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Swaziland looks to a revitalized agriculture sector

An EU-FAO backed government initiative helps smallholder farmers move towards commercial agriculture.

Key facts

The vast majority of Swaziland’s 1.2 million people depend on subsistence farming for their livelihoods, which has been drastically handicapped by a struggling economy and recent droughts linked to climate change. According to FAO’s recent hunger figures, one in three people in Swaziland is undernourished. In response, the Swaziland Agricultural Development Project (SADP) was launched with the assistance of the European Union and FAO in 2009. The objectives of the 5-year programme were to improve the food security and nutrition of the vulnerable, and to help transform agriculture into a vibrant commercial sector. Over 20 000 smallholder farmers have learned to produce larger quantities of high-quality food and connect with new markets. In addition, construction and rehabilitation work in the livestock sector, water infrastructure and government services have also been top priorities for SADP. Under the programme, 800 backyard vegetable gardens have been established for vulnerable households, and 60 youth groups have been established, reaching 2 250 young people.

Agricultural activity has been declining in Swaziland over the last two decades. This is due in no small part to the country recently being hit with a series of droughts related to climate change. Over 70 percent of the country’s total population (just over a million) rely on subsistence farming, and under current conditions, many survive on only one dollar per day.  According to FAO’s most recent hunger figures, one in three people in Swaziland is undernourished. 

In response, the Swaziland Agricultural Development Project (SADP) was launched with the assistance of FAO and the European Union in 2009. The government-lead initiative aims to improve the food security and nutrition of vulnerable rural households and to revitalize agriculture, transforming it into a vibrant commercial sector.  Five years into the programme, agriculture is well on its way to becoming a key driver of Swaziland’s development.

Starting with the young
In the beginning stages, SADP focused on those who were most vulnerable, which included the young and the elderly.  Over 800 backyard vegetable gardens were established for poor rural households, which allowed them to grow vegetables for their own consumption, or to sell within the community.  In addition, 60 youth groups were formed.  The youth groups (reaching 2 250 young people) were given funding to set up small businesses in poultry farming, pig production and vegetable and crop production.  In June 2012, one of the groups ran a poultry project after receiving training in raising chickens and recognizing diseases. In their first year of business they sold 1 200 chickens and split the profits. The programme also established Swaziland Livestock Identification and Traceability System (SLITS) to ensure that each individual animal in Swaziland is traceable for life. 

It’s all about smallholders
Gradually, SADP also began educating smallholder farmers about good agricultural practices, enabling them to grow more and better produce.  Over 20 000 farmers were supported in conservation agriculture, agro-forestry and seed multiplication, practices which preserve the environment and lessen the pressure on limited natural resources.  

One of the major challenges they face is the lack of access to water.  To tackle this problem, SADP has overseen the building of one earth dam, two weirs and one borehole, as well as the rehabilitation of two other earth dams and the development of five irrigation schemes. One of the dams, located in the Mayandzeni village, had long suffered from a lack of maintenance, impairing its irrigation potential. Since its rehabilitation, 63 farmers have come together to manage the dam’s water and irrigate their fields.

With a constant flow of water, farmers are no longer reliant on rainfall to grow,” says Makhosini Khosa, who led the water infrastructural works on behalf of the government. “This is critical if you want to move towards commercialisation.”

The move towards commercialization
One of the key objectives of the programme is to help smallholder farmers move away from subsistence farming and towards commercial agriculture. To facilitate this, a €1 million Marketing Investment Fund was established to strengthen the link between farmers and the market. One of the beneficiaries of the fund is Eswatini Kitchen, a small food-processing factory on the outskirts of Mazini, the business capital of Swaziland.  Eswatini Kitchen produces jams, sauces and chutneys, made primarily from the fruits and vegetables of smallholder farmers and sold around the world through fair-trade networks.  The factory is a great source of income for smallholder farmers, who often have trouble transporting their produce to markets, as well as competing with the prices of neighbouring South Africa. 

One such farmer is Sipho Matisa, a retired government worker who is supporting a family of 18. The cayenne pepper he grows is used to make a notoriously hot sauce called Swazi Fire. He prefers to sell to Eswatini Kitchen because they buy his whole harvest at once. It pleases him to know that his pepper, converted into Swazi Fire, is sold all over the world.  He says, “This gives me the responsibility to produce the best possible quality.”

Moving forward
“Swaziland can make it,” said FAO’s Nehru Essomba, chief technical advisor of SADP. “They have the potential to export. In livestock, for instance. Or in niche crops. All that’s required now is some thinking.”

Now that the programme is in its final phase, plans are being drafted for the future. A ten year agricultural investment plan is currently being developed. The plan, being drafted by the government and regional partners, aims at an average annual growth rate of six percent in agriculture by 2015. The plan is in line with Africa’s foremost agricultural development initiative, known as CAADP. Governments that have signed up to this Africa led initiative have agreed to increase public spending on agriculture by a minimum of ten percent of their budgets. In Swaziland, this could make agriculture the driver of the country’s economic development.

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