The Social and Cultural Aspects of Small-scale Agricultural Production in South Africa and the Implications for Employment-intensive Land Reform

There is widespread agreement that Government interventions to support smallholders have often been poorly constructed and have failed to produce positive impacts. There are many reasons for this assessment, including that government “… strategies to support smallholder farmers are not working as effectively and efficiently as needed to create systems change”; that government characterizes smallholders as politically, socially and economically homogenous and as having the same potential to “emerge” along a linear path of commercialization; and that an “elite capture” of government’s land reform and agricultural resources has resulted in a small number of farmers upgrading to high-tech, capital intensive, commercial production geared at formal markets, which reduces the resources available for maximizing household food producing practices and the supply of informal local markets. It is also widely acknowledged that small scale farmers face a large number of constraints in addition to sufficient suitable land. Small scale farmers in KwaZulu-Natal summarized their situation saying there is “too much competition! Too much competition!”. This study aims to identify the key social and cultural aspects of small-scale agricultural production in rural South Africa and the policy implications for a programme of employment-intensive land reform. Small-scale agricultural producers are defined in various ways in policy documents. However, definitions often don’t take into account evidence of significant fluidity and functional diversity in the social structures that underpin small scale farming groups.