Subsistence Farming A Way to Overcome Poverty

Hunger Food security subsistence farming
Thursday, 5 May, 2011 - 09:20

South Africa should invest in subsistence farming to enable communities to overcome food insecurity, generate income and reduce the risk of contradicting ‘avoidable’ diseases

Poverty is on the increase since the inception of democracy in South Africa. Close to 15 million South Africans are now receiving social grants. The introduction of government-sponsored job creation projects, especially in rural areas, could enable people to grow their local economies while earning an income. This could ease pressure on government as most people will no longer rely on social grants for survival. This could be the first practical step towards eradicating poverty. 

I believe in the potential of subsistence farming in eradicating poverty. Government should view subsistence farming as a tool that could enable disadvantaged communities to realise the United Nations Millennium Development Goal 1 of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

While the pressure is still on government to deliver on land reform 17 years into democracy, the reality is that most families in rural areas own small plots of land that they could utilise to grow crops to overcome food insecurity all year round. Sadly, they utilise their small plots of land without any assistance from the government. For example, they are not subsidised to cultivate and to purchase seeds and fertilisers. Assisting the disadvantaged to practise subsistence farming could ease pressure on government to provide food parcels and help the country save money for other services. I should not be mistaken for suggesting that government should give attention to subsistence farming at the expense of land reform.

It is worth noting that most subsistence farmers produce enough to feed their families (depending on the rainfall) and remain with enough surpluses. Imagine if they could be assisted to access local markets, sell their surpluses and generate a profit.

I am not convinced that government is doing enough to widely promote subsistence farming.

Subsistence farming has come a long way since the times of our forefathers, and it helped them to sustain their families without any extra expenses. Through this method of farming, our forefathers, with the small plots they had, did not worry about escalating food prices as they had enough food for consumption and to also share with needy families.

Baiphethi and Jacobs P (2009) in an article titled ‘The contribution of subsistence farming to food security in South Africa’ quote Ruel et al (1998) as saying that, “food expenditures can be as much as 60- 80 percent of the total income of low-income households. It makes it very difficult to survive on the remaining portion of the income.”  This means that if subsistence farming is widely practised by everyone, many would remain with a better share of their income.

Linked to subsistence farming, government should invest in educating people to plant easy-to-maintain crops such as tomatoes, green peppers, spinash, etc, even if it means planting them in their backyards. Having your own backyard garden will not only go a long way in building healthy families and communities but will reduce the risk of contradicting diseases such as kwashiorkor and malnutrition. In addition, it could also benefit people living with HIV/AIDS and those who are already on antiretroviral drugs since they require healthy food.

- Phumla Mhlanga is an intern at SANGONeT.

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