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Extension Opinion No.23: Promoting self organisation and building on local initiative

Build and support community networks to identify and foster local initiative

The stereotype of agriculture in the former Transkei homeland areas of the Eastern Cape as moribund and stagnant requires revision.  By some measures, the trajectory of livelihoods in recent years has been one of uncertainty and dependence, with declining employment and increasing dependence upon state grants.  But in Hobeni, in Mbhashe Municipality, local residents’ initiative and state support reveal the dynamism and potential of small-scale agriculture in the area: they have expanded, intensified and diversified cultivation in household gardens.  The Eastern Cape Provincial Department of Agriculture’s Siyazondla Homestead Food Production Programme (henceforth Siyazondla) has catalyzed some of these changes, but they are not limited to Siyazondla participants.

Beginning in 2007, Hobeni residents organized 15 Siyazondla clubs in response to requests by provincial Department of Agriculture.  At the time of the research described below, only two of these clubs had actually received material support (a “starter pack” of implements, seedlings and inputs) from Siyazondla.  But the club members have nevertheless been leaders in agricultural change, sharing seeds, seedlings and knowledge amongst themselves.

Household surveys and ethnographic interviews in 1998 and 2009 with 80 households reveal the changes in garden cultivation.  In 1998, the average homestead grew 2.3 crops in their garden, typically maize and beans or pumpkins.  In 2009, the mean had increased to 3.6, with a mean of 4.9 for Siyazondla club members overall and 6 for members of the two clubs which had received material support from Siyazondla.  The proportion of households cultivating root vegetables roughly doubled, and the proportion growing leafy green vegetables more than tripled.
For fruit trees (not included in the crop figures above) the changes were even more striking: in 1998, only 15% of households had a fruit tree of any kind.  By 2009, 60% of households had fruit trees, with an average of 2.2 trees.  In particular, banana cultivation has increased from 2.5% in 1998 to 31% in 2009, and 53% among members of Siyazondla clubs.  As they explain, the Siyazondla clubs shared banana plants among themselves and their neighbours, even though the plants were not provided by the Department of Agriculture.

Use of inputs has also increased.  The proportion of households manuring their gardens increased from 57% to 66%, and the mean number of applications per garden increased by 30%.  The proportion of households using fertilizer nearly doubled and the proportion using pesticides increased sixfold, though both remain limited to about one in four households.   
The case of Hobeni points to the ways local initiative can couple with state support to enhance the potential of homestead cultivation to enhance livelihoods, nutrition and food security.  Siyazondla in Hobeni has accentuated local changes that were already underway, by building effective networks to disseminate agricultural resources and information.  The program has unrealized potential - in 2009, 21 percent of the homesteads which did not belong to Siyazondla clubs grew six or more crops in their garden, and they could surely benefit if the program were expanded.  Sadly, after increasing steadily through 2007, the Siyazondla programme has seen budget cuts, shrinking in 2010- 2011 to less than a fifth of its 2006-2007 level.  In Hobeni, however, as of early 2012 the clubs remained active, pooling their own funds to purchase seedlings.

The Siyazondla approach of promoting self-organization, incentivized with relatively inexpensive contributions of material support, deserves attention in a discussion of future extension policy: it has succeeded in building upon local initiative to expand, intensify and diversify household gardens, and created resource and knowledge-sharing networks that have a life beyond the project.

Derick Fay is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Riverside, and has conducted research on land and livelihoods in the Eastern Cape intermittently since 1998.

URL for full research report:

photo caption:
Siyazondla member Nongenile Gongqose at work in her homestead garden

Click the image for a view of: Siyazondla member Nongenile Gongqose at work in her homestead garden
Siyazondla member Nongenile Gongqose at work in her homestead garden

Posted: 10/23/2012 (5:04:30 AM)


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