Are non-governmental organisations effective in increasing access to agricultural markets within rural communities? A comparative study of female smallholder farmers within the eMazabekweni, KwaNokweja, Hopewell and Carisbrooke communities, Ubuhlebezwe Local Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
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Background: Poverty within rural areas encourages females to practice smallholder farming as a poverty alleviation strategy. Whereby female smallholder farmers provide for themselves and are able to sell their produce to sustain their livelihoods. Female smallholder farmers often do not have the capability to participate in agricultural markets due to their lack of access to these markets, resources, inputs and extension services. These limitations decrease the ability of a rural female smallholder farmers to be able to maintain their livelihoods, whilst ensuring food security within their households. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) claim to provide farming assistance to minority groups, such as women. The objective of this thesis was to determine whether NGOs are actually making a difference among rural communities. Aim: The aim of this study is to investigate the effectiveness of NGOs in increasing access to agricultural markets as a poverty alleviation strategy amongst female smallholder farmers. Methods: Comparative research was undertaken among female-headed households from two smallholder farming communities that received agricultural assistance from NGOs and two smallholder farming communities who were unable to access any assistance from NGOs. These communities fell within the Ubuhlebezwe Local Municipality, and are the eMazabekweni, KwaNokweja, Hopewell and Carisbrooke communities. A purposive sampling strategy was utilised. The study employed triangulation, utilising both quantitative and qualitative data collection strategies. Quantitative methods included a structured questionnaire which was followed by statistical analysis using Statistical Package for Social Science version 25. Qualitative methods included participatory exercises and focus group discussions. Results: While NGOs are present within the eMazabekweni and KwaNokweja communities, their presence has not majorly assisted women to overcome institutionalised barriers such as access to agricultural markets. It was found that the Hopewell and Carisbrooke communities, who do not receive any assistance, lie in a state of disrepair as compared to those communities who do receive assistance. Therefore it must be noted that while assistance from NGOs within the eMazabekweni and KwaNokweja communities have had a minimal trickledown effect among female smallholder farmers, they were still able to make a minuscule difference. However, the implementation of these programmes are not sustainable for the future and only provide a short-term band-aid solution. Conclusion and recommendations: Programmes for the provision of extension support need to be designed to specifically target women within rural communities while taking institutionalised barriers to agricultural market access into consideration. Additionally, communities need to be involved in the development of programmes that are going to be initiated within their communities.