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© Scott Ramsay/WWF-SA

Many of South Africa’s smallholder farmers live in rural areas where poverty and food insecurity are high, as are land degradation and soil erosion. To buffer against a rapidly changing climate too, there is an urgent need to support smallholder farmers to adopt sustainable land use and production practices.

What is the issue?

In South Africa, there are over two million smallholder or household farmers compared to 35 000 commercial growers. Many of these smallholder farmers rely predominately on the land to feed their families with hopefully some surplus to trade or sell for income.

Yet the changing climate is causing increased frequency of extreme weather events such as drought, floods, heatwaves or excessive winds, which not only damage crops but increase the vulnerability of these small-scale farmers.

These intense weather events also further erode soils and landscapes, reducing the carrying capacity of these areas for livestock grazing and crop yields. This affects local food security for millions, as well as impacting their livelihoods.

What are we doing?

WWF is capacitating and supporting smallholder farmers to commit to sustainable farming practices, regenerative and agroecological principles, as well as helping to obtain better access to trading and alternative markets.

How do we do this?

WWF aims to build capacity through training as well as developing collective stewardship initiatives around conservation-worthy landscapes and utilising incentives to improve market access. WWF’s focus is on promoting agroecology or conservation agriculture amongst smallholder farmers who are situated in strategic water source areas and areas of high biodiversity value. Benefiting both smallholders and the environment, agroecology is about optimising the interactions between plants, animals, people and nature.

WWF promotes agroecology because it is an integrated approach that applies ecological and social principles to the design and management of sustainable food systems.

To shift away from unsustainable agricultural systems such as chemical-intensive monoculture crops, agroecology focuses on multi-cropping, mulching, water conservation and protection of the natural resource base. This shift requires a coordinated combination of policy, finance and technology solutions to ensure adequate climate adaptation, especially for the vulnerable smallholder farming sector.

Climate-smart agriculture includes integrated land use planning, minimum soil disturbance, rotational grazing and rainwater harvesting all the while reducing greenhouse gases which are a significant contributor to climate change.

Who do we work with?

We collaborate with research partners and training partners, as well as government departments, municipalities and organisations such as, Fairtrade and PGS in order to promote market access.

How did it start?

In 2016 South Africa’s debut draft policy on conservation agriculture was introduced. WWF identified the need to contribute to research and support the rural smallholder farming sector to support the advancement of this strategy. This is a vital area to focus on to ensure long term care for the land, protection of freshwater resources, as well as food security in South Africa.

This policy, together with the National Development Plan, aims to fast-track smallholder participation in agri-business, job creation and sustained rural livelihood opportunities. Government has committed to develop smallholder agri opportunities for 300 000 households and to create about 145 000 jobs in agro processing. This will result in economic growth, food security and poverty reduction.

What are the big wins?
  1. In 2016, WWF formed a collaborative platform for supporting smallholder farmers together with Dutch NGO Solidaridad and the Southern African Food Lab. 
  2. In partnership with 17 Shaft Training Facility and the Southern African Food Lab, we developed of a comprehensive leadership and agroecology training course for smallholder farmers. In 2017, a total of 22 participants consisting of smallholder farmers, agri-business entrepreneurs and leader of local cooperatives completed this course and committed to annually support an additional seven smallholder farmers to adopt similar practices in their villages.
  3. In response to rising food insecurity as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, WWF redirected funding from the WWF Nedbank Green Trust to support smallholder farmers. Hands-on agroecology training was implemented by two organisations, Seriti Institute and Mahlathini Development Foundation. We worked with 932 smallholder farmers and those with household gardens to promote agroecology practices in the Eastern Cape Drakensberg, Southern Drakensberg and Northern Drakensberg, as well as Gauteng and eThekwini metros.