Supporting Self-Employed Farmers

agriculture unemployment food insecurity subsistence farming
Tuesday, 11 December, 2012 - 12:18

South Africa should encourage people to venture into small-scale farming in order to enable them to produce food to feed their families and also generate a sustainable income

According to latest statistics 19.4 percent of South African households have inadequate or severely inadequate access to food. With the current economic situation, high unemployment and increasing food prices, providing for the basic needs of a family is becoming more and more difficult for many people around the world, including millions of South Africans. A growing global population makes the situation even more complicated. By 2050, some experts think there might not be enough food for everyone. Many international agencies, including the World Bank, are calling for agriculture and farming practices to be recognised as part of the solution.

Unfortunately, the way people see agriculture is itself an issue. Many South Africans, especially youth, are not attracted by farming because they do not see agriculture as a form of employment. Only 23 percent of households in South Africa are involved in agriculture production and only 5.1 percent see agriculture as a way to generate income. Taking care of livestock or planting vegetables in a garden is hard work and takes commitment and passion. It is an everyday job which - as the thousands of rural farmers Heifer works with know - not only provides food for families but also generates income. Heifer is helping thousands of people recognise that small-scale farming or running a micro-farming business is a job. Once farmers have established their small businesses, they work together to market their produce to supermarkets, processors and other buyers.

Johanna Madonsela, a member of Heifer’s Hereford project in Limpopo says, “The project has brought joy to my family as me and my husband were not working at all. Now we all take care of the cows and crops. As some of the vegetables we grow are used in the household, my husband and my family are able to eat nutritious food.  We also managed to buy household items such as windows, a sink and garden tools. Since we are involved in agricultural activities, we have minimised the dependency syndrome because we are now self-reliant.”

A few years ago, Mandonsela, like many South Africans, could not have believed agriculture could change her life so much. Then she heard about Heifer International South Africa, a community development organisation which uses agricultural intervention to assist rural communities to move out of hunger and poverty. The organisation provides communities with inputs such as training, skills, seedlings, livestock and three to five years of ongoing support. During this time, these poor rural women and men become independent small-scale farmers, working together collectively, who are able to provide for their families. Mandonsela received training, livestock and several years of hands-on support. She started her own vegetable garden and established her farming business. The money generated from selling milk and vegetables to the local supermarket allowed her to grow as a small-scale farmer and change her and her family’s life for the better.

Madonsela is not the only one who has discovered the income-generating value of agriculture. Many of the women and men Heifer works with have seen their lives transformed. “The fact that now I am self-employed has brought hope and a better future for my family,” says Ntanjana from the Eastern Cape.

Over the past decade, Heifer has worked with thousands of small-scale farmers, who in partnership with Heifer, are working hard to make their farming businesses successful. For them agriculture is a job, way of living and a source of income.  Agriculture is a solution to feed the world and, as Heifer’s model proves, when farmers work together it can also create jobs. Through organised groups, productive small-scale farmers can access markets, sell their products to supermarkets and grow their farming businesses.

If you wish to support Heifer International South Africa’s work or find out more about their projects, visit or call 031 777 1374.

- Magdalena Wos is resource development officer at Heifer International South Africa.

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