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Traditional agriculture and its meaning in the lives of a farming community : the case of Embo.

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For the majority of rural people, agricultural activities continue to be one of their main livelihood strategies. Production of food crops is not dependent on any formally acquired knowledge of farming but is solely based on indigenous agricultural knowledge passed from generation to generation through experience and careful observations. Resource-poor farmers, especially in rural areas, follow traditional farming methods to produce their food crops and these are specifically tailored to suit their environments. Embo is located in rural KwaZulu-Natal and falls under Mkhambathini municipality. The area is characterised by small-holder farmers who are mainly Ezemvelo Farmers Organisation (EFO) members. The purpose of this study was to review the farming practices followed by farmers in respect of food crop production and secondly to understand what influences the continual practice of such farming practices among rural farming communities of Embo in KwaZulu-Natal especially the EFO farmers. The study looked at what farmers see as traditional agriculture. A combination of qualitative and quantitative methods was used for the study. Data collection methods included participatory observations, semi structured face-to-face interviews and focus group discussions. The study found that farmers are happy to follow traditional farming methods to produce their food crops. Traditional farming tools such as the hoe and animal traction are the main implements used to prepare land. Household members are the main source of farm labour with men mainly responsible for ploughing activities while the bulk of planting, weeding and harvesting activities is the responsibility of women. Cropping patterns include intercropping and crop rotation with common crops being amadumbe, beans, maize and sweet potatoes. The majority of these crops are produced for both subsistence and commercial reasons. Amadumbe is an important commercial crop produced organically. Crop protection against pests is done through traditional methods where farmers mix some concoctions made from locally available resource in order to minimise losses. Kraal manure is the main soil fertility strategy followed by farmers. Landrace seeds are the main seed type used by the farmers. Local seed sources include own production and asking from other farmers. Crops with good qualities are selected in fields and maintained as seeds, which are then stored separate from those for home consumption. Harvesting is mainly done manually and for important crops such as tubers with short shelf lives, harvested through piecemeal methods. Farmers are able to generate some income from their efforts and this contributes to local economies and household food security. Farmers value their farming methods and see their farming as efficient despite challenges. There is a need to consider developing labour support groups in order to ease the burden of labour especially by women. In view of the importance of traditional farming in the lives of rural people, it is important that agricultural scientists and extension officers take into consideration the knowledge farmers already have so as to develop technologies suitable for farmers’ environments.


Thesis (M.Soc.Sc.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2008.


Traditional farming--KwaZulu-Natal--Umbumbulu., Traditional ecological knowledge--KwaZulu-Natal--Umbumbulu., Subsistence farming--KwaZulu-Natal--Umbumbulu., Agriculture--KwaZulu-Natal--Umbumbulu., Farms, Small--KwaZulu-Natal--Umbumbulu., Farmers--KwaZulu-Natal--Umbumbulu., Food crops--KwaZulu-Natal--Umbumbulu., Agricultural systems--KwaZulu-Natal--Umbumbulu., Indigenous knowledge--KwaZulu-Natal--Umbumbulu., Theses--Community resources.