The role of smallholder farmers' cooperatives in rural development: a case of Umgungundlovu District Municipality, Kwazulu-Natal
Malomane, Mmemogolo Aaron
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This study investigates the contribution of smallholder farmers’ cooperatives in improving the socio-economic conditions of rural communities, focusing on uMgungundlovu District, KwaZulu-Natal Province. A qualitative research design, using interviews as an instrument to collect data, was utilised. The purposive sampling technique was used to select a sample of smallholder farmers’ cooperatives as participants to participate in the study. The cooperatives were selected based on their potential and prospects to significantly contribute to rural development. The study indicates that smallholder farmers’ cooperatives play a role in enhancing the livelihoods of rural communities, with many members dependent on the income generated from cooperatives. These cooperatives play a role in job creation, poverty reduction, access to markets, economic empowerment, human capital development, the improvement of the creditworthiness of members, and the creation of networking platforms. Furthermore, they are active in improving the lives of the less fortunate in the District through the donation of surplus food to orphanages, the elderly, vulnerable households, as well as funerals. As in other developing countries, poverty eradication, job creation, and improving the lives of rural communities emerged as key reasons for smallholder farmers to establish cooperatives in the District. Other reasons included contributing to economic development and skills development, access to finance, as well as training and capacity development. Despite evidence of the sampled cooperatives sustaining the livelihoods of rural communities, various challenges confront them. These include high illiteracy rates, the inability to access finance and formal markets, inadequate extension support, and the lack of transport. Among others, the study recommends clustering cooperatives following the commodity approach model to address some of the challenges they face. There is a need to expand extension support and the provision of appropriate production and marketing infrastructure to ensure the adherence to and adoption of good agricultural practices. In addition, government should drive public-private partnerships and involve smallholder farmers’ cooperatives as key partners in rural development initiatives. Lastly, it is recommended that smallholder farmers’ cooperatives in the District explore the possibility of establishing a Cooperative Financial Institution (CFI) and eventually a cooperative bank, owned by all smallholder farmers in the District, to address the challenge of access to finance. It is hoped that this study will be of value to policy-makers, cooperatives, rural communities, and academia.