Towards an understanding of the relationships between homestead farming and community gardens at the rural areas of Umbumbulu, KwaZulu-Natal.
Ndlovu, Mfundo M.
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This study explores the perceptions of the value of community gardens by members and the relationship between this activity and homestead farming activities in Ogagwini, Umbumbulu District, KwaZulu-Natal. Establishing and supporting community gardens is consistent with the strategies adopted by South African national and provincial government to alleviate poverty, address food security and improve livelihoods for rural people. However, there is a lack of literature available on why rural people choose to involve themselves in community garden projects and whether these reasons are those intended by policy makers. There is abundant research on community gardening – most of it either urban or not specific as to setting. This literature is useful for the generic information it provides, but does not provide the scope of understanding that is unique to rural community gardening in South Africa. Thus this study contributes to understanding rural community gardens and possible adjustments needed by extension workers and development strategies to ensure effective food gardening practices in rural KwaZulu-Natal. The first extension facilitated community garden activities in Ogagwini were established in 1993 with the support of the provincial DAEA. Some community garden members are also members of the Ezemvelo Farmers Organisation (EFO), a group of farmers engaged in commercial small-scale farming. This research attempted to find out how community gardening activities were related to small-scale commercial homestead activities. Specifically, the study sought to investigate issues such as preferences among farmers between community gardens and homestead farming; the social and economic benefits derived from community gardens; and perceptions around environmental/ecological issues surrounding community gardens and homestead farming. A survey questionnaire on community garden activities and perceptions was given to EFO members and used to identify participants for this study. Committee members of the EFO (also members of community gardens) arranged for five gardens to be investigated. In-depth data was collected at the actual garden sites using semi-structured focus group discussions and participant observation. The data from the survey questionnaire was verified and clarified by semi structured probing during these discussions. A spiral approach was used to organise responses and make sense of the data within social, economic, and environmental themes. After three garden visits, no new knowledge was forthcoming and due to time constraints the study was limited to these three groups. The study found that there were no distinct linkages between homestead farms and community gardens, but that the systems operated on different principles. Community gardens were used to produce cabbages, carrots, beetroot, onions, green peppers and spinach mainly for consumption, whereas homestead farms produce field crops such as maize, amadumbes (taro), sweet potato, potatoes, pumpkins and peanuts. The study further identified social and economic benefits and environmental impacts and reinforces the importance of knowledge sharing amongst participants. The main benefits identified were income generation, sharing of knowledge and technical support The Department of Agriculture should carefully address sustainability issues when planning and implementing community gardens. This would include being able to carry on in the absence of an agricultural extension officer. Training programmes need to ensure that learning is transferable; that it is not overly commodity or technology specific and includes promotion of environmental awareness. This study has highlighted a number of potentially valuable issues for further situated research in the area of farming protocols, markets and the social value of community gardening within rural communities.
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