Network Field Exchange benefits Bela Bela Small Scale Farmers

Small scale farmers in the Bela Bela district recently attended a three-day field exchange visit where they had the opportunity to learn from each other and more from the expert facilitators about sustainable farming practices based on agroecology principles.

The main purpose of this field exchange was to explain and demonstrate to the farmers the benefits of agroecology practices which are centred on the creation of ecologically and environmentally sustainable food systems.

The concept was explained by Dr Stephen Greenberg, one of the facilitators, as he told participants: “Agroecology eliminates the need for potentially dangerous external inputs like chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

Instead, it uses ecological concepts and indigenous knowledge to promote long-term soil health, biodiversity, and resilient ecosystems.”

All the farmers attending are situated in the multi-functional agri-node in Bela Bela, as identified by the Seriti Institute who hosted this Adaption Network Field Exchange.

The Bela Bela multi-functional agri-node is one of four nodes located across South Africa that form part of the Seriti Institute’s Work.Learn Grow programme. This initiative focuses on increasing the amount and diversity of quality food available to households and creating income opportunities from agro-food activities in mostly poor, rural areas.

Small-scale farmers across South Africa face immense challenges including climate change, limited market access, and lack of resources and access to finance. The Seriti Institute’s agri-nodes aim to assist farmers to overcome these obstacles through the provision of skills development and resources.

The Bela-Bela agri-node currently supports 30 small-scale farmers through the provision of vital farming inputs such as irrigation equipment, tools and seedlings as well as training, which assisted them to increase their production to feed their communities and earn an income.

The field exchange included visits to several farming activities in the community surrounding the node, including Malekapele Trading to learn about the production of Worm Tea, Ntivo Seedlings to gain exposure on seedling production, as well as a visit to a local butchery to learn more about meat processing.

Knowledge sharing was a key focus of the exchange programme with a range of subjects covered including soil regeneration and water management as well as using value-added products such as compost and white charcoal from recycled paper.

Participating farmers also toured other successful small-scale operations such as vermicomposting and rabbit rearing, gaining insights into new income streams and avenues they could pursue to secure better livelihoods for themselves.

Small-scale farmers across South Africa face immense challenges including climate change, limited market access, and lack of resources and access to finance. The Seriti Institute’s agri-nodes aim to assist farmers to overcome these obstacles through the provision of skills development and resources.

It was clear that one of the main benefits of the visit was breaking down knowledge silos so farmers became better equipped to address food security challenges while creating jobs and providing sustainable livelihoods through market-based, agroecological and sustainable approaches.

As one farmer aptly summarised in his evaluation of the field exchange, “The best part was gaining knowledge that will help improve my farming.”

The Seriti Institute was thrilled to be able to host this vital exchange visit that will assist in creating more resilient small-scale farming operations in the province.

Struan Robertson at the Seriti Institute said:
“The visit demonstrated many economic, environmental, and social benefits of promoting agroecology among smallholder farmers. It is a model that deserves to be replicated and scaled across South Africa to uplift one of our most vulnerable yet vital workforces – the small-scale food producers supplying local communities with fresh vegetable produce and niche protein sources.
With ongoing training, market linkages and policy support, these farmers can transition from merely sustaining livelihoods to being drivers of local economic development. We look forward to continuing working with our partners including the Adaption Network and the Citi Foundation to support small-scale farming across the country.” 

The three-day exchange, which was supported by the Adaptation Network and co-funded from Citi Foundation, provided them with an opportunity to learn from each other and from expert facilitators about sustainable farming practices based on agroecology principles.