Rural smallholder farmers are feeling the brunt of changing times

A farmer standing in his fields.

Wishing and praying for rainfall, that is how Oscious Maluga spends most of his days. Maluga is a smallholder farmer from Mabila, a water stricken village outside Sibasa in Limpopo.

The 30-year-old grows various crops on his five hectare farm including maize, potatoes, green beans, cabbage, onions, spinach and butternut. 

Maluga sells his fresh produce to his fellow villagers and to local retail stores. This is his primary source of income. Since he started farming in 2016, Maluga has been using water from a local river to water his produce. He has connected a pipeline from the river and uses drip irrigation to water his farm.

Vhembe is scorching hot. Here, temperatures can rise up to 40 degrees celsius. As a result, Maluga says, the small river stream has not been able to produce enough water to irrigate his farm over the past three-years.

“It is proving to be a difficult task to keep the crops in well nurtured condition due to the water shortage. In June this year all the vegetables I planted just dried up due to lack of water. I lost a fortune,” says Maluga.

Scarcity of water

The same river is also used by other residents to collect water for household purposes as Mabila village does not have any source of running water. The livestock also drink from the same river. 

The lack of rainfall and the extreme heat are a major cause for concern. 

“I think the last time it actually rained in our village was around April this year. The rain was not even enough to fill up the river stream. It’s getting drier by the day and my farm is suffering. I am not being able to reap enough crops like I used to,” says Maluga.

Like many countries in the world, South Africa is contending with impacts of climate change. The country has seen increasing temperatures and lack of rainfall in some parts. 

Climate change factor

Research has shown that smallholder farmers are among the most vulnerable to climate change. 

Dr Eness Mutsvangwa-Sammie is a postdoctoral research fellow at the centre of excellence in food security at the University of Pretoria. She says climate change is one of the major factors affecting agricultural productivity in South Africa.

“Most smallholder farmers depend on rain-fed agriculture and are mostly affected when there is drought and dry spells. Low productivity due to weather fluctuations results in increased food prices,” says Mutsvangwa-Sammie.

Smallholder farmers like Maluga are the main source of nutritious food for local communities and they play an important role in addressing food insecurity.

When Malunga is unable to produce sufficient crops, villagers are forced to buy food at a higher cost from retail stores. 

“There are so many people locally who depend on what I produce on my farm. But lately I have not been able to meet the demand. I sell my products at very reasonable prices, which my fellow villagers are able to afford,” says Maluga.

Tailored interventions are needed

Mutsvangwa-Sammie says that it is concerning that smallholder farmers in South Africa are often treated as a homogenous group. 

“However, smallholder farmers are a diverse group with various needs. But most programmes that have been promoted have not effectively addressed the individual needs of the farmers,” says Mutsvangwa-Sammie.

Mutsvangwa-Sammie says the country must invest more towards supporting smallholder farmers. “This can be done through improving the infrastructure, access to financial services, and access to drought resistant crops.”

She says smallholder farmers should be seen as a profitable enterprise with the potential to improve their capacity while keeping up with the demand for production.

But Maluga is concerned that if he does not find a solution to his water woes soon, he might be forced to stop farming altogether. –Health-e News.


  • Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

    Ndivhuwo Mukwevho is citizen journalist who is based in the Vhembe District of Limpopo province. He joined OurHealth in 2015 and his interests lie in investigative journalism and reporting the untold stories of disadvantaged rural communities. Ndivhuwo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Studies from the University of Venda and he is currently a registered student with UNISA.

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