TheSustainable Development Goals (SDG) formulated by the UN are a global call to eradicate
poverty, reduce the effects of climate changeand enhance food security, amongst others.
SDG number 2, focuses on ending hunger, and promotingsustainable food production.
According to Willlet et al(2019),the realisation of this goal requires implementation of
transformative measures across the food system. A food system encompasses the various
processes that influence food production and consumption. Due to their integrated nature,
food systems are influenced by various factors such as population growth, climate change,
policy change, urbanisation and technology advancement(Kushitor et al, 2022) . Sustainable
food systems promotesocial-cultural advancement in light of food security, are fiscally viable,
i.e. generateeconomic benefits for the various role players and supportthe equitable
distribution of resources. Weak or dysfunctional food systems perpetuatepoverty, lead to
increased levels of food insecurity, social and political instability.
Food Systems in South Africa
The South African food system is paradoxical in nature. It is characterised by adualistic
agrarian system, high levels of poverty as well as socio-economic inequality. According to
various studies, South Africa isfoodsecure at national level. However,increasing levels of
hunger and malnutrition at household level remain a cause for concern.TheSANHANES-1
survey (South African National Health and Nutrition Examinations Survey) stipulated that45.6
% of the population isfood secure.Conversely, this means more than half of the population is
faced with food insecurity. The statistics also revealedthat hunger is most prevalent in urban
informal and rural formal areas of which the African race group hasthe highest level of food
insecurity.Further to that, the country is faced with a triple threat of malnutrition where cases
of stunting, wasting and under nutrition in young children have been reported(Pereira, 2014).
The province of KwaZulu-Natal is characterised by high levels of unemployment, poverty and
inequality. It is estimated that halfof all rural households in the province live in poverty and
lack access to proper sanitation. Moreover, the advent of climate change has negatively
impacted production, further deepening food security challenges. Due to its high rural
population, the province also has the highest levels of grant recipients which currently stands
at 4 million, equating to22% of all grant recipients (Hlahla et al, 2023). Some studies suggest
that livelihoods are becoming increasingly separated from agriculture as a result of
urbanization in search for better opportunities. In rural areas, access to government grants
has been described as the primary factor which drives the purchasing of food. Subsequently,
people have become more reliant on local shops and supermarkets as opposed to producing
their own food(Pereira, 2014). This article is a case study on food systems and smallholder
farmers in Ozwathini, KwaZulu Natal.
Smallholder Farming Systems in Ozwathini
Ozwathini is a rural community situated in the Midlands of KwaZulu Natal. It is characterized
by small farming communities where various commodities are grown includingmaize, beans,
potatoes, amadumbe, sweet potatoes, sugar cane and vegetables. The farmers alsokeep
livestock, mainly cattle, goats, pigs and poultry.The area is sub-tropical with high rainfall and
misty conditions in summerand some frost in winter. Thefarmersreceive support both from
government and civil society organizations. MahlathiniDevelopment Foundation (MDF)
started working in the area in 2018 and set up a conservation agriculture learning group, which
has since grown to include climate resilient agriculture, micro finance, livestock and marketing.
The farmers also receive supportfrom the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development
Farming is practised primarily for selling andalso forhousehold consumption.Aside from
farming, the participantsalso depend on government grants and remittances to support their
families. Others have side businesses such as spaza shops and othersare retired.Some work
in ward committees and play a substantial role in addressing social issues pertaining to health
and food security.The age groups range between 40and 80 years old. The majority of the
organised farming groups are comprised of women. The area has been severely impacted by
climate change which has led to a perpetual decline in maize yields and income over the
years. Recent heavy rainfalls, soil degradation and pest outbreakshave also caused crop
damage especially on beans and vegetables which also adversely affected income.The
farmers grow food for the informal market, namely their neighbours, bakkie tradersand for a
short period, school feeding schemes. Market access remains a serious constraint for
smallholder farmers in the area. Through the assistance of Mahlathini Development
Foundation (MDF), farmers from the learning groups set up a monthly market in Bhamshela
which has been in operation for more than 2 years. The market lasts two to three days each
month depending on produce availability and level of demand. Mahlathini also supports two
savings groups in the area which meet monthly. These groups serve as money banks and
also as a source of small credit for business purposes.
Farming plays apivotal part in household foodsecurity inthe area. Farmers employ various
farming activities to support their food security needs. In recent years they have incorporated
improved farming practices such as intercropping, crop rotation and minimum soil disturbance
to slow down erosion and improve yields, in their farming systems. They also apply organic
farming practices in their gardens to help minimize reliance on external inputs and have
increased crop diversity in their food gardens to include herbs and new unfamiliar vegetable
types. In terms of livestock, the farmers farm mainly cattle, goats and poultry. The cattle are
communally grazed, however those raised on artificial milk are fed maize stover and cover
crops such as sunflower, sorghum, millet, black oats, fodder rye and fodder radish amongst
others. In terms of poultry, they have layers and broilers as well as Boschvelders which is a
multipurpose breed. Poultry provides a source ofprotein in the form of meat and eggs and is
also a very useful source of income. Some of the farmers sell inputs such as seeds, seedlings
and herbicides to supplement their household income. They also sell 6-8 month old calves.
Pigs are slaughtered and sold locally, some farmers have brought pork to sell at the market
which often sells out.
A recent resilience assessment for these farmers has shown much improved food security,
diversity of production, implementation of climate resilient agriculture practices and much
improved incomes in the range of R3300 on average per month from their combined
marketing of vegetables, field crops and livestock products, with a much larger reliance on
locally produced food in their homesteads.
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