The current problems experienced in some communities, including those around Alice, are the result of a lack of respect, unemployment, laziness, illiteracy, lack of exposure to today’s economic challenges, abandoned infrastructure and many more.
Certainly the lack of agricultural development is not because of the lack of rain – since October 2009 the rainfall has been good for most parts of the Eastern Cape especially, the rural parts of Alice.
As things stand, I see a vicious cycle. In some villages houses have been closed down, families have migrated to the cities – but this is only to go elsewhere and become orphans of the state. They leave behind unused family fields and the cattle left to them by their parents. These become the targets of stock thieves. This scenario is very worrisome when you think about the possible meat and food shortages the country has and will face in 10 years times.
But although our province does not have a good name economically, or in rendering services to the people, or regarding crime or education, we can reverse the situation. I know we cannot just fold our arms and do nothing about the problems facing our brothers and sisters at home. A caring municipal, district and provincial government needs to ask questions and engage all interested people in order to get answers.
The starting point should be for the government, through traditional leadership, to address the issue of abandoned crop fields and unused grazing land. Remember these fields are still owned (through title deeds) by residents who have relocated to the cities.
Some have moved permanently while others relocated there temporarily.
Some rural villages such as Sheshegu have a long history of good beef and lamb production. The good news about this area is that livestock here does not only eat grass but also feeds from the trees.
Partnerships involving traditional leaders have to be entered into with the purpose of revitalising agricultural activities under the watchful eye of the trained departmental officials.
I don’t personally believe migrating to the bigger cities is the solution at all.
Some people leave for cities because they cannot think for themselves. Why really would someone leave his home without trying to do something to survive there and choose rather to live in a shack with nothing to eat before going to bed? I do not expect every single person to become a farmer but I do expect every person to have tried to do something.
There are also people, some of them rich, who do have knowledge about food production and it is important that they share their knowledge. The rich person in any village must learn to share his knowledge. Encouraging other people to live as you do is safer than being the only rich person in a village.
A big problem facing many rural villages is that once retired, those with experience and knowledge go back to their rural villages and become passive. They want to be seen as important and drive double cabs, but they do not do anything to mobilise development in their communities. In some instances, they even use their cars as rural taxis and charge poor people exorbitant fares.
This does not and will not encourage development.
Some lessons can be learnt from the government of the late Lennox Sebe, which instead of dishing out grants to young people and families, provided families with livestock to look after.
This is something which today could assist some families in becoming subsistence livestock farmers.
After all, we need to copy other countries such as China which have transformed their countries economically partly by reviving agriculture in their rural areas.
The starting point in the rural Eastern Cape is still subsistence farming mixed with commercial farming. In some villages we still have dams but there is little or no livestock. It is wrong to crush subsistence farming instead of modernising it. If people are not fed properly they cannot be talking about commercialising agricultural production.
The Eastern Cape government must take a decision if they want to be respected by other provinces, to encourage the people to play a part in the economic growth of the province. But before giving big fields to people for crops, they should look for people who have first tried to do something in their small gardens.
The government, as Sebe did, must supply every household with seeds and monitor the use of this.
Cooperatives don’t work. What is the contribution of the agricultural cooperatives to our province’s GDP?
Their impact is nil and the system makes people fight all the time. You cannot give 10 people broilers and leave another 90 people out. This will not help our people develop. Give every household some seeds and get someone who is trained, tried and tested from government to monitor the agricultural performance of every household, including how they manage their livestock and chickens. If this small scale agriculture can be resurrected, government will have the responsibility of identifying markets for the people.
Support for the women is also necessary. It should be remembered that in many households across the Eastern Cape while the men have gone to work in the bigger cities, the women have been left behind to look after the households including the gardening and livestock.
Sometimes men come home and find their herds multiplying because of these women. They are strong and can do anything. Everybody agrees that women are more affected by poverty than men but given an opportunity and support they will flourish. Try them and you will see the results.
The municipalities must also play their part in assessing how best to assist poor families rather than social grants being paid out as a quick solution to the problems.
It is also not true that there is no farming activity happening at all. Every December and June some families sell their goats and sheep to families who send their boys to initiation schools, animals are also sold for funerals, parties and for other traditional customs. These are unrecorded business transactions – we do not know how much livestock owners pocket during this period. But my point is that it shows potential. The Eastern Cape can become an agricultural hub if we make use of our opportunity. We can revive our once booming agricultural sector by returning to basics.
Another way to boost agriculture would be for the Eastern Cape government to invite interested white farmers to help resuscitate food and meat farming with the aim of training interested rural families how to become the best food producers in the country. We should not always think the best way to become successful is by replacing a white person with a black person or recreating what has already been developed.
Let’s learn to pride ourselves by starting from nothing, reliably trust each other (white and black) that we will do everything to make this province the best province ever.
Rural people must go back to the land if they want freedom. Making your X is not enough – rolling up your sleeves is what makes the difference to a man’s freedom.
- Siphiwo Fumbeza is a staunch supporter of rural development