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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER)
Cycle 4 (2015 Deadline)

Promoting community and regional food systems in the Eastern Cape, South Africa

PI: Michael Aliber (maliber@ufh.ac.za), University of Fort Hare
U.S. Partner: Stephen Ventura, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Project Dates:

Project Overview

The goals of this project are to (1) better understand the current market failure characterizing the ex-Bantustans of the Eastern Cape, South Africa, whereby, despite significant production capacity, food consumption depends relatively little on food production within these areas; and (2) determine the extent to which innovations pursued in the United States and elsewhere can address this market failure. There is little acknowledgement in the South African literature of the above-mentioned market failure, because the literature is overwhelmingly focused on a different market failure, namely small-scale farmers’ inadequate access to formal markets outside of the ex-Bantustans . This perspective ignores the fact that effective food demand within the former homelands is large (within the Eastern Cape, over half of all food expenditure accrues to households in the ex-Bantustans), and yet it is mainly catered for by large-scale commercial farmers situated outside these areas. The reasons for this situation have been left virtually unexplored. This project will help fill this gap through a range of fieldwork activities, which will be enriched by comparing and contrasting marketing arrangements for different commodities, and within and between ex-Bantustans, commercial farming areas, and urban areas. Project researchers will examine strategies that have been successfully applied, such as the promotion of farmers’ markets, aggregation, innovative use of third-party logistics operators, etc., and determining their applicability to South Africa’s ex-Bantustans.

The ex-Bantustans are currently home to the majority of South Africa’s food insecure population, despite there being large amounts of unused but potentially productive arable land, together with reasonably large numbers of unemployed prime-age adults (BFAP, 2011). One consequence is that food prices in these areas are relatively high (NAMC, 2013), and diets are poor (Shisana et al., 2013), but government policy has tended to focus on how to improve small-scale farmers’ access to external markets, generally to little effect. Only recently has the government begun to appreciate the potential advantages of promoting food economies within the ex-Bantustans, but it has experienced much difficulty in doing so. Indeed, to the extent government has invested in agro-processing and market infrastructure in the ex-Bantustans, it has been with conspicuously disappointing results. The development goal of this project is to contribute to strengthening community and regional food economies in the ex-Bantustans, which in turn should lead to improved household-level food security, land utilization, and rural economic development.


Summary of Recent Events

In this first quarter, the PI reports that they have completed all of the desktop value chain analyses as well as the analysis of the available secondary data. They have also completed the fieldwork, although they will very likely conduct a small number of additional in-depth interviews as necessary as they proceed with the analysis and continue to identify gaps. These would be mainly with intermediaries and agro-processors, including those who operate at a regional level. It bears mentioning that we added a fieldwork site for the area-based work, namely Lusikisiki. This was because they felt it problematic that they lacked a site near the eastern extreme of the province, which is highly populated. Also, Lusikisiki is not along the main transport corridor that links East London to Mthatha to KwaZulu-Natal, and it thus appeared to be relatively isolated, raising the question whether ‘local markets’ were more developed there, in the sense of more intermediation between local farmers and local producers.

The final interview tally stands as follows: farmers – 195; retailers – 264; consumers – 404. In addition to these were 19 in-depth interviews with a mixture of agro-processors and white farmers. Separate to the all of the interviews mentioned above was a survey of government-funded agro-processing projects aiming to facilitate small-scale farmers’ access to markets. The purpose of these interviews was mainly to understand the institutional pitfalls that seem to be experienced with such regularity by well-intentioned interventions, regardless of whether they are government-run, or run by a private-sector partner. These projects are not located in the main area-based research sites that were the focus of the other fieldwork.

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