An evaluation of the perceived benefits and constraints of community gardens established by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs.
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This study provides feedback from the Extension Officers and community garden members involved in community garden projects of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs, by investigating the contribution of community gardens to household food security. The investigation included interviews with 61 Extension Officers from the Bergville, Hlanganani, Eshowe, Vryheid and Mbumbulu districts and 106 community garden members from 31 community gardens in the Bergville and Hlanganani districts. It was found that the people involved in community gardens were older persons, with little or no education. Those involved in community gardens were unemployed and relied on pensions, remittances and selling handicrafts to purchase garden inputs. The average household dependency ratios were 4, 5 and 5, 5 persons per active household member in Hlanganani and Bergville, respectively. Community garden members were mostly females, but most community garden members’ households were male-headed. The community garden members indicated that the most important reason for producing vegetables was for household use. Extension Officers were not satisfied with the state of community gardens and the relationship between the regional and district offices. Community gardens do not reflect the effort put in by the Extension Officers. The Extension Officers want to be involved in determining research priorities and be regularly informed about research findings and policy changes made at the regional level. The Extension Officers would like to see all government departments working together towards the development of communities. Extension Officers believe that if the government departments pool their resources, they would be able to serve the communities better than when each department works alone on community garden projects in the same community. Despite the initial funding of community gardens by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs, there were many factors limiting production of vegetables in community gardens. The limiting factors included poor soil fertility; small garden plot sizes; low water availability; high start-up costs and poor management of the community garden finances. The community garden members were positive about the contribution of community gardens to their lives. The benefits were in the form of information about vegetable production, cropping practices and the availability of fresh vegetables that provided nutritious food and allowed them to buy other household requirements instead of vegetables. Community garden projects have a potential role to play in the lives of many rural people if the following concerns raised by the Extension Officers are addressed: the relationship between the offices at district level and the regional level improves; the establishment and maintenance of sound channels of communication between the district field staff and the regions; research support is received from the regions; and government departments work together. The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs should not only focus on providing infrastructure for projects but should also ascertain that the proposed project achieves the objectives of both the community garden members and the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs and that the beneficiaries are trained before the project is handed over.
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