Original Research

Analysing challenges facing smallholder farmers and conservation agriculture in South Africa: A system dynamics approach

Wolfgang Von Loeper, Josephine Musango, Alan Brent, Scott Drimie
South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences | Vol 19, No 5 | a1588 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajems.v19i5.1588 | © 2016 Wolfgang Von Loeper, Josephine Musango, Alan Brent, Scott Drimie | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 May 2016 | Published: 12 December 2016

About the author(s)

Wolfgang Von Loeper,, South Africa
Josephine Musango,
Alan Brent,
Scott Drimie,

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Smallholder farmers in South Africa find it challenging to participate in the modern economy. Most of these farmers have limited access to credit and insurance, and to markets in which to sell their produce. This paper reviews ethnographic research data and argues that smallholder farmers struggle to take part in modern agricultural value chains in South Africa. System dynamics modelling is used to understand the dynamics relating to agricultural value-chain participants, and to determine whether the ethnographic research data is sufficient to answer the question as to which value-chain participants potentially have the largest impact on smallholder farmers. The modelling results show that banks may have the potential to trigger an impact on smallholder farmers’ productivity that could then attract other value-chain industries to take part in efforts to support these farmers. Smallholder farmers could become a long-term viable and sustainable option for increasing food security in South Africa. However, this study has its limitations. The data used from existing ethnographic research, conducted by way of semi-structured interviews with valuechain participants, is limited and is not able to answer questions such as: (i) how much each industry is prepared to engage with smallholder farmers in the event of other industries being prepared to do the same; and (ii) how long it will take each industry to react to a willingness to engage. Ongoing research is required to extend the interviewee base and data in order to answer these questions and for the model to be completed and used for policy guidance.


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