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Extension Opinion No 17: Emerging farmers need intensive support

My comments fall into two groups: first a review of the purpose of extension and suggestions for the future.

Purpose of Extension
I was editor of the Final Report on Transformation of the South African Department of Agriculture in 1994. Our findings fed into the White Paper on Rural Development of 1996, and essentially, we recommended that the commercial extension service should be privatised, while the existing capacity should be re-developed to support emerging farmers. I pointed out in this report and in my article in the SA Journal of Science the next year, that emerging commercial farmers need intensive support (at least five years of mentoring) if they are to enter the world of agri-business with any hope of success.

Our current work at NMMU confirms this – my colleague Agricultural Economist Johan Jordaan has been helping the Western Cape Dept Agric for the last few years to evaluate Land Reform farms in the Eden District and also in the Karoo. Although these farms have been supported for nearly ten years, the nature of support is inappropriate.  Extension officers do not have the commercial skills to give business support.

The projects which are succeeding are projects which are supported by sympathetic, successful commercial farmers such as the Amadlelo case reported earlier in this series.  If the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform is serious about supporting emerging farmers, it needs to learn from those successes and failures. We have written up some of our experiences, and also the outcomes of our Land Reform Seminar last year.

In summary we identified five essential factors, all of which need to be present if Land Reform is to succeed:
  • Finding people who really want to farm, and are prepared to work at it.
  • Finding good land at reasonable prices.
  • Finding adequate financial support.
  • Finding markets with good terms of trade.
  • Finding good training and mentorship.

For emerging farmers, the fifth point is the main purpose of extension, but all five fall within the extension officer’s job description; it is time that they were trained to do this job! This will require public-private partnerships and a change in the attitude of government towards potential mentors.  Issues of climate smart agriculture and the development of effective co-operatives also need to be considered.

Suggestions for the future
Agricultural Extension services will need to be based on systems which are robust enough to assist emerging (and commercial) farmers in times of climate change; however, without an understanding of financial management, it is rather pointless to send technicians to support farmers, even assuming that there is a functional provincial department of agriculture to manage them.

NMMU is developing a one year full-time BSc Honours in Ecological Agriculture which will include electives on Participatory Extension Systems, Resource Economics and Ecological Agriculture, as well as Biometry and Scientific Method, designed to help upgrade the skills of those working in agriculture with diplomas and or B Tech/ B Agric degrees, who now need to become involved in more formal research.

Such an approach is aimed at developing a cadre of professional extension workers who are able to engage with emerging commercial farmers, and to promote public-private partnerships based on sound principles (economic, social and environmental).

Our work in course design will be based on the earlier work of the Rainman Landcare Foundation which (with AusAid) held several workshops with extension officers in 2001, and identified the competencies which these officers felt they needed in order to do their job properly.  The (NQF 5 level) Landcare Facilitator Certificate was then developed for the national department as a specialist extension course.

This will form the core of the proposed extension module in the new NMMU Honours course.

Prof Raymond Auerbach
Soil Science & Plant Production
Agricultural Management
School of Natural Resource Management

References
Land and Agriculture Policy Centre and Farmer Support Group. (1994).  Final Report on Transformation of the South African Department of Agriculture: Proceedings of national workshop and summaries of provincial workshops and stakeholder group consultations. Hivos.
Auerbach, R. (1995). People, farming and research: How can South African science contribute to sustainable agricultural development?  SA Journal of Science, 91, p3-6.

Click the image for a view of: Prof Raymond Auerbach
Prof Raymond Auerbach
Posted: 9/27/2012 (10:41:51 AM)


 Comments


 "Real agriculture does not come in piece meals or half baked form as some put it. Courses named ecology and such are really far fetched to associate with an emerging farmer. A properly trained agriculturalist should have done crop and animal husbandry"
Walter Posted: 10/10/2012 7:38:58 AM



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