Seeking a deeper understanding of the quality of relationships in the smallholder maize production system in Msinga.
Mchunu, Bongumusa Reginald Emmanuel.
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In South Africa, the majority of inhabitants rely on agriculture as the main source of livelihood. Agricultural crop production remains the primary source of subsistence, employment, and income. Due to policies put in place by the apartheid government, agriculture remained divided into large scale commercial farming and subsistence small scale farming. The 1913 and 1936 Tenure Acts and the 1927 Administration Act favoured white farmers of large scale commercial farms who produced and supplied markets. These acts were effective until 1994. Smallholder farmers were not supported to operate at commercial farming levels and instead remained as subsistence farmers. However, the present government has been putting policies in place to encourage smallholder farmers to operate at commercial farming levels. Smallholder farmers are faced with many challenges that restrict them from being commercially active in crop production. Their challenges range from the lack of land, equipment, and financial resources. They may also struggle to meet the quality and safety standards set by food processors, large retailers, wholesale buyers, and exporters. Smallholder farmers are also constrained by limited support services provided by government. When addressing problems that smallholder farmers are facing it is a common practice to focus on increasing production rather than to look at issues that affect production. It is thus important to look at the whole production system when the aim is to address problems affecting production and to understand the linkages in the system. The objective of this research was to seek a deeper understanding of the quality of relationships among smallholder farmers, extension officers, input suppliers, and output buyers in the maize production system in Msinga, South Africa. This objective was addressed in the application of social learning which was informed by systems thinking in order to gain a deeper understanding of the perspectives, practices, and experiences of all role players involved in maize crop production. This research was conducted through five levels of deeper learning where the first level was the review of literature. Semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions were carried out as tools for data collection in the other four levels of deeper learning. The second level sought to gain individual role player’s perspectives, practices, and experiences on the linkages and the quality of relationships in maize crop production. The third level consisted of two separate focus group discussions that brought together role players that worked together and were familiar with one another. The linkages and the quality of relationships were explored further. The fourth level brought together all role players into one group discussion where there was reflection on the findings of the previous group meetings and a cause and effect analysis on the quality of relationships. The fifth and final level was to establish strategies to improve the quality of relationships among role players in the maize production system. Communication, trust, communal and exchange relationships, control mutuality, satisfaction, and commitment were through a review of literature established as being important indicators of quality of relationships,. It was established that these indicators are interrelated where communication is the most important construct of the quality of a relationship and that the rest of the indicators are developed through communication. However, the findings of the research showed that weak linkages and poor quality relationships among role players of the Maize Production System occurred as a result of farmers’ practices, low literacy levels, lack of financial resources, inappropriate extension approaches, weak production input distribution channels, and farmers’ lack of information and access to output markets. Moreover, limited communication among role players in the system resulted in poor quality of relationships because communication is the most important construct of the quality of relationships. Communication is also the construct through which other indicators are developed. Nevertheless, through social learning, the awareness of the quality of relationships that exist among role players informed new thinking and, as a result it was recognized that change was required. These new insights led to multi-stakeholder conversations over the development of strategies to improve the quality of relationships among role players. These strategies were aimed at improving not only the quality of relationships among role players, but also the forward and backward linkages which would be beneficial to all stakeholders in the maize production system.
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