The role of agricultural extension in promoting food security in the context of encouraging biodiversity conservation in South Africa : the case of KwaZulu-Natal.
Abdu-Raheem, Kamal Adekunle.
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This study evaluates the roles of agricultural extension relative to overcoming household food security and biodiversity conservation concerns in South Africa, with specific reference to the KwaZulu-Natal province. Food security in South Africa is paradoxical. The country is nationally food secure, yet a sizable percentage of its households remain hungry. The national government identifies agriculture as a potentially viable vehicle to ensure food security among the poor households. On the other hand, agricultural activities have taken a centre stage among the identified major drivers for biodiversity loss in the country. In fact, it is as if the relationship between agriculture, being the driver for food security, and loss of biodiversity is ‘inversely proportional’; hence the efforts to attain household food security and to ensure biodiversity conservation appear to be mutually exclusive. Extension is particularly well positioned to address both food security and biodiversity conservation concerns, since its activities are directly related to both objectives. In this context, this study investigates and unravels the functions which extension currently plays in respect of achieving these two seemingly contradictory objectives within KwaZulu-Natal, and draws conclusions about what must be done to effectively position agricultural extension to realise these currently dichotomised objectives simultaneously in the country. The research processes adopted for this investigation are two-fold: a theoretical and philosophical process, on the one hand, and an empirical process, on the other. Both processes followed a systematic investigation pattern. The influence of extension on food security and biodiversity conservation respectively were first interrogated separately; and subsequently, its influence on both of them simultaneously was examined. Drawing on relevant published works, in the case of the theoretical process, this study was able to establish that extension is particularly well positioned to address both food security and biodiversity conservation concerns simultaneously through the instruments of linkages, local knowledge facilitation, engaging and building on social capital and education. The empirical process involved data collection through semi-structured interviews with respondents, comprising various national and provincial-level food security and extension managers and extension practitioners, as well as food security/extension officers from two NGOs and farmers. A total of 46 respondents participated in the investigation on food security and extension issues, and 44 respondents were interrogated on biodiversity conservation and extension issues. Some of the participants were engaged for both investigations. The study generally found that extension engages primarily in technology transfer and supply of farming inputs like seeds and fertilizers to the farming households. Three sets of factors affecting the capacity of extension to promote food security together with biodiversity conservation emerged: household/community-level factors; social factors; service delivery factors; and ecological factors; the last being specifically related to biodiversity conservation promotion. Key among these factors were: inadequate household production resources including lack of seed banks and poor education, inadequate involvement of youth and men in agriculture, ecological conditions consisting of irregular and inadequate rainfall, drought and flooding, the top-down nature of agricultural and extension interventions, poor collaboration and coordination between extension and biodiversity conservation institutions, and poor extension management and delivery capacities. The study concluded on the need for appropriate linkages between the extension and the food security and biodiversity directorates of the Provincial Department of Agriculture, strengthening extension support system, and creating an atmosphere conducive to extension activities. It recommends that efforts of government, extension management, food security and biodiversity conservation institutions and farmers be integrated and better coordinated to clearly articulate policies for extension, food security and biodiversity conservation. In the light of the conclusions, the study developed and presented a ‘Refurbished Extension Model’ which builds on the current South African model by introducing the following three elements: i. collaboration among all the stakeholders involved in promoting food security, biodiversity conservation and agricultural extension objectives; ii. adoption of capacity-building approach (replacing the current top-down, technology transfer approach) by extension to support farmers who are at the centre of the food security and biodiversity objectives; and iii. re-invigoration of extension institutions by providing specific capacities which are lacking at present within the institution. With these in place, the model postulates that extension, alongside farmers, would be better placed to foster new farming ideologies to address the food security and biodiversity conservation concerns simultaneously.
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