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Small-scale farming: the answer to global food security


Thirty million South Africans are regularly at risk of going hungry. This horrifying reality can be changed by equipping our country’s thousands of small-scale farmers to make the most of the livestock they own.

Small-scale communal farmers can and should be the cornerstone of food security in rural South Africa. Acting on this belief, Afrivet has partnered with the Eastern Cape Provincial Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR), Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) and the Engcobo Dip-tank Executive Committee to implement a livestock development programme aimed at the untapped resource that is communal livestock. The beauty of this programme is that it uses existing infrastructure – the province’s communal dip-tanks – to provide farmers with access to the products and services they need to improve their livestock practices.

“This is one of the first real voluntary public-private partnerships in the field of agriculture in the country,” says the honourable MEC, Ms Nomakhosazana Meth from DRDAR. “The benefits are not, however, limited to better animal production; they include the creation of real, decent, sustainable jobs and measurable economic and social advancement for the community that has been involved directly with the planning of the project. There are also one-health benefits that will accrue, including a reduction in diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis, rabies and neurocysticercosis (epilepsy of parasitic origin).”

The Engcobo Emthonjeni dip-tank management project follows a veterinary extension approach and is fully aligned with DRDAR’s own community animal health worker (CAHW) programme. With the project, Afrivet will equip 15 unemployed CAHWs with animal health knowledge and skills and give them access to products including vaccines from OBP, and technical support services through regular interactions. Based at the communal dip-tanks, the CAHWs will, in turn, teach and give advice to the farmers on products. In so doing, they will play an invaluable part in unlocking the potential of the smallholder livestock sector in South Africa.

Currently, small-scale farmers are unable to participate in the food production value chain due to the general poor health and production of their herds. Communal farmers own nearly 50% of the national extensive herd, but contribute only 10% to South Africa's meat production. Commercial farmers account for 90%. A big part of the problem is that small-scale farmers struggle to access the right products at the right time, combined with the necessary technical support, to effectively prevent and treat diseases and parasites in their animals.

“While there are several initiatives in the province that support commercial livestock farmers, communal farmers are largely excluded from commercial opportunities,” says Dr Peter Oberem, CEO of Afrivet. “Access to stock remedies without the necessary skills is dangerous, while skills without easy access to stock remedies are useless. We want to bridge this gap between skills and stock remedies through the Engcobo Emthonjeni dip-tank management project.”

“The CAHWs at the communal dip-tanks are the key,” says Matthew Carter, managing director at Afrivet Training Services. “Small-scale farmers regularly take their animals to these dip-tanks, which creates an ideal opportunity for the CAHWs to engage with them. Through weekly interactions, the CAHWs will facilitate access to the products and services needed and co-ordinate livestock sales. Importantly, while the animals are being dipped, the CAHW can carry out daily observations and formally report suspicious symptoms to the state vet and/or animal health technician in the area for follow-up and action.”

Time is the critical factor in disease management. Farmers can have as little as 24 hours in which to take effective action once an animal shows signs of disease. Thereafter, not much can be done to save it. “The CAHWs are not qualified to make a diagnosis, but by facilitating communication between the farmer, Afrivet’s vets via our call centre and/or apps, and the state vet and/or animal health technician, immediate action can be taken once a symptom is identified, which will reduce disease impacts and fatalities,” says Matthew. 

The Engcobo area in the Eastern Cape is home to 50 000 cattle, 450 000 sheep and 25 000 goats. This represents an asset base of around R1 billion for the estimated 6 000 livestock owners who use the area’s 66 communal dip-tanks. “The project’s main objective is to unlock the commercial value of these herds by improving small-scale farmers’ livestock production practices,” says Matthew.

“Our projections show that within three years the Engcobo region could be making nearly R30 million through livestock sales and production improvements,” says Vuyokazi Makapela, director at Afrivet. “As farmers adapt best practice management actions, demand for their products will grow and they will end up contributing to food production, as well as the wellbeing of communities in South Africa, beyond the level of subsistence.”

The dip-tank project is being piloted in the Engcobo district, but the objective is to expand and replicate it in other areas of the Eastern Cape Province and the country. It is expected that the project will contribute to achieving the objectives of the Eastern Cape’s Agricultural Economic Transformation Strategy (AETS), while identifying opportunities for co-operatives to extend their ownership of the livestock value chain, both up and downstream of primary production.



Photo 1: The CAHWs are dipping some of the cattle owned by small-scale farmers at the Engxogi dip-tank in the Engcobo community in the Eastern Cape.

Photo 2: Community cattle going through the dip-tank in the Engcobo community.

Photo 3: The facilitators and 15 unemployed community animal health workers that will be equipped with animal health knowledge and skills to transfer to small-scale farmers.

Rolina Vorster

Owner at News Everyday & CEO at DeodataDigital.