Poverty and livelihoods : the significance of agriculture for rural livelihoods in KwaZulu-Natal (1993-1998)
Rural people in South Africal/KwaZulu-Natal makes up a large portion of the total population. They depend on a wide range of activities for living. Besides farming, they also engage in petty trade and wage work in towns and cities. Pensions (public welfare) and remittances also contribute a share to the household budget. Total cash earnings, however, are not enough to enable the majority of rural residents to escape poverty. This study attempts to present a case that the agriculture sector (farming) could contribute more towards improving the living conditions of these people. The argument centers on two facts: the fact that KwaZulu-Natal enjoys a plenty of agricultural natural resources and the second is that farming activity as a sector has certain characteristics worthy of consideration. Findings indicate two things: it establishes the low (measured) income flow from agriculture arrived at by previous studies but at the same time points out to the expansion in farming activities. Comparatively, income derived from farming still compares poorly with others as it was five years ago (1993-1998). The second point which may appear odd is that, consistent with findings by other sources, the number of people or households practicing farming is steadily increasing over time in contrast to other activities such as informal sector, migrant labor and income sources such as remittances. The study uses these facts and others to prove that the sector represents the central activity among the various components that constitute the livelihood system and that it has the potential to contribute more livelihoods as well as playing a lead role for the development of rural economy. The study recognizes the large magnitude of resources whether human or physical required and the constraints to tackle for realizing this but argues that in the absence of any realistic and feasible alternative, agriculture represents the second best route to poverty reduction in rural KwaZulu-Natal. It is also noted that the smallholder strategy in the short term can at best achieve an adequate level of household food security against hunger and malnutrition and may initiate a limited community level food and other farming related market transactions and employment. The study concludes with a number of recommendations deemed necessary to help rural producers enhance their productivity and thus livelihoods generated from the agriculture sector.