Perceptions of barriers to market participation among three farmer groups in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
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There has long been evidence that many smallholder farmers can benefit from marketoriented agriculture. However, smallholder farmers often face a number of barriers to accessing the markets. Smallholder market access is often cited as a factor that exacerbates the smallholder situation, but is little researched. This study investigated barriers to market participation among three smallholder farmer groups in rural KwaZulu-Natal. It is hypothesised that identification of these barriers could assist in institutional innovation to alleviate market constraints and challenges faced by smallholder farmers. It is also expected that addressing such barriers may create enabling conditions that would encourage smallholder farmers to access and participate more effectively in markets. Such efforts could improve the ability of smallholder farmers to become part of the mainstream or commercial agricultural economy. Three farmer groups from rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal (Centocow, Mbumbulu and Muden) were selected to participate in the study because they had interests in marketing fresh produce. One group (Mbumbulu) was a certified organic producer and was supplying a formal market. The other two groups (Centocow and Muden) were not organically certified and sold produce to informal markets. A three way comparison that included agricultural Policy Reform, Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) from Local Municipalities and focus group discussions was used to check and validate farmers’ responses to questions asked. Agricultural policy reforms relevant to these groups were reviewed. IDPs were analysed to evaluate service delivery and provision of infrastructure (enabling conditions for market participation). Focus group discussions were conducted to investigate farmer experiences in marketing and perceptions of agricultural policy constraints. The study revealed that access to resources, market information, infrastructure and farmer support services were barriers to market participation. Efforts to incorporate smallholder farmers through agricultural policy reforms in large scale agriculture have failed. Programmes to create enabling conditions (e.g. infrastructural development and telecommunications) were either not budgeted for or not implemented by local municipalities. Local economic development programmes focused on developing tourist attractions, although communal areas (Centocow and Mbumbulu) have the potential for agricultural growth. Local municipalities also faced challenges, such as lack of capacity to plan, implement, budget for planned projects, lack of service provider commitment and municipal funds. The results showed that despite barriers to market participation, smallholder farmers still marketed limited amounts of produce. If identified barriers are addressed, the issues raised in this study might improve market participation. Some barriers require direct intervention by government, as in the case of support services, extension service, credit and training. Investment in good infrastructure may encourage smallholder farmers to participate effectively in markets. This may be done by establishing a market infrastructure that includes collection points, transportation and market deposits in order to address the problems of proximity to markets. Such intervention should require the involvement of the private sector.
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