The role of smallholder irrigated agriculture in promoting livelihoods and poverty alleviation: the case of Taung, South Africa
Chiyaka, Esther Namatirai
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Finding a lasting solution to poverty in the developing world remains a daunting task in our time. Most developing countries acclaim the role of agriculture and other agricultural activities as the main providers of employment in the rural areas. In South Africa, dry land crop production is limited in most parts due to high evaporation as well as low and inconsistent rainfall patterns. The conditions create a need to look at alternatives. Irrigated agriculture has proven to be successful in other parts of the world especially where there has been adequate support from governments, NGOs and other private organisations. The significance of smallholder irrigation schemes arises as a result of their location in the former homelands areas. These areas continue to be characterised by poverty. However, in South Africa, most irrigation schemes which were previously supported by government have been abandoned since the handing over of their management to the farming communities. Although there has been research into the reasons for the abandonment of the schemes, the problems were found to be unique to each particular scheme. Not enough research has been done to ascertain the linkages between irrigated agriculture on smallholder schemes and livelihoods. This study links smallholder irrigated agriculture to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. It determines whether irrigation is an option for alleviating poverty by exploring the livelihood strategies at present on the smallholder irrigation schemes. Irrigated agriculture has the potential to contribute to poverty alleviation and livelihoods. Livelihoods strategies affect farmers on smallholder irrigation schemes but they have received little attention. The study, using Taung as a model examined how smallholder irrigated agriculture could contribute to livelihoods and poverty alleviation. Taung irrigated scheme is situated in South Africa. A case study design and mixed methods were used to obtain data from the research participants. Semi-structured interviews, a group discussion, field observations and literature were used. Generic purposive sampling was used to select interviewees from the Taung irrigation scheme. 76 participants were purposively selected from the 8 cooperatives currently operational in the irrigation scheme. A focus group discussion was held with 4 key informants who were the extension officers from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. In this study a thematic analysis of data was conducted. The quantitative andqualitative data collected from the primary and secondary sources were analysed using qualitative methods and descriptive statistics. Livelihoods of smallholder irrigating farmers were found to be diverse. The smallholder farmers plots ranged between 7, 5 to 1 Oha in size. This was an improvement from the 2 hectares that were too small and hence were farmed solely for subsistence. The intensification and diversification of crop production facilitated the linkages between farmers and input suppliers. The increase in farm income created high demand for modern agricultural farm inputs such as improved seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. Thus, irrigation development has led to higher production, which implies increased consumption of inputs, as well as higher production receipts for the farmers. Apart from production linkages there are also consumption linkages because of the higher income from irrigation agriculture. Crop intensification, diversification, and market-oriented production provide food to producers as well as to consumers. The forward consumption linkage is the increased supply of products for the local and national markets. Similar to other irrigation schemes in South Africa, a lot of challenges characterise the irrigation system in Taung. These range from financial problems, mismanagement to irrigation system maintenance. Government is the major supporter providing seed, fertilizers, and pesticides. Although the private sector also provides support there is need for monitoring to avoid manipulation of vulnerable farmers. Extension services need to be improved so as to be effective. Other sectors should also be encouraged to support the smallholder irrigating farmers. To improve the economic and environmental performance of small scale-irrigation schemes institutional support (input supply, output marketing and credit services), training of farmers on improved crop and water management issues, regular supervision and monitoring of scheme activities are crucial.