A journey without maps: towards sustainable subsistence agriculture in South Africa

Adey, S.


Participatory technology development within the subsistence-farming sector in South Africa is receiving increasing attention. Linked to this is an interest in sustainable development, particularly for agricultural interventions. Ecological approaches to agriculture have largely been considered unable to provide a route for income generation. However, some promising examples of sustainable small-scale farming systems can be found in South Africa. The main aim of this thesis was to identify factors within these development programmes that led to sustainable technology development in the context of subsistence farmers’ livelihoods. This objective was achieved through exploring practically, the concepts derived from the sustainability paradigm. To be sustainable, a farming system should be biologically, technically and socially feasible and viable at farm level, within a positive and enhancing external environment. Sustainability ultimately concerns the relationships between all elements of the farming system and for this reason researching sustainability in agriculture requires a multi-level, multi-aspect and multi-actor approach. Sustainability was explored in three case studies in this thesis and at a number of levels: field level; farm and district level, including organizational interaction. Different aspects were researched that included agricultural technologies, household livelihoods and organizational development. The various actors involved in the technology-development process examined in the three case studies included farmers, change-agents, researchers and local traditional authorities. Interactions at all three levels influenced and contributed to the overall sustainability of the development intervention and this research supports the widely demonstrated conclusion that the challenges faced by agriculture will not readily be solved by technological interventions at the field level alone. The factors at each of the levels that contributed to the sustainability of the develop projects are presented and the lessons learned from the three case studies are also given.