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Swaziland opens its eyes to agriculture

EU-FAO backed government initiative restores infrastructure, helping farmers become more commercial

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
The Swaziland Agricultural Development Project helps farmers produce more and better

By improving vital infrastructure,  a government-led initiative to help transform agriculture into a vibrant commercial sector has boosted local production and helped farmers strengthen their links to the market.

This morning, Malindane Sacolo is making a seed bed for onions. He has already cleared the grass, dug up earth and planted the seeds. Now, he will cover the surface to shelter the brittle bed from the sun.

A little further on their field, his wife Simiso is hoeing the soil around the cabbages. She has just returned from hospital, Malindane says. He looks at her proudly. “She is hurt. But still, she is working.”

Malindane (66 years-old) learned farming at school, as well as through extension workers. They have taught the farmers how important it is to work together. “But it’s hard,” he confesses, “people first think of themselves.”

That has not been the case in Mayandzeni village in southern Swaziland, where they have come together to manage their water resources. Sixty-three farmers jointly manage the water from a dam upstream in the Mpatheni river, which irrigates their fields.

Lasting impact

Built in the 1970s, the dam long suffered from a lack of maintenance, impairing its irrigation potential. Now, it has been rehabilitated under the Swaziland Agricultural Development Project (SADP), a major government-led initiative to revitalise the country’s agriculture, carried out with assistance by the European Union (EU) and FAO.

The construction and rehabilitation works in water infrastructure, as well as in the livestock sector and to government services are part of SADP’s efforts to improve vital agricultural infrastructure and help Swazi farmers produce more and better. They will have a lasting impact on Swazi agriculture.

For instance, a new pig quarantine station – a first for Swaziland – together with a rehabilitated pig breeding centre, and the establishment of an identification and traceability system for livestock, have lifted major constraints on the niche market for pigs and boosted export opportunities, including to Europe.

As to water infrastructure: one more dam was rehabilitated under SADP, while another one was built, together with two weirs and a newly-drilled borehole. At the same time, irrigation schemes have been developed in five different places, including in the fields of Mayendzeni.

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.”

Speed

Every day for the past eight years, except on Sundays, Malindane’s eldest daughter, 22-year old Zamokhudle, has gone down to the main road to sell the family’s produce. “Selling requires speed,” she says, rushing off with a bundle of carrots when a bus arrives.

Later on, she explains that on a good day you’ll fetch 300 Emelangani ($30) and 25 on a bad day. It’s not really a good market, Zamokhudle says. Most people shop in town. She has decided to take up schooling again to become a home economics teacher.

Her younger sister Senani (17) wants to go to university when she finishes high school next year. She’s not afraid to go all the way to the city. “You always have to remember where you come from, before you look at the future,” she says.

Blessings

Late in the afternoon, Malindane is sitting in the courtyard of his homestead, overlooking the hills sloping downwards to his fields below and the road beyond. Across the valley is his birth village, from whence he moved here “in search of green grass to feed my cattle”, as he says.

“When I got here, God gave me this nice wife, and blessed us with two daughters. And we have something nice with this land and this water. But we don’t see how nice it is, until someone opens our eyes.”

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