Extension officers are slowly gaining ground in the fight for food security in rural areas, but many challenges remain. John Mthembi explains to Gerhard Uys why he has targeted schools.
After years of being an extension officer adviser and training land reform farmers, smallholders and subsistence farmers for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in the deep rural Mopani district of Limpopo, John Mthembi sat down and rethought his approach to helping his community. The areas he had serviced for decades suffered under extreme poverty and high unemployment and were also affected by low rainfall and subsequent food insecurity.
In 2015, while a ward officer, he decided to redirect his extension services to where it mattered most – backyard producers – and thus help establish long-term food security.
As the province had made food security a priority and begun supporting schools with fertiliser and seeds for this purpose, he decided that he too would become involved in schools and raise awareness of food gardens, thus helping young people become interested in agriculture. He believed this step would have a long-term impact.
“Backyard producers, smallholders and subsistence farmers require 110% of our attention as advisers. I also consulted with school principals and decided that schools, clinics and traditional authorities were strategic places to take our services into public spaces,” Mthembi recalls.
He admits that, initially, his timing was bad, as he began focusing on school gardens during the 2015 drought.
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February 1, 2019