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Improving Farmer Learning in and for Sustainable Agriculture in Southern Africa

Mutizwa Mukute

Report/paper, 20 pages

Southern Africa faces enormous challenges in feeding its population, around 40% of whom are malnourished and living in poverty. These challenges are escalating, given the threat to the region associated with climate change, land degradation, food crises, water scarcity and unequal resource allocation. Against this background, conventional agriculture is unlikely to hold the key to the region’s future food security—the majority of farmers cannot afford to buy the high external inputs which conventional agriculture demands, and land degradation means that Africa produces less food per unit area than any other continent.

Drawing on PhD research by the author, this paper suggests that sustainable agriculture, which focuses on the sustained and regenerative growth of biological, physical and human capital, offers the potential to increase agricultural productivity enough to get the region out of the food security trap. However, a growth in these approaches will require new learning and extension systems. Based on case studies of three sustainable agricultural initiatives in the region—Machobane Farming System (MFS) in Lesotho; organic farming in South Africa; and permaculture in Zimbabwe—the paper finds that approaches to, training in and perceptions of sustainable agriculture in the region are currently rather negative, underresourced and weak. Nevertheless, sustainable agricultural practices are growing and more farmers are consciously choosing to adopt them.

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