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By Farai Mtero

This report analyses the extent to which local household food producers in Ncerha (Eastern Cape) and Ozwathini (KwaZulu-Natal) use agroecological farming methods, and whether such practices can form the basis of alternative food economies, especially in the context of COVID-19 and the far-reaching ramifications it had on the wider food system. The COVID-19 crisis accentuated the enduring contradictions of a concentrated global food system, highlighting the pressing need for alternative food economies which are localised, predicated on greater connections between producers and consumers, and promote the use of ecologically sustainable farming methods that yield healthy and nutritious foods. 

The extent to which local food producers integrate natural and ecologically friendly farming methods into their agricultural activities is important in promoting sustainable food systems. However, findings from this research show that the practice of agroecological methods remains fragmented and tenuous among local food producers. Very few of the farmers in this study rely exclusively on sustainable agroecological farming methods, while most farmers combine agroecological and industrial methods depending on the prevailing constraints and the availability of support and resources. Yet those who do utilise sustainable methods are insulated from the expenses that come with reliance on conventional farming inputs. Some key constraints to the practice of agroecology include limited access to markets and lack of appropriate knowledge, lack of inputs and technologies, and fragmented and insufficient government support.

The report concludes that government agricultural support programmes remain steeped in conventional approaches to farming, and efforts to promote sustainable farming by non-profit organisations, although significant, can only succeed as part of a broader effort involving multiple actors working purposively to reconfigure the current food system. Thus, building back food systems in the aftermath of COVID-19 and prospects for scaling out sustainable practices like agroecology remain limited, and only multi-pronged support for such alternatives, involving the state and other key actors, can foster the structural transformation of the current food system.

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