Livelihoods and production in smallholder irrigation schemes: the case of New Forest Irrigation Scheme in Mpumalanga Province
This study explored the production and livelihoods of smallholder farmers in irrigation schemes in South Africa. The particular focus has been on the farming styles of smallholder farmers, the impact of irrigation scheme production on their income and livelihoods, and the issue of smallholder social differentiation. The New Forest irrigation scheme located in Bushbuckridge Local Municipality was used as a case study. The research methodology utilized a combination of extensive and intensive research designs. The farming style approach was compared with the livelihood strategies approach to determine the relationship between the farmers’ approach to farming and their livelihood development trajectory. The underlying assumption is that small-scale irrigation has the potential to make a positive contribution to the livelihoods of farmers. New Forest irrigation farmers face a number of challenges at the irrigation scheme such as neglect by government, inadequate irrigation water, and access to affordable crops inputs. The farmers were not organised to be able to purchase inputs, engage in co-operative marketing, and manage the irrigation scheme. The notion of investing in smallholder irrigation schemes in order to convert smallholders into commercial farmers is unrealistic. Those that were classified as ‘food farmers’, benefit from irrigation development and participation through meeting their household consumption needs. Those classified as ‘employers’, obtained negative gross margins per plot and hired most farm labour. Diversification by employers into other less risky livelihood activities on-farm and off-farm is an option. The ‘profit makers’, make high returns from crop production, and obtained the highest gross margins per plot. This thesis argues that support to farmers in smallholder irrigation schemes should be provided in the context of their farming objectives, and livelihood aspirations which are not only varied but evolve across time and individual circumstances.