In August 2014, the Western Cape Provincial Department of Agriculture (WCDOA) launched an ambitious and commendable project to support small-scale farming in Suurbraak, a heritage mission station in South Africa.
Suurbraak comprises three definable sectors. The first is the established village, the second is commonage and individual private plots ‘oor die rivier’ (across the Buffeljags River that flows past the town), the third is low-cost RDP-type (Reconstruction and Development) housing higher up behind the village for indigent families.
Two approaches to agrarian support
The WCDOA initiative comprised two discrete approaches to agrarian support.
The first was to make available to a local women’s project, the Birds of Paradise, considerable financial and practical support (training, fencing, irrigation, ploughing, seedlings) that went into the establishment of a community commercial vegetable and berry farm on a hectare of commonage oor die rivier, notably a distance from the village where the women of the farming co-operative lived.
The second approach the Department of Agriculture took was to donate rainwater harvest tanks and gardening implements to eligible households in the village, including RDP households.
What does the research tell us?
My research towards an MPhil (see Unearthing the determinants required for off-grid subsistence found that the inclination to start farming as a livelihood strategy depends on access to agrarian niches, and that these niches need to conform to most of the following seven criteria or key determinants:
- surveyed small parcels of land, available to farm for long duration
- to maximise potential there should not be overly restrictive and costly laws and regulations stifling livelihood activities and market access
- a homestead on or near the farming allotment
- a farming allotment large enough to be considered a smallholding or put to agricultural use (>0.1 of hectare)
- a farming allotment with access to cheap irrigation water
- access to inputs (commonage and/or bought in), and
- a source of manual labour and financial income
So what were the outcomes of the WCDOA’s food security project? How did the two models of support fare?
Below is how the commonage now looks two years later:
The commonage approach has clearly failed because, I believe, only five of the seven determinants were in place. Not factored in were: #3 (the land provided to the women was not close to where they lived) and #7 (the allotment was far from their only source of labour, namely, the women themselves and members of their family).
Agrarian niche model
At the time of doing my research very few RDP-type households had a food garden, now seven indigent households do – four of which were benefactors of the WCDOA project, and therefore received rain tanks garden implements and seeds):