Impacts of the Massive Food Production Programme (MFPP), GMOs and cash crops in the Amathole District Municipality

Masifunde and Zingisa have completed a report based on field research carried out between February and June 2010 in four villages in the communal areas of the Eastern Cape (EC): Mgababa and Prudhoe (Ngqushwa Municipality) and Peelton and Nxarhuni (Buffalo City Municipality). These villages were chosen because they had been involved in MFPP and/or cash crop projects, and the people in the area have a history of involvement in agriculture. Here we present only a summary of the main findings of the research. For details one must read the full report.

Small farmers that we worked with complained that the government promoted Genetically Modified (GM) crops and the projects led by the private sector promoted cash crops (e.g. chillies, paprika and GM cotton) that were not addressing the needs of the rural poor nor leading to increased food security.

As far back as 2006 Zingisa reported concerns over these projects. This PAR was meant to explore in greater depth the impact and limitations of these projects, as appropriate and viable vehicles to: 1) Attain household food security and decrease household hunger; 2) Create sustainable jobs and promote sustainable development; 3) Reduce the levels of poverty and inequalities; 4) Build local economic development. The longer term objective was, in conjunction with small scale farmers, unemployed and landless people, to utilise the results to lobby government to ensure that agricultural strategies are pro-poor, sustainable and lead to agrarian reform, food security and food sovereignty. 

How did we do this research? Community consultations were held to gather agreement and support for the research; 2) Six focus group meetings (FGs) were held with farming groups who had been involved in these projects; 3) A questionnaire was administered (by 20 community volunteers) amongst 92 farmers; 4) Officials from municipalities, the Eastern Cape Department of Agriculture (ECDoA) the Uvimba Bank and other institutions were interviewed.

What did our research show? 
Profile of farmers: Both male and female farmers were involved. The majority were older than 51 and in some instances, were older than 65. The great majority had had formal employment sometime in the past (on farms, mines, shops, factories, municipalities, railways, domestic work) but had been retrenched. The majority had over 10 years farming experience before these projects. 
Extent of project land use: Only in the cases of the Peelton maize and Nxarhuni projects did farmers report using all their land (besides their household garden plots), and that the amount of land allocated to the projects had increased with time. This was on the grounds of either ‘wanting to’ because they ‘were doing well’’ or because the project/group expanded.

Seeds: There was some confusion amongst farmers on the nature of the seeds they had been using. In the same project some thought they had used GM seeds while others thought they had used ‘hybrid seeds’. Yet we know that GM seeds are used in all these maize, soya and cotton projects, while chicory seeds are not GM. It seems that some farmers were not saving traditional seeds used in the past.

Forced land consolidation, collective contracts and group sizes: Consolidation of the best lands by groups of farmers and forced collective contracts and production was giving rise to problems. Collective contracts were largely resented and caused conflicts. In addition, contracts were written in English and only translated orally into isiXhosa, resulting in lack of understanding of the terms of the contracts and loan repayments. In some instance farmers stated not having a copy. Indications are that farmers would prefer individual contracts.

Lack of transparent financial transactions: Financial transactions occurred directly from the Uvimba Bank to the service providers and suppliers. Most farmers did not understand what and how funds were spent, and felt that there was no adequate monitoring by the Eastern Cape Department of agriculture (ECDoA). These circumstances make room for corruption and for supplier chains and local elites to increase power and wealth. Allegations were also made about a lack of transparency within some of the projects structures themselves.

Lack of training: Training was mostly confined to basic training in technical crop production, to maximise production and profits for the suppliers. Training on how to work together in a collective group (e.g. transparency, management, financial accountability, etc.) and increase capacity for self-management was largely absent.

Failure to build and support organisations and co-operatives: Farmers participating in the Peelton/ Majali and Prudhoe MFPP projects reported having formed a cooperative, while in others only some rudimentary (or no)  management structures were set up. While the Peelton/Majali farmers attributed some of their achievements (see below) to good group management and cohesion, there was no evidence that the ECDoA funds were effectively used to increase the power of farmers. 

Lack of water and unreliable service providers: Some of the projects had collapsed for a range of reasons: 1) Services and inputs were delivered late; 2) Drought led to production failure and farmers were unable to repay loans and became indebted. This, despite the fact that lack of water reform, has been one of the key factors contributing to the ‘failure’ of many of the land reform projects since 1994. This meant that farmers assumed all the financial and production risks, while agribusiness and others reaped the profit. This could expose farmers to the loss of the few assets and land they have.

The private sector led cash crop projects: Farmers who were ‘invited to grow cotton, named Da Gama Textiles as the company behind the deals. Allegations were either of: 1) No payment for crops; or 2) Payment of a fraction of the promised prices, leaving farmers feeling that “they were taken for a ride” and exploited. Similar allegations were made by farmers who engaged in the production of chillies and paprika, in relation to a buyer based in Durban.

Lack of storage and markets – In the MFPP projects storage and markets were not secured and farmers struggled to find buyers.  Last year maize farmers in Peelton found a new market amongst locals. Although farmers producing cash crops had assured buyers, farmers were captured in unequal power relations: private sector buyers fixed prices and farmers were dependent on them for sales. The example of Peelton shows the potential for developing local markets if food crops aimed at food security are planted.

Agro-chemical inputs and the undermining of traditional cheaper methods of production and of farmers’ control: All projects were dependent on expensive inputs supplied by outsiders. The farming methodology used was replacing cheaper traditional methods, thus raising questions about long-term sustainability (both financial and environmental). It also undermined and threatened farmers control over their land and production.

Unawareness of potential long-term impacts of GMOs: Other than knowledge that GM seeds cannot be re-used, farmers were not made aware of the potential negative long term effects of GM crops (e.g. declining yields with time; increased resistance to herbicides leading to increasing costs; possible contamination of surrounding non-GMO crops; negative impacts on health). This prevented farmers from making informed choices.

While the production and consumption of GM maize are being promoted in the EC and in SA, the Via Campesina (North America Region) recently (2 March 2010) held its first public hearing in preparation for taking the production of GM maize to the international courts as a crime against humanity.

Not addressing food needs and threats to food security – All the projects concentrated on monocultures. None contributed towards the production of traditionally consumed food crops or of crops with a proven health safety record. Production of crops for household consumption continued in garden plots only. However some women reported that their food production efforts (in land other than that used for food gardens) and incomes derived from the sale of these crops had declined in view of the greater time dedicated to cash crop cultivation.  

Impact of the projects on household hunger:  Most replied that the projects had made ‘no difference’ to the household hunger. The farmers in Prudhoe and cotton farmers in Peelton farmers replied that household hunger had actually increased. The MFPP farmers in Peelton/Majali and significant numbers in Nxarhuni reported having more food due to having more income to buy it. But in the case of Nxarhuni the greater income for a significant number was derived from having other work (not linked to the projects). 

Material benefits -  the Peelton/Majali project: In the Peelton/Majali MFPP, with income derived over 3 years, farmers have bought 2 tractors,  a maize pounding machine, packing bags, a sealing machine, built a shed and installed electricity. Although food security/ health/ environmental issues (linked to the cultivation of GMOs) remain, this is a significant collective achievement and could point the way for the future (see “Positive lessons” below).

Changes in household income: From the FGs it emerged that: a) No cash incomes were derived at all by either the MFPP or cash crop projects; 2) Cash incomes were negligible (especially bearing in mind that these incomes were for several months work per year of production); 3) In some instances, farmers reported being in debt (e.g. in Prudhoe). Similar responses were derived from the questionnaires. An exception was the Peelton/Majali maize project where farmers had increased their household income by sharing some of the income derived each year and so doing increase their household incomes. In Nxarhuni increase in household incomes was also reported by significant proportion of farmers (but the greater income for a significant number was reportedly derived from other work not linked to the projects). 

The most important sources of household income: The three most frequently reported important sources of household income were state pensions, followed by either remittance or odd jobs or agriculture. The exception were households in the MFPP Peelton/Majali project where agriculture was the most frequently reported amongst the three most important sources of income, followed by state grants and remittances/ informal trade.  
With one exception, the single most important source of household income (i.e., the one that contributed to more than 50% to household income) was reported as being “state welfare grants”. The exception was in Nxarhuni where agriculture represented the most important source of household income (this may be linked to the younger age groups active in the projects).  

Perceptions on who benefited most from these projects were divided between ‘no one’ or ‘service providers’. Exceptions were in the MFPP Peelton/Majali maize project and in Nxarhuni where farmers were seen as having benefited the most. Perceptions on whether in the village some benefited more than others, were variable.

Membership of community structures: The most common community structure that farmers belonged to were burial associations. However significant numbers of farmers belonged to land and land use groups. These groups could offer opportunities for mobilisation on different agrarian issues.  

The farmers who participated in this study raised a number of issues that merit the attention and follow up by the ECDoA. In addition, we have put forward a set of recommendations for action.

Summary of questions and issues raised by farmers to be posed to the ECDoA
•    Why is the government hiring outside service providers unknown to the community? Why doesn’t the government encourage the use of tractors owned by the community, as the funds would then circulate in the community and build the local economy? 
•    The service providers chosen by the project members (eg: Tractor World Company in Prudhoe, with whom the farmers were in good terms) was replaced by the government without any explanation.  Why?

•    Why have there been delays in the delivery/provision of seeds in the time for ploughing?
•    Why did the government not ensure that there was water infrastructure to ensure agricultural production before introducing the MFPP in rural communities?
•    Why is the grant money given directly to the suppliers rather than directly to the farmers? 
•    There is a lack of transparency and accountability in the contracts, loans and financial arrangements. This is causing problems as farmers are responsible for repayments. There are also problems with the distribution of incomes when produce are sold. Thus farmers want: 
o    Financial monitoring and evaluation of the projects and more openness in project processes: many farmers did not have a clear understanding of payments to suppliers, on loan repayments and did not even know how much was the loan when they signed the contract;
o    More skills training/development in financial management to ensure transparency and accountability;
•    Farmers think that there is a big difference between projects started by government (as a collective) and when farmers are allowed to work as individuals “Why does the government insist on collective contracts when farmers want individual contracts?”. Problems encountered include:
o    In collective projects some end up working very hard, but when the time comes all want to share the resources and outcomes equally; 
o    In collective projects some people in the village ‘steal’ farmers’ produce claiming that it is ‘government property’, and does not belong to individuals, but belong to everyone in the village. Both men and women ‘steal’ – some of the women who steal threaten to accuse a man of rape if she is reported. In general, farmers think respect by others in the village is only shown if the produce is in somebody’s own individual land. 
•    In Mgababa MFPP maize farmers were promised by the former MEC for Agriculture (Mr Gugile Nkwinti) that they would get two tractors. That has not yet happened and they wonder when they can expect delivery.
•    The farmers lack storage facilities. There is also no transport to deliver produce and there are no assured markets.  How can the government assist to address these issues?
•    Government supported projects are failing – when is government going to assess why? There is a lack of training to ensure the sustainability of projects.  Extension officers do not support the farmers in order to do follow-up on the projects.  
In some of the instances when farmers have got involved in cash crop production, farmers feel cheated as they don’t get paid or not paid enough for their produce - how can they get their money back?

Recommendations for action

o    Promote and support the independent organisation of small-scale farmers in the province to increase their power to engage with government and to develop alternatives models for land and agrarian reform and agricultural production;

o    Promote the prioritisation of food production. It is imperative to continue increasing awareness amongst small-scale farmers that even if they participate in GM or cash projects under the promise of future increased incomes, food production must be prioritised so as not to jeopardize their food security. Prioritising food production does not preclude the additional production of other crops for income generation, preferentially aimed at local markets; 
o    Support the own initiatives of farmers in the area, such as the initiative of farmers in Nkqonkqweni village;  
o    Promote the saving of traditional seeds in seed banks and organic agriculture to avoid dependence on expensive inputs. Continue promoting awareness of the potential negative impacts of GMO crops on health, the environment, food security; 
o    Encourage and promote the establishment of co-operatives amongst farmers for buying inputs and the marketing of products; 
o    Continue or establish working relationships with other farmers and landless movements and civil society organisations, including those that are monitoring GMOs in South Africa. 

-    Stop using communal land as an experimental ground for GMOs and promote mono-crops;
-    Stop allowing communal areas from becoming an area for encroachment by agribusiness and for the extraction of surplus by using small scale farmers as reservoir of cheap labour;   
-    Stop encouraging the current model of Public-Private partnerships as they are creating dependence on  MNCs for inputs, tying farmers to a single market rather than promoting the interests of small-scale farmers; 
-    Stop encouraging and financing contracts and loans that are exploitative of small-scale farmers - farmers are taking all the risks and others reap all the profit;
-    Establish systems of financial support for small-scale farmers through the Land Bank and the local municipality;
-    Recognise farmers’ associations, especially those that are not part of Afri-SA or NAFU (National African Farmers’ Union) and cater for them in the municipal annual budgets;   
-    Promote rural livelihoods, but within land and agrarian reform programmes that extend beyond the communal areas. Our youth must see a future where viable and sustainable farming is a real possibility;
-    Continue with the changes to the MFPP already announced (including the promotion of livestock production) but it must be borne in mind that this requires much more land outside the communal areas; 
-    Promote a new farming model that is not based on the agro-industrial model and technologies but on organic farming. Thus, support and build on people’s initiatives and provide options to allow people to make informed choices; 
-    Adopt a food first policy, with multi-crop production and the development of local markets – at present the crops being promoted are not for local consumption. Since our and government’s concern is food security and poverty reduction this needs provision of infrastructure (storage and roads and transport that link villages to each other), the creation of small value adding processing industries and the promotion of ‘buy local’ campaigns;
-    Promote water reform to allow multi-cropping and crop rotation involving people in finding solutions;
-    Provide subsidies on water, electricity and fuel tariffs for small-scale farmers;  
-    Revisit the collective/individual farming models allowing for a flexible approach where people can choose to farm collectively or farm individually.  Whatever the system chosen by farmers,  this requires the support of government and people must be helped to develop the systems and working methods that are required for success;
-    Support the establishment of co-operatives to facilitate the collective buying of inputs, marketing and value adding to produce. Different types of co-operatives were used in the past to support white farmers – they could again play a significant role to support poor black farmers to overcome some of their current obstacles; 
-    Revisit the type of extension services and support needed for small-scale farmers, to ensure these are appropriate to their needs and production;
-    Support farmers’ associations  to initiate an experimental farm as part of promoting food sovereignty and embark on educational programmes in rural and peri-urban communities about organic methods of farming, providing information that allows people  to make informed choices and to develop alternative ways to generate income, produce nutritional and health food; 
-    Promote the rehabilitation of overgrazed and degraded land in the communal areas, to reverse the impact of apartheid policies, for the benefit of future generations.