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Exploring agricultural knowledge systems and smallholder farmers empowerment: implication on household food security.

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The association between the various actors of knowledge and the generation of common knowledge is expanding in agricultural sector. Smallholder farmers engages in multiple informative networks both formal and informal knowledge systems. These heterogeneous networks expose farmers to diverse agricultural knowledge. To assess their effect on the empowerment and food security of farmers, it is important to categorise the information and knowledge structures that are accessible to farmers. Firstly, the agricultural knowledge systems and the types of knowledge that occur in smallholder farmers. Secondly, by identifying the opinion leaders’ social networks and their influence on the quality of agricultural knowledge. Thirdly, by assessing the agricultural knowledge systems in relation to farmers’ empowerment levels and food security. The study was guided by the sustainable livelihood framework (SLF) and knowledge systems. The SLF identifies five capitals that can be classified as tangible and intangible and referred to as capabilities. The study argues that while building the smallholder farmers’ asset base through existing systems, it is important to categorise active knowledge systems, identify opinion actors within these networks and measure the level of empowerment brought about through these systems. A purposive sampling method was employed to collect data from 219 smallholder farmers. A descriptive analysis was used, a Chi-square test and running ordered probit and multinomial models. The study indicated that knowledge systems at Bergville and Appelsbosch emerge from the bottom level to outside sectors. The participation level of farmers in local technical and scientific knowledge systems showed a positive statistically significant with regard to farmers’ food security. The study further indicated that opinion leaders are from formal and informal systems and are currently working for local government and other farmers organisations and have years of farming experience. Not only do they have frequent contact with the farmers, but they also have other communicating channels they use for technical skills with farmers. The results revealed that farmers require leaders who can quickly access reliable and relevant information pertinent to their agricultural problems. These opinion leaders require continuous assessment to enhance and integrate their leadership skills and promote empowerment programmes for farmers. These facts explained why many of the farmers chose to seek information and advice from their opinion leaders. These research findings may help agents to develop their understanding of the dynamics of local communities and the social complexity that shapes farmers’ environment and decisions. The results also revealed that although the smallholder farmers were moderately and highly competent in areas of self-efficacy, sense of control, agricultural knowledge and food security, the majority of them had only low or moderate leadership skills. However, the significant number of severely food insecure farmers who regard themselves as having moderate or high self-efficacy still need to be improved. This implies that there is still work and improvement needed to reduce the number of food insecure farmers. While most programmes implemented by the Department of Agriculture and the private sector include the tangible empowerment of small-holder farmers, programmes should also focus on their psychological empowerment. As indicated by the results of this study, there is an association between knowledge systems, empowerment levels and farmers’ food security status and the effectiveness of agricultural knowledge systems could, therefore, be augmented by improving farmers’ psychological empowerment to enhance resilient agriculture and food production.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.