The coming of agrarian reform in villages will have maize as one of the products

In South Africa, the communal areas benefit from agricultural production beyond the direct benefits of such a production system. In this piece, I will attempt to use maize production to illustrate the integrated nature of the impact of one production system. The impact of maize production on the household goes beyond volume of maize to the immediate household and the community at large. This comes through as the system benefits other complementary production systems such as sheep (meat and wool), poultry, cattle and goat production systems. Arguably, the spatial dispensation of some parts of the country’s rural settings exhibits some of the Betterment Planning attributes.

Maize as Africa’s staple food
In Southern Africa maize (white) is a staple food for most people. Yellow maize, on the other hand, is used as part of livestock feed. This completes an overview of how strategic maize is to the livelihood of populates in Southern Africa.

Using the evolutions of agricultural policy in the region, one will see the importance or prominence of the product. More recently, there are several other value chains that are merging in terms of prominence. The agricultural support programmes of countries like Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe have always had maize as the cornerstone. South Africa is not much different when one considers that Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development support system also has maize as one of the prominent products.

In South Africa (Mzantsi), maize is a staple food consumed in different forms guided by the long-held cultures/traditions of people. It is important to note that there are products from maize that seem uniform across the country, including mqombothi (traditional maize drink – alcoholic beverage) and amarhiwu (slightly femented porridge).

The different forms come as follows:

  • In KwaZulu Natal, the maize product known as “uphuthu” is the popular dish normally served with a relish or meat;
  • In Free State, Gauteng, North West and Limpopo a popular maize dish is called “pap” or “bogobe” and it served with a relish or meat also;
  • In the Eastern Cape a popular maize product called “umgqusho” which is also served with a relish or meat.

As important as maize is to human diets, maize straws form an important part of livestock (ruminants) feed in winter to early spring. During the abovementioned period cropland serves as winter grazing which helps the communal farmer to maintain the conditions of their animals.

The emergence of the importance of wool in the communal areas with the mainstreaming has created an increased demand for maize as part of sheep feeding programmes. Village wool growers are feeding their animals in anticipation of improved wool quality. Interestingly the feeding of sheep in some areas started with the introduction of quality rams aimed at improving the genetics of the communal head. The introduction of the rams and the advisory in ensuring that their conditions are maintained included feed as an option and that created a market.

Conclusively, maize remains a staple food diet for the peoples of Southern Africa, South Africa and the communal areas. I am not an animal scientist or pasture scientist to be able to identify maize as a staple diet of the ruminant animals but it plays a significant part in their diets during the winter period. Interestingly, to have these rural areas (where communal farming is practised) spatially designed the way they currently are, there was a policy implemented called the Betterment Planning.

The Betterment Planning summary – as I understand it
Betterment Planning was implemented vigorously starting from 1939. The said rationale for its implementation comes out to be rural development planning of the then- reserve areas of South Africa. Betterment Planning as a scheme was aimed to combat the deterioration of natural resources and contribute to the agricultural development of these areas.

Betterment planning came up with the following architecture:

  • The proclamations of a given area – location or ward,
  • The division of land into three land use types (residential, arable and grazing),
  • The re-allocation of people from their dispersed setting into densely populated villages, and
  • The fencing of residential and grazing camps.

As best articulated as Betterment Planning was on paper, there were reservations about the actual intentions of that policy considering the attitude of the then government to the peoples of the said areas. One of Rhodes University’s scholars, McAllister argues the implementation of the policy led to some negative social and economic consequences. Knowing the policy formulation, and implementation, monitoring, and evaluation, one would think of those negative effects as potential unintended consequences. However, some of his contemporaries, according to his piece, believed that the policy from the onset had nothing to do with agriculture development but was aimed at ensuring a consistent supply of migrant labour supply to the mining industry and was population control mechanism.

One remnant of the implementation of Betterment Planning that seems to have come out positively in some areas is the separation of land according to use. This has made fencing of cropland to be easy and reduced crop damage by a huge fraction. It is this feature that allows the growth of crop production that has ripple effects on other sectors.

Maize remains an important crop to humans, livestock and potentially the environment. The ability of some rural areas to expand production restart the land separation arrangement of Betterment Planning. Maize forms part of the peoples culture and that must be harnessed accordingly.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC), Mzansi Agriculture Talk or its members.

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