemented an adequate response to the looming food security issue which is threatening the country. 

Click the image for a view of: Nelson Mandela Bay Transition Network aiming for a low-carbon, locally resilient metro
Nelson Mandela Bay Transition Network aiming for a low-carbon, locally resilient metro
Posted: 9/20/2012 (10:14:03 AM)


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