National Extension Policy
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Extension Opinion No 2: What can be done in the former homelands?

Mbizana and Lusikisiki are some of the most productive farmland in South Africa; good deep soils, wonderful rainfall and a mild climate suitable for grains, vegetables, fruit, timber and industrial crops. The difference as you cross from KZN is stark. There land is productively used but in the Eastern Cape the land is fallow. 
How did this arise? Is the difference due to land tenure, or to poor support services?
In the early 2000s government created programmes to stimulate production. This included grant/ loan finance over 5 years. The impact was noticeable as fields that had been fallow were now flourishing. Unfortunately, the moment loans needed to be repaid the production dried up. 
The conclusion to be drawn is that the approach followed was not sustainable. It was based on creating  a dependence, intentionally or not does not matter. 
This leads me to the conclusion is that government extension services are unsuccessful at delivering productive small scale farming development. Trapped within a bureaucracy, they are not flexible enough to reach farmers, assist them to obtain the necessary factors of production, and produce viable farmers. Of course government has an important role in regulation and facilitating smallholder development, but does it require a public extension service to do this?
There are examples of successful industry led extension. Perhaps in SA the best example is in the sugar industry, where an extension service is linked with a quota-based guaranteed market and farmer support where necessary. Undoubtedly this model deserves further scrutiny in other  agricultural sectors, and could include public private partnerships. Unfortunately, when sugar prices go through a downturn in a cyclical fashion, small scale producers are ditched. So industries are fairweather friends for smallholder farmers.
It seems to me that the best prospect for a sustainable extension service is for farmers to contract and manage their own extension service. As the owners of their own extension service, they can determine the quality of the service provided, and call the service to account. 
How can this be achieved? Government and industry can rather use the funding for extension to  fund farmers associations and unions to recruit the best available service. With proper support, industry can step in with confidence and support smallholder farmers, sometimes paying them a premium for example for their Fairtrade credentials. Smallholder and large scale farmers can work in partnership, with the extension service providing the linkages. There is a wealth of research, knowledge and technology that can be accessed by a focused knowledgeable extension service.

David Cooper has over 35 years experience in the land sector. He  has worked for the Environmental and Development Agency (EDA), the Land and Agriculture Policy Centre (LAPC), in the Ministry of Land Affairs and at Teba Development. Currently he is working on the community work programme with LIMA.

Click the image for a view of: Lusikisiki - Eastern Cape
Lusikisiki - Eastern Cape
Posted: 8/30/2012 (4:49:16 AM)


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