Among the many challenges smallholder farmers in rural parts of the country are faced with, insufficient state support and access to markets are key reasons why many don’t make it. According to Richard Hay, an agronomist and plant scientist, a lot more should be done to assist these farmers.
When it comes to the support offered to smallholder farmers operating in rural areas, the state has dismally failed, Hay states on this episode of the Farmer’s Inside Track podcast. He adds that a lot more can be done to assist these food producers.
“If you look at the history of the agricultural sector in South Africa it was direct state intervention that enabled the development of the capitalist commercial agricultural system that we see today, albeit along exclusionary racial lines.
“Although I disagree with the capitalist model that emerged, I do think there are many lessons that can be learned from the type of support that was offered in the first half of the twentieth century,” Hay explains,
According to him smallholder farmers desperately need better access to scientifically sound training programmers and extension support, as well as lines of credit, inputs such as high-quality seeds, and infrastructure such as efficient irrigation systems.
‘Include rural farmers in planning processes’
When it comes to market access, many smallholder farmers have managed to secure contracts with grocery stores, feeding schemes and other markets. Hay says this allows them to perform relatively well.
He believes that farmers should form part of the governmental planning processes to ensure that the type of support they receive is indeed relevant, “rather than having inadequate input dumped on them as we currently see quite often.”
Sharing his thoughts on the private sector, Hay says big retailers should do more to help small-scale farmers get into their supply chains and give them access to a bigger market.
As an “optimistic realist”, Hay is convinced that the future is in fact bright for young farmers.
“Social media is playing a central role in the dissemination of knowledge between young farmers, and I am glad that so many are so eager to learn more.
“As an agricultural scientist I think we need to do more to ensure that the agricultural research being done is made accessible to small-scale farmers and to enable them to improve their production systems,” he explains.
Farm with a difference
However, Hay is concerned with the type of farming system that many young South African farmers aspire to be part of. He goes on to say that he has discovered that most new farmers emerging into the sector are eager to go commercial and build their own empire.
“This [however] ultimately just emulates the same exclusionary capitalist system that we have built up… which only benefits a few at the expense of many.
“Instead, I would encourage more young farmers to aspire to be successful not only in providing for themselves, but also uplifting their communities,” he says.
Hay also encourages young farmers to branch out from mainstream and traditional agricultural commodities.
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