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Three Models for Rural Development in the Eastern Cape
Last year I attended a conference on rural development hosted by Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha, Eastern Cape South Africa. They were working on developing a new model for their faculty of agriculture and rural development. As part of this they had brought consultants from a number of other countries. Foremost among these were three people from the Punjab who had been part of the Green Revolution which had totally transformed the Punjab and seriously improved the life chances of the farmers in this province of India. The Punjab had become a very productive land, exporting food all over India. The strategy had been based on the new green revolution crops that multiplied the productivity of rice and wheat production, on the massive use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides and on drawing up irrigation water from an artesian basin. Socially, the strategy had been premised upon a land redistribution that restricted land ownership to 17 acres per household. The other aspect was the heavy involvement of the university in extension work with farmers. The farmers had been encouraged to come to the university for training and large festivals where the latest technologies had been displayed. There was also a heavy use of government subsidy to provide irrigation water and tractor services as well as improved high yielding varieties. The question posed by their visit was how the Eastern Cape could learn from the Punjab model and by making the best possible use of the science that the university could provide, enable the poor rural villagers of the Eastern Cape to become successful commercial farmers. I had a few problems with this concept and attempted to explain my concerns in one of the plenary sessions, later drafting up this paper. What I do here is to consider the Punjab model and whether it could be applied to the Eastern Cape and then to look at some other models for development for the Eastern Cape.
The Green Revolution and South Africa
The first thing to note if we are looking at applying the Punjab model to South Africa is this. When the Green Revolution came to India the application of this kind of high production scientific farming was an innovation. South Africa in 2010 is in a very different situation. The ‘Green Revolution’ or something very like it has already taken place in South Africa. That is, we already have here an example of a radical increase in production based on the application of scientific methods and high input commercial agriculture. This is in the largely white-owned commercial large scale farms. These can readily produce sufficient food for the whole of South Africa and also for export.
The reason they do not produce all the food that South Africa needs and the reason that there is still food insecurity is that a whole set of political decisions were taken with majority rule.
One was the decision not to supply an adequate unemployment pension which would enable the huge class of unemployed in South Africa to buy all the food they need from these commercial farms. Many of the villagers of South Africa living in the former homelands are not getting sufficient income to buy all the food they need and the result is stunting and malnutrition. This is not coming about because of any lack of productivity in South African farming.
Another political decisions was made to cut almost all of the subsidies and tariffs that protected agriculture in the apartheid period. The effect of this decision was to put South African farmers in competition with global agriculture. The effect of that was first, a consolidation of ownership, you had to get really big to survive. The second effect was that much South African agriculture was not competitive on the world market, meaning that 30% of commercial land has been taken out of production – and not because it has been given to black farmers. The implication is that in some years South Africa has had to import maize to satisfy the market demand here. It has been cheaper to import maize from overseas than grow the whole of what is required in South Africa.
These effects come out of policy decisions and could be turned around by government if it wanted to support commercial farming or feed the poor. Other countries have done this – they have put tariffs on imported farming products to boost their own farmers and they have given the unemployed an income sufficient to buy food or they have even distributed food to the poor. These measures could be enacted in South Africa tomorrow if there was the political will to make such changes, but that does not seem likely.
When we look at the Punjab in India, we can note that it is an area which was favoured by the Green Revolution and invested in by government to become intensely productive. As a result the farmers of the Punjab became wealthy and export their crops to the rest of India. However we all know that there are many Indians who are still hungry today, just like there are many South Africans who are hungry. These are in the provinces of India which are not providing food for the rest of India, where ordinary farmers have not been the beneficiaries of this national project. If we want to compare South Africa with India as a whole let us imagine that the Punjab of South Africa consists of all the large commercial farms owned by white people and producing vast amounts of food with the latest technology. The Eastern Cape is like one of the other provinces of India, where ordinary farmers are still suffering from hunger.
The Punjab Model for the Eastern Cape
OK. That being the case, what is the Punjab model for the Eastern Cape? How to transform agriculture here into highly efficient scientific farming and at the same time, to eliminate rural poverty by spreading that success to all the people of the Eastern Cape rural areas.
Clearly the first thing you would say about this is that the kind of farming that has the most potential to be commercially successful in the Eastern Cape (at least outside of the coastal zone) is cattle production. The vast hinterland of poor rural communities are best suited to commercial farming in cattle. Yet if we just went for a simple commercial solution what you would end up with is vast grazing areas with only a few farmers and all of the rest of the people still poor.
How to avoid that. The key decision in the Punjab that prevented this outcome and allowed the Punjab to reduce poverty at the same time as they increased production was this. They made a government decision to cap land ownership at 17 acres per household (or approx 8 ha) – a form of land redistribution to the poor.
To make an analogy to the Eastern Cape and cattle, a comparable decision would be to cap cattle ownership and fund the acquisition of cattle by the poor. For example, you could decide that every household would be helped to acquire five head of cattle and no more. At present cattle ownership is very uneven. It is between about 20% and 50% of households that own cattle and the size of the herd is between about 20 and down to 2 or 3 per household.
At present in the Eastern Cape, there is massive overgrazing and soil degradation. Despite this, cattle are an important source of wealth and animal protein for villagers in the Eastern Cape, the more so as cattle that may be owned by a minority are distributed in ceremonies to the poor and supplement other sources of animal protein. Studies by Nomokhaya Monde (UFH) show quite decisively that the best period of the year for adequate protein intake is December when there is a lot of slaughtering of cattle for ceremonial occasions.
So with all this overgrazing, it may appear that there is no actual scope to increase cattle numbers overall. That is not the case. There are techniques that could improve productivity and maintain soil and pasture quality – allowing an increase in cattle numbers. For example, dividing the community grazing area into 4 large fenced areas, within which the total herd of the community would be moved around for a season and then moved on to the next area. For example, getting farmers to sell the calves early rather than hanging on to them. For example, improving stock quality and veterinary services.
So the Punjab model for the Eastern Cape would be for governments to fund, or at least to provide cheap credit, for communities to organize their grazing in this manner. Given this increase in productivity (maybe a three fold increase at most) it could be possible to allocate each household 5 head of cattle. This is just a rough guess. The actual figure would be based on achievable stocking rates after these measures had been put in place. You would work out the total achievable herd for a community and divide by the number of households to get the right figure per household. This could vary from year to year depending on rainfall. You would have to sell all stock above this figure year by year.
Clearly all these measures would have to be:
a) organized and funded by government
b) agreed upon by the whole community – including those who would have to sell most of their larger herds at market value and be content with 5 head of cattle from now on.
Would this measure do much to alleviate poverty in the Eastern Cape? Let us assume for the sake of argument that you could get this kind of government support and that people would permit this change and allow this rationalization of grazing strategies and distribution of cattle wealth.
I am not sure. Jan Raatz from UFH has worked out that to get an income of R20 000 per year you need 40 head of cattle. In other words, this is the best that efficient commercial grazing can do. So let us assume that you need to make R1500 a month to get every village household an income that makes sense and would relieve poverty. That is R18 000 per year, or 36 head of cattle. To give each village household of the rural areas of the Eastern Cape 36 head of cattle, even with all the best grazing strategies on offer, is clearly impossible given current land ownership in the Eastern Cape. With five head of cattle, which seems a more realistic figure, you are looking at an income per household from cattle of about R20 000/ 8 = R2 500 per year or R208 per month, an amount about equal to the child support pension for one child. This is clearly insufficient to interest villagers in effective cattle farming.
My pessimistic assessment of this could be wrong and what could be useful is to try this experiment in a small catchment area of 4 or 5 villages in the Eastern Cape. See if you can get agreement in the villages to this redistribution of cattle and rationalization of grazing. If that can be secured, get private donor funding to take the role of government in providing materials for fencing, adequate veterinary services, marketing access and so on.
Clearly there are two other models for kick starting rural development and alleviating poverty in the Eastern Cape.
The Is’Baya model.
I an calling this model this Is’Baya model after the local NGO which is pioneering this strategy in the Eastern Cape. This is also the model being promoted in South Africa by the UNISA Household Food Security Program for distance education. This model is explored in detail in my book “Permaculture Strategy for the South African Villages”. Another project along these lines is the CELUCT project in Zimbabwe that has been going for 20 years and has totally transformed a whole set of villages in relation to food security issues (Chikukwa.org). The techniques initiated there have now been spread to the whole district of Chimaninmani through the TSURO project. The Kulika foundation in Uganda is also operating with a similar strategy.
In this model, all projects are targeted at a whole village unit. Meetings are called and groups of villagers develop ideas of what can be done to improve their food security based on a range of cheap low input technologies that the project coordinators can suggest – a menu if you like. Some items on the menu are activities that need the cooperation of groups of villagers and benefit the village as a whole – for example re-planting the top of a hill or fencing off a spring. Other items on the menu are activities that are to be carried out by individual households and are intended to increase the productivity of whatever kind of agriculture they are already doing. The aim is to start with those who are doing something on their home stands, cropping fields or the grazing area and inspire others to begin. A typical example from Is’Baya is to offer fruit trees to villagers. They are asked to pay a discounted price for fruit trees (R6 to R12 per tree) and given instructions on how to plant and look after them. Another project of this kind could be to provide fencing materials to allow homestead production and get the villagers to install their own fences, after instruction by the project coordinators or locally trained agents. Fencing community grazing land into camps for rotation could be another measure – with materials supplied and villagers doing the work.
There are many examples in my book. The target is always to produce more food to ensure food security for the household – rather than to aim at a commercial product. On the other hand, there is no doubt that villagers are also attracted by the idea of producing a surplus for sale. We know this project strategy works. Unlike the Punjab grazing model that I have invented above, we have plenty of examples in South Africa from Is’Baya - and in other African countries - that show such strategies can increase food production and food security.
The relationship between this strategy and commercial production is more complex than might be expected. What has become clear is that successful projects of this kind build capacity for agriculture in the community and that, out of this, a number of villagers always become successful entrepreneurial small scale farmers. But the important thing is that the other villagers, who do not take this route, also gain food security and a sense of meaning and purpose that relieves the demoralization of unemployment. The other thing to understand about the economic benefit of these projects is that the poor spend less on food and have more money for other purposes – such as school uniforms, school books, mobile phones and the like – which actually help to make them employable if a job is available. At present in the Eastern Cape, poor families spend 50% of their income on food, which is ridiculous when so much land is available for cropping and homestead agriculture – and in a situation where most people are unemployed and likely to remain so.
There are two slogans that sum up this perspective:
If you design a project to turn a small group of poor villagers into successful commercial entrepreneurs, your project is very likely to fail. Even if it works, it will do nothing to relieve the poverty of most rural villagers or to achieve food security.
If you design a project to achieve food security for the great majority of rural villagers, you will inevitably capacitate some to become effective entrepreneurs while the great majority will achieve food security.
The emerging farmers model
In this model, projects are designed to help those black farmers who have most chance of making a commercial success. There is no intention to help the poor and these projects will not help the poor. But they can do something to bring about racial balance in commercial agriculture. Assistance should be targeted at those with a good education in either business or commercial farming or both. The emerging farmers should be assisted with cheap loans from government, with land, with help with inputs, marketing assistance and machinery and so on. They should also receive intensive extension support to run their business, and this should be continued for up to ten years. The farmers should not be expected to break even under less than five years. The farmers may be people who have a job and use that to fund their farming and employ other workers on their farm. They may work in the agriculture departments and should be permitted to take a day off each week to see to their farm and supervise work. Ideal people to target are people who are black farmers who are already engaged in successful small scale commercial farming. In relation to land redistribution, the government’s new policy of acquiring land at a fair price and leasing it to such farmers year by year and seeing that they are still using the land well, makes a lot of sense. It has been hard for the government to make their projects for emerging farmers work, but on the other hand, there is no doubt that there are some successful emerging farmers and in that sense there is no doubt that this model is working too.
The Centre for Rural Development (CRD) at Walter Sisulu University should try each of these models out. They might decide to fund each project with a similar amount of money and see what the results are like after 5 years.
They should do the first two models separately in a different small catchment area in the Eastern Cape (three or four villages) and get funding to do so. These two projects could be monitored using the extension technique developed by UNISA. Each student assigns themselves a group of five households and reports back on their five households’ food security issues and the projects for part of their assessment.
The organization of the Is’Baya model should be contracted out to the Is’Baya organization, which has proven results in making this model work. Norman Featherstone of the Winderverg agricultural high school school in Fort Beaufort could advise on necessary grazing strategies to make the Punjab model for grazing work. There are probably many others – the real problems would be in getting village agreement, not in what to do to make successful commercial grazing.
I am sure the CRD could come up with someone to assist with the emerging farmers strategy. It could be best not to target a particular catchment area for this (emerging farmers) strategy but to simply find five emerging farmers within driving distance of Mthatha and work with them. Outcomes in that case could be evaluated on the number of people employed and the cost of servicing these farmers adequately to consolidate their business and get an income of at least R20 000 per year for each adult.