Moving beyond substence : systemic integrity in commercialising homestead agriculture, with the Ezemvelo Farmers Organisation, KwaZulu-Natal.
The transformation of South Africa’s rural communal spaces into an economically viable, socially stable and harmonious sector is currently on the political agenda, the efforts of the public sector to achieve this however have fallen far short of the intended goal leaving subsistence and emerging farmers with little or no support. A current decline in agricultural activity in South Africa’s rural areas threatens to weaken even further the strength of rural economies. Calls for the return of ‘peasant’ agriculture to the political and academic agendas and a clarion call for South African farmers to rewrite their history lie within the problem of sustaining humanity with the economic, social, environmental and temporal dimensions as a driver for development. This thesis interprets the activities and behaviours that defined the innovative response of small-scale commercial farmers in KwaZulu-Natal who role model ‘farming’ as a ‘way of life’ in communal land spaces. The focus of the research was to interpret a useful meaning in the re-negotiation of power relationships between producers and their market. It conceptualised the process of individuals who had determined, and continue to define, their future. The events observed over the three years of field work, offered the possibility of generating an emergent solution to re-inventing farming as a way of life as season by season, decisions were made at the individual homestead level, collectively at community level and between internal and external decision-makers for market oriented agriculture as an additional farming strategy. A constructivist epistemology, relying on a pragmatic approach to using grounded theory methods within a participatory process, constituted the study design. The research focussed only on emic issues as the ‘culture’ or social and material priorities of the agronomic system in transition. For this reason, sensitising concepts were drawn from within the context to limit the scope and analysis of the study. Following the field work and write up, the literature of agrarian change was used to locate the study and consider the practical contribution of the study. This research identified that ‘successful’ commercial homestead agriculture was the result of changes in mind-set that allowed for new norms and behaviours for farming practice and for relationships. These shifts provided leverage points for overcoming resistance between producers and markets in accommodating a sustainable market oriented agronomy. Influencing the change was the impact of informed decision making, which brought the stakeholders together through the sharing of values and beliefs. Success was interpreted as using the market-orientated production of amadumbe to tap into the factors that sustained and created social cohesion, as well as those that stimulated agricultural activity. This emphasis encouraged the capacity for development and cultivation of sustainability. The research proposes that deliberate interdependence between producers and markets creates the incentive for development that is self-determining, sustainable and derives economic benefits from agricultural activity. This research contributes towards understanding how to re-define commercialisation as an inherent characteristic of traditional agricultural practice and, within this, a meaningful description for stakeholders of the social impact of a deliberate and mutually determined reconstruction of livelihood reality through a farmer-market researcher relationship. The research introduces the need for a new way of engaging over agriculture in communal spaces; how Discourse is defined and managed; for whom the results of evaluation and monitoring are aimed; and to whom the results of research belong. The research raises consciousness of the need for a space within which dialogue and support for sustaining social agriculture and the role that research institutions could play. The product of this research is a theory whose core variable defines successful commercial homestead agriculture as a dimension of systemic integrity between internal and external economic interactions. Systemic integrity has been defined as the process by which commercialisation of traditional agriculture has been demonstrated through tapping into the motivations that stimulate agricultural activity and nurturing social cohesion as the framework for legitimate development partnerships. The findings contribute to the discussion of how to unlock the technological and productive potential of rural communities within the images of supportiveness, solidarity, and communalism that produce food for the survival of humanity in a contemporary and dynamic world.
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