UKZN’s Farmer Support Group (FSG) played host to a visit between New Zealand High Commissioner to South Africa, Her Excellency Dr Emma Dunlop-Bennett and Second Secretary at the New Zealand High Commission, Ms Gabrielle Chin and farmers from Bergville who participated in a project that received support from the High Commission.
The FSG was the recipient of a grant from the New Zealand High Commission Fund (HEF) through the UKZN Foundation Trust to enhance climate resilience for sustainable livelihoods and improved food and nutrition security for farmers in rural parts of KwaZulu-Natal’s Okhahlamba Local Municipality.
In the context of challenges to farmers’ livelihoods that include the extreme weather phenomena of climate change and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its implicit threat to health, complicated by riots experienced in KwaZulu-Natal in July 2021 that impeded farmers’ access to essential supplies, the FSG sought to strengthen farmers’ resilience.
This was achieved during the one-year project by hosting collaborative planning and vision sessions with farmers; strengthening farmer groups and institutional structures and preparing for the winter season by conducting soil and water conservation and management; providing farming inputs and instruction in record-keeping; and planning for the intense rainy season through purchase of inputs in bulk for field crop production.
FSG Director, Professor Maxwell Mudhara welcomed guests at the meeting between Dunlop-Bennett, Chin, FSG facilitators and farmers. ‘This project came at the right time as we are faced with the problem of climate change and supported our efforts to make farmers more aware and resilient, and identify practices that can make them perform better and adapt to climate change,’ he said.
‘This project came at an opportune time because we were faced with the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty, and people had no contact, so we used the project not only for production but for mobilisation,’ said FSG Project Coordinator, Mrs Avrashka Sahadeva.
‘Your initiative has very much been one of the successes, not only the content but also the heart of it as proposed by the University based on an identified need, and we have come with a very small resource to be able to support it,’ said Dunlop-Bennett.
‘When we work in partnership we really can deliver and can be formidable,’ she said.
Farmers Ms Cynthia Mngomezulu, Mr Sithabiso Manyathi, Mr Sanele Khumalo and Ms Manesi Nkosi shared their experiences through the project with Dunlop-Bennett and Chin, describing the new methods they had learned, including moisture conservation, improved understanding of the value chain through group sessions held by the FSG, and the ability to undertake planting with other communities.
The farmers said the initiative had exposed them to structures of government they could approach for support, which they would not otherwise have had access to, and taught them about pest control and the methods available to them to ensure self-sufficiency.
Aspects of indigenous and intergenerational knowledge sharing of techniques including seed storage were also employed in the farmers’ activities, and they emphasised that the HEF support had helped them gain knowledge from one another and formulate their own plans.
‘If you don’t have vision, you can’t be a farmer,’ said Khumalo, emphasising the importance of the processes taught by the FSG, thanks to this grant.
Words: Christine Cuénod
Photograph: Farmer Support Group