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Agricultural extension, sustainable livelihoods and self-reliance: the case of Illovo's small-scale sugarcane farmer development programme (Noodsberg, South Africa).

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Small-scale Sugarcane Grower Development Programmes implemented in rural communities have become very popular in South Africa because sugarcane contributes substantially to both local and national economies. Illovo Sugar has adopted such development programmes with an aim of improving rural livelihood and option and also improving the South African sugar industry. In most cases, however, it appears that sugarcane development programmes are primarily driven by the pressure to meet the demand for sugar which has focused the programmes on developing sugar through small-scale farmers. This study then seeks to investigate and unravel the role that extension could and should play in sugarcane development programmes to refocus such programmes on the farmers (rather than on the commodity), to build their capacity, and to make their livelihoods more sustainable in the face of change and opportunities for improvement. This investigation was conducted with three groups of participants; small-scale sugarcane farmers, extension worker and enablers. Enablers, in the context of this study, refers to stakeholder/s or structure/s involve in making, suggestion of changes and alteration of policies, law and processes that shapes the impact of the Small-scale Sugarcane Grower Development Programme on the programme’s target farmers. In the case of this programme, the enablers are the Illovo development manager and SASRI extension specialist who were selected purposively as key informants of the study. The other participants (including farmers and extension providers) were selected using a Snowball Sampling. Thirty-five farmers participated in this study, sampled on the principle of saturation. The investigation with farmers was carried out using semi-structured interviews as basis for developing themes and focus group discussion for surfacing in-depth data. Semi-structured interview was also employed to gather data from extension workers and enablers. From the perceptions of small-scale sugarcane farmers the study discovered that extension is primarily involved in technology transfer, particularly in the production aspect of the programme. From the perceptions of farmers, extension workers and enablers the study found that the programme is intensively focusing on ensuring that all small-scale farmers supply sugarcane to Illovo at the end of each season. The study determined that the role of extension assumes that, through transferring technology and ensuring technical support, the livelihoods of small-scale farmers will be enhanced and sustained and self-reliance will be achieved. The study also found that the development programme focuses on building farmer knowledge to run the farm and ensure sustainability, but does not facilitate the acquisition of skills by farmers to engage with scientific enquiry. Farmers are given a limited opportunity to participate in all the activities of the programme which jeopardise their chances of being selfreliant in their farming operations. This also has adversely impacted on farmers’ ability to own their development and be accountable for what they achieve. The study essentially found that the programme focuses more on developing the enterprise (sugarcane) through farmers than on building farmer capacity to improve the enterprise while sustaining their livelihoods – which is the antithesis of both theory and intention of development and extension. In the light of this, the study suggest that in the production, finances and marketing aspects of the programme, the role of extension should be extended to engaging farmers in an extension conversation with the aim of building their capacity to engage with scientific enquiry. The agenda for improving farmer capacity can be developed around the idea of advancing farmer skills and knowledge, and creating opportunities within the programme to enhance farmer aptitude. The study further recommends a shift in the programme from technology-oriented toward more farmer-centred development that places farmers in the centre of the programme and encourages farmer participation in all the processes of the development programme. This will include adoption of a learning-based approach that suggests a learning process of investigation, assimilation and sharing to be used by all the role-players (farmers, extension and enablers) in facilitating an intervention relevant to farmers’ livelihood.


M. Agric. Mgt. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2015.


Sustainable living--South Africa--Noodsberg., Sugarcane industry--South Africa., Farmers--South Africa--Economic conditions., Agricultural extension work--South Africa., Illovo Sugar Limited., Noodsberg Sugar Mill., Sugarcane farmer development programmes.