Gender and the precariousness of producing and selling indigenous vegetables : a case study of farmers in Northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Bhengu, Menzi Mthembeni.
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The cultivation and consumption of indigenous vegetables in rural communities, over successive generations, has been an integral livelihood strategy of both households and communities to ensure food security and concomitantly to enable them to wield greater control over their food systems. In a concerted endeavor to ascertain and understand the intersecting dimensions of gender and precarity, on a rural community in South Africa, the production and sale of traditional leafy vegetables (imifino/ morogo/ miroho) were examined through the livelihood strategies of rural farmers. The combination of a questionnaire based survey with a qualitative research methodology was used to collect data on the dynamics and processes which animate the production and sale of these traditional leafy vegetables. The majority of farmers, who were interviewed for this study, in rural Northern KwaZulu-Natal, were predominantly women due to the condition that the production of indigenous vegetables was predominantly a female-centered form of agricultural endeavor. Many households in the area were headed by women and they used the production of indigenous vegetables such as; amadumbe (taro), sweet potato and imbuya (amaranth), mainly for domestic consumption. However, the sale of these traditional vegetables was sparse and the income generated was used to augment family income. The significance of the different indigenous vegetables, for production and sale, differed due to the particular socio-economic circumstances of a household and was also affected by the temporal and ecological features of agricultural production. Despite the well-known medicinal and nutritional values of indigenous vegetables, the study discovered that they were not thoroughly embraced by the youth and other vulnerable groups within the community. Thus, discernable economies of perception were at play in the valorization of western varieties of leafy vegetables to the relegation of local/indigenous vegetables and varieties, as they were perceived as ‘backwards’ and connoted with ‘poverty’. In addition, the decline of indigenous knowledge (IK) on an about indigenous vegetables was discerned to be directly linked to the decreasing production and consumption of indigenous vegetables, and the leafy varieties, as a result of the break-down in production systems, the nascent drought, degradation of soil quality, and the shortage of seed. The seed systems and ‘seed banks’ for indigenous vegetables were found to be unstructured despite the sophisticated and advanced knowledge, on seed quality, possessed by a myriad of older women in the region. Further, the structural and normative challenges faced by the farmers, notwithstanding the social-cultural milieu in a region where food sovereignty was discovered to be at best nascent, it was also discerned that through sheer determination, and a methodological selection of plants, supportive social networks, and limited state support, these farmers were able to develop some autonomy, albeit precarious.