I was born and raised in a rural area somewhere in the eastern side of Limpopo Lowveld. I never suffered from malnutrition or any other disease linked to food insecurity because my parents relied on small-scale farming to produce the food that we consumed as a family. Like many other families in my area, we have a piece of land where we plant crops depending on the season of the year. Many people in my community face a number of socio-economic hardships in their daily lives. To escape the reality of living under such hardships, they invest their time and energy into small-scale farming. It is for this reason that children from families that practice small-scale farming are not likely to suffer from diseases such as kwashiorkor, which is directly linked to food insecurity.
In order to overcome some of the socio-economic hardships already referred to, most unemployed adults in the area have no option but to rely on small-scale farming to sustain their families and generate income. The greatest benefit is the area has loam soil and one is not required to invest in buying fertilisers since it contains more nutrients and humus.
I am a bit worried that while the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries focuses on providing fertilisers to small-scale farmers in my area, other departments have not contributed anything to the sector. Fertilisers are not important especially because activists in the area are of the view that they have the potential to kill the microorganisms which play a key role in decomposing the organic matter in the soil. If this claim is anything to go by, the use of fertilisers could impact negatively on small-scale farming in future.
A few months after hosting the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17), we now live with the reality that climate change exists. All we need to do as a country is to empower small-scale farmers to make informed decisions, especially because they are affected by climate change.
Small-scale farmers operate within ever-changing and unpredictable weather patterns. It is time for the South African Weather Service (SAWS) to come to the party. We cannot continue to have the SAWS which does not even reach out to small-scale farmers when conveying weather-related information. I am one of the fortunate few South Africans who can access weather forecasts on the SAWS website, get weather information on radio or watch it on television. The sad thing is that many of our small-scale farmers do not have the luxury of accessing weather-related information.
I recently went to the SAWS website and found the following message - “Get weather insight for your farm in the palm of your hand by using our web product and SMS messages: R199 per month.” This message is aimed at commercial farmers – there is no doubt about it. Does this institution have a strategy in place to start updating small-scale farmers with useful information on weather, which will enable them to make more informed decisions when farming? Messages like this will not benefit majority of the small-scale farmers in the country, if one considers the country’s literacy.
Again, providing support to small-scale farmers will go a long in building healthy communities. Small-scale farming has many benefits. In South Africa for example, small-scale farming could enable many people, especially those living with HIV/AIDS to eat a healthy diet and also contribute to improving life expectancy. In addition, it could help majority of the 15 million social grants beneficiaries to also produce enough food. This will ease pressure on their social grants, which are often used for buying food and not other necessities in the household.
Even though small-scale farming does not contribute massively to overcoming food insecurity in many communities, it could enable communities to realise the United Nations Millennium Development Goal 1 of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. Our government should put its money where its mouth is. We cannot continue encouraging people to venture into a sector which we are not supporting as a country. By failing to build the capacity of small-scale farmers to be able to produce food; we are creating a hungry nation, promoting the culture of relying on social grants for survival, not improving life expectancy, and taking the country many steps backwards when it comes to nutrition. We need to follow on the footsteps of our parents’ generation, who grew crops to feed their families for many years.
- Butjwana Seokoma is information coordinator at SANGONeT. He continues to believe in the power of subsistence farming and describes agriculture as his greatest passion.