The state seems unable to deliver on its mandate of reducing rural poverty, leaving this task up to those in society who are committed to achieving a positive future for South Africa.

As those in rural areas have the most to lose in terms of land invasions, crime and food deprivation, they are probably the people in the best position to take action.

In addition, these areas contain unused land and local sale points, helping to create opportunities.

For many black Africans, ubuntu is a key life principle; it defines the pre-eminence of the interests of the community over the individual and the individual’s obligation to share what he or she has.

In just one example, the community of N’tjina in Mali, which has three schools and three water pumps, has focused on developing itself by receiving the income from its various enterprises as a group and allocating a portion to overall development.

This is only really feasible if there are viable enterprises, however. The principle is similar to the stokvel.

Becoming active in the economy
Simply giving handouts to poor people creates dependency. What is needed is for people to understand that hard work is required and they need to become active in the economy.

To do this, they need an approachable person who can provide access to finance and facilities, as well as mentorship.

It is crucial to facilitate agripreneurial development and self-belief within a community; people cannot simply wait for politicians’ promises to be kept.

Agri villages should be using a portion of their own funds and the assistance of commercial farmers to manage their own areas. For example, they should use local funds to reduce crime at home.

Municipalities need to give a bigger slice of the cake to develop rural areas by removing some bureaucrats from the gravy train and employing locals who will be accountable to their communities.

Bureaucrats drain municipal finances, preventing funds from reaching the rural poor.

Local people need training and should specialise in different jobs. The physically challenged could possibly work in computers and bookkeeping, the strong in physical work, and those showing leadership in marketing and planning.

This would improve the socio-economic situation in the area. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform provide such training.

Commercial farmers and mentoring
It is impossible for any person to become a successful commercial farmer overnight, yet rural development projects often require groups who are already strongly disadvantaged to do so.

Mentoring is crucial, and this is how commercial farmers can help their neighbours and community. They should try to encourage, give constructive feedback, set up goals and help their protégés grow.

It makes sense to piggyback new developments on existing enterprises; for example, agricultural services could use these projects to extend their businesses. Franchises, too, could be a means of starting local sale outlets.

There is also an opportunity for farmers’ spouses to establish businesses of their own that could create incomes and help increase economic activity in the local community.

Rural black South Africans need to be brought into the mainstream economy as far as possible. Equity share, partnerships and leasing land are some methods for established farmers to help with this.

The assisted communities should then be encouraged to plough back the help they have received into their own community.

Breaking free of the poverty trap
Mental disposition, the deprivation trap, economic vulnerability, geographic isolation, and physical weakness through chronic illness, all contribute to trapping people in poverty. If a farmer wants to help, these are the areas to operate in.

Mental disposition can be improved by persuading younger people to stay in rural areas, and by giving them authority.

The effects of geographical isolation can be minimised by using cellphones, social media and computers. If each area tackles the problem, progress should be possible.

Finding gainful work for those who are physically weak or challenged is difficult; however, these people could be employed in office work.

There are several issues that should be considered for rural development projects:

  • People, involved in small projects quickly lose motivation as they owe to the community (ubuntu) and therefore struggle.
  • Young people are needed in projects with older people.
  • Water wheels and ram pumps are recommended as water pumps, because these do not rely on fuel and technical maintenance.
  • Conflicting groups should be separated by responsibility or enterprise.
  • Leaders need to be identified and their trust gained.
  • Independent bookkeepers who can be trusted are required to identify limiting factors.

Remember: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Giving a fish rarely helps and creates dependency. Rather teach rural development beneficiaries to fish.

Finally, established farmers should accept that what we have been doing will not continue to work for us. We need to change.

Individuals and communities who wish to embark on rural development projects are welcome to email Jimmy Lonsdale at [email protected].

The views expressed in our weekly opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Farmer’s Weekly.

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