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The impact of covid-19 and coping strategies used by small-scale farmers: A case study of Buffalo City Metropolitan, Amathole and O.R Tambo - District Municipalities of the Eastern Cape

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  • Dohne Agricultural Development Institute
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The impact of covid-19 and coping strategies used by small-scale farmers: A case study of Buffalo City Metropolitan, Amathole and O.R Tambo - District Municipalities of the Eastern Cape

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Livestock farming plays a vital role in food supply, job creation, promoting economic transformation and financial capital. Covid-19 pandemic negatively influenced livestock production through reduced access to markets, medicines, extension services and animal health services. The aim of the study was to assess the impact of covid-19 and coping strategies used by small-scale farmers in three municipalities. Eleven farms were purposively selected and a total of 30 farmers were interviewed using semi-structured questionnaires. The results showed that the participation of females (12%) in farming was low compared to males (88%). Lower participation by the youth was alarming with 92% of farmers were above 35 years of age and 50% having a matric. Landownership; 40% were private farms, 30% rely on communal land and 30% on lease agreements. The findings showed that the majority of farmers kept livestock for cash sales (60%) meat (19%) and prestige (10%), respectively. Reduced access to markets (50%) and animal health services (19%) were the most highly ranked constraints. Farmers mentioned that they had lost marketing opportunities and income due to the suspension of traditional ceremonies and initiation schools by government restrictions. Approximately 50% of farmers acknowledged the government's intervention in the form of vouchers to cushion the impact covid-19. Due to stringent restrictions, 66% of farmers used cell phones, and 13% went used online to gain access information in order to cope with challenges imposed by the pandemic. In conclusion, the study revealed that small-scale farmers were socially and economically affected by the pandemic.
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The impact of covid-19 and coping strategies used by small-scale farmers:
A case study of Buffalo City Metropolitan, Amathole and O.R Tambo -
District Municipalities of the Eastern Cape
S. Tokozwayo1#, T. Thubela1, U. Gulwa1, S. Mthi2, M. Gxasheka3, W. Masiza4, N. Jokani1,
N. Mgujulwa1, A. Sogoni1 & N. Mtamzeli-Cekiso1
1Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform Dohne ADI, Stutterheim, Eastern Cape, South Africa.
2Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform, Queenstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa
3Department of Plant Production, Soil Science & Agricultural Engineering, University of Limpopo,
Polokwane, South Africa.
4Agricultural Research Council (ARC), Natural Resources and Engineering, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa.
Abstract
Livestock farming plays a vital role in food supply, job creation, promoting economic transformation
and financial capital. Covid-19 pandemic negatively influenced livestock production through reduced access
to markets, medicines, extension services and animal health services. The aim of the study was to assess the
impact of covid-19 and coping strategies used by small-scale farmers in three municipalities. Eleven farms
were purposively selected and a total of 30 farmers were interviewed using semi-structured questionnaires.
The results showed that the participation of females (12%) in farming was low compared to males (88%).
Lower participation by the youth was alarming with 92% of farmers were above 35 years of age and 50%
having a matric. Landownership; 40% were private farms, 30% rely on communal land and 30% on lease
agreements. The findings showed that the majority of farmers kept livestock for cash sales (60%) meat (19%)
and prestige (10%), respectively. Reduced access to markets (50%) and animal health services (19%) were the
most highly ranked constraints. Farmers mentioned that they had lost marketing opportunities and income due
to the suspension of traditional ceremonies and initiation schools by government restrictions. Approximately
50% of farmers acknowledged the government’s intervention in the form of vouchers to cushion the impact
covid-19. Due to stringent restrictions, 66% of farmers used cell phones, and 13% went used online to gain
access information in order to cope with challenges imposed by the pandemic. In conclusion, the study revealed
that small-scale farmers were socially and economically affected by the pandemic.
Keywords: Covid-19, landownership, pandemic, livestock, small-scale
#Corresponding author: furaluke@gmail.com
Introduction
The first case of the popular coronavirus known as covid-19 was reported in China (i.e. Wuhan) on
31 December 2018 (Wang, 2020; WHO, 2020). The South African government announced strict lockdown
measures on 26 March 2020 with the agricultural sector was declared as an essential service. Coronavirus
outbreak have been reported across the globe (Bekuma, 2020). In South Africa, the covid-19 pandemic led to
a shutdown of the economy in order to reduce the spread of the virus. According to Bekuma (2020), the
agricultural value chain and livelihoods were affected by the pandemic and this posing a high risk to food
security. Livestock production through formal and informal livestock sales had demonstrated a great potential
to be an income generating and viable solution to food security. In general, farming creates employment;
promote the economic transformation by contributing to human and financial capital (FAO, 2018).
The FAO (2020) and G20 (2020) reported that covid-19 has had a significant impact on many sectors
including the livestock sector due to the introduction of lockdowns, travel restrictions and border controls.
Consequently, the South African Government Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural
Development (DALRRD) announced an amount of R1.2 billion financial assistance targeted at the distressed
small-scale farmers. Of the R1.2 billion, 400 million was allocated for farmers within the Proactive Land
Acquisition Strategy (PLAS) Programme, with the remainder channelled towards assistance of small-scale
farmers on poultry, vegetable and livestock commodities (Meyer et al. 2022).
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The relief programme aimed at providing a short-term support to small-scale farmers who were assumed
to be the most affected by covid-19.
The DALRRD did not provide scientific evidence on how the pandemic and regulations affected
small-scale farmers (Meyer et al. 2022). The relief was distributed to farmers across the country in the form
of vouchers and allocated for procuring specific production inputs. Bekuma (2020) reported some measures
that had negative impact in livestock sector such as restricting transportation of live animals to abattoirs and
auctions in other parts of the African continent such as Ethiopia. Small-scale farmers were experiencing
difficulties in transporting their produce to markets (i.e. formal and informal) because of permits, restricted
capacity to purchase necessary production inputs, restricted access to health and extension services (Bekuma,
2020). Therefore, this study aimed at assessing the impact of covid-19 and coping strategies used by
small-scale farmers in Amathole, Buffalo City Metropolitan and O.R Tambo Districts.
Materials and Methods
Site description
The study was carried out in ten farms situated in O.R Tambo, Buffalo City Metropolitan and Amathole
District municipalities, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa (Figure 1 and Table 1).
Figure 1 Study sites.
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Table 1 Farm names, towns, districts, location, veld types and average rainfall
Farm names
Town
Municipalities
Coordinates
Veld types
Average
rainfall/year
Tsilitwa
Qumbu
O.R Tambo
30°59'6.94"S;28°44'12.58"E
DFMG
1322mm
Marhambeni
Qumbu
O.R Tambo
31° 6'51.53"S;28°51'16.17"E
EGG
970mm
Nkomo
Butterworth
Amathole
32°30'35.33"S,28°00'37.15"E
EVB
720mm
Rosedence
East London
Buffalo city
32°52'29.67"S,27°42'32.85"E
BT
815mm
Thornvalley
Berlin
Buffalo city
32°54'33.85"S,27°35'58.86"E
ACB
815mm
Bloemfontein
Peddie
Amathole
33° 4'49.94"S,27° 7'34.64"E
BT
412mm
Glen Craig
Peddie
Amathole
33° 6'4.21"S,27° 9'42.81"E
GFT
412mm
Malangaskraal
Bedford
Amathole
32°45'24.10"S,26° 6'28.90"E
BDG
680mm
New glen
Seymour
Amathole
32°33'22.01"S,26°50'45.55"
EMT
520mm
Whiteney
Fort Beaufort
Amathole
32°53'29.93"S,26°41'17.49"E
GFT
529mm
Mthontsi
Adelaide
Amathole
32°53'29.93"S,26°41'17.49"E
BT
512mm
DFMG= Drakensberg foothill moist grassland, EQG East griqualand grassland, EVB= Eastern valley bushveld, BT=
Bisho thornveld, ACB= Albany coastal belt, GFT= Great fish thicket, BDG= Bedford grassland, EMT= Escarpment
mesic thicket, FVT= Fish valley thicket.
Data collection and analysis
The study was conducted in Buffolo City Metrolitan, Amathole and O.R Tambo District Municipalities
between October and November 2021. Eleven farms, which participated in Livestock Improvement Scheme
Programme (i.e farmer support) of the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR),
were selected using the purposive sampling technique. Thirty (30) small-scale farmers were interviewed using
semi-structured questionnaires, which comprised both open and closed ended questions. Three farmers
(Chairperson, secretary and treasurer) were interviewed where land is shared amongst community members
which include the followings farms; Nkomo, Mthontsi, Tsilitwa and Marhambeni. Farm owners or lease
holders and farmer managers were also interviewed under private owned and government farms (leased farms)
which comprise the followings farms; Rosedence, Thornvalley, Bloemfontein, Glen crag, Malangaskraal, New
glen and Whiteney.
Livestock Improvement Scheme Programme aimed at improving the traits of economic importance on
livestock namely; to produce animals with high feed conversion rate, produce animals with high growth rate,
early maturing, produce animals that can adapt to different climatic conditions and are resistant to diseases.
These farms were classified as small-scale farms but found in both communal, private and government land
(i.e lease). In South Africa, small-scale farmer is a farmer who produces for both household consumption and
generate income, with the aim of becoming a commercial farmer, as defined by (DAFF, 2012). Out of eleven
farms two were situated in Buffalo City Metropolitan (Rosedence and Thornvalley) and seven in Amathole
District (Bloemfontein, Glen crag, Malangaskraal, New glen, Whiteney, Nkomo and Mthontsi) and two in O.R
Tambo District (Tsilitwa and Marhambeni). Data sheets were verified and corrected for any kind of errors and
then entered into Microsoft excel. The data obtained through the questionnaire were analysed using descriptive
statistics.
Results and discussion
Demographic information of farmers
Livestock production makes a crucial contribution to human wellbeing both socially and economically
(Bekuma, 2020). The study constituted 77% of males and 23% were females (Table 2). Comparable findings
were reported in same Province (Mthi and Nyangiwe, 2018; Mthi et al. 2021) and Southern region of Ethiopia
(Admasu et al. 2010). These finding contracts with Tokozwayo et al (2018) who recorded a higher proportion
of females (62%) participated in a survey, but discovered that livestock were mainly owned by males (38%).
An imbalance between males and females in livestock production it is still an overlooked subject in African
continent (Maeda-Machangu et al. 2000; Adedeji et al. 2013).
About 73% of the respondents were unemployed, 23% employed and 4% self-employed (Table 2).
Despite the stringent covid-19 regulations imposed by government at the beginning of March 2020 small-scale
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farmers remain resolute that agricultural activities will continue because to them farming is a primary source
of income. Approximately 80% were above 35 years old and youth contributed 20% (Table 2).
Less participation of young people in livestock farming could be associated with the fact that youth
perceive farming as not fashionable. High levels of unemployment and difficulties on accessing land which
have made it difficult for the youth to participate because farming requires both land and capital. The majority
of young people migrated to stay in townships and urban areas mainly for job hunting, while those who are
still in farms or communal areas were mainly involved in non-farming activities, like fashion design and
tendering. This finding coincides with the results reported in Eastern region of Ethiopia in Africa (Baars and
Aptidon 2002). Moreover, high proportion of elders were perceived to have challenges on the adoption of new
technologies such as use of computers.
Furthermore, the results showed that 57% of respondents who had obtained post matric qualifications,
27% have reached secondary school, while 16% stopped at primary school level (Table 2). Similar results were
reported by Tokozwayo et al. (2018), who indicated 92% of farmers attained primary and secondary school,
whereas 8% were illiterate. This was a clear indication that level of education was improving amongst farmers.
Education remains vital for the improvement of agricultural productivity because education broadens the mind
of farmers so they can make informed decision about their farming enterprise. Moreover, education is a key
tool for farming particularly in the adaptation of new technologies (Moyo et al. 2008).
Table 2 Characteristics of the selected small-scale farmers in the three district municipalities of the Eastern
Cape (n=30)
Characteristics
Proportion (%)
Gender
Females
23
Males
77
Age group
35 and under
20
36 and above
80
Education status
Illiterate
0
Primary
16
Secondary
27
Post matric
57
Employment Status
Unemployed
73
Employed
23
Self-employed
4
Landownership
In terms of landownership, 40% (4) were on private land, 30% (3) leased from government and 40% (4)
on communal owned land (Table 2). Some of farmers believed that keeping livestock in communal areas where
all rangeland resources are shared amongst the communities is too complex specially when it comes to
management and as result; communal farmers were aspiring to get leased land from the government in order
to diversify their farming operations. The expansion in terms of farming and commodity diversification could
be influenced by an increase of population and demand of commodities such as wool, live animal, crops etc.
Previous studies revealed that communal rangelands are likely to be overutilization due to uncontrolled access
of range resources (Lesoli, 2008; Tokozwayo et al. 2021). Most of the land was mainly used for livestock
production (i.e. Bloemfontein, Glen crag, Malangaskraal, New glen, Mthontsi and Whiteney), but yellow
maize and lucerne were observed in some farms, and some of farmers did indicate that maize and lucerne were
reserved for feeding livestock during the dry season. According to Mthi et al. (2022) landownership is an
important asset to have in order to be fully engaged in farming activities.
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Figure 1 Landownership status
Purpose of keeping livestock
Domestic animals are of great importance to the welfare of humans across the globe. Small-scale farmers
keep livestock for different motives. This study showed that majority of small-scale farmers kept livestock for
cash sales (60%) meat (19%), prestige (10%) and milk (4%) (Table 3). The income generated from livestock
was mainly used to purchase of livestock medication, production inputs, the maintenance of farm infrastructure
and household maintenance. This finding agrees with the study conducted by Solomon et al. (2014), who
reported that cash generated from livestock was saved to meet immediate family needs and for buying
medicines. Nevertheless, this finding conflicts with Mngomezulu (2010), who reported that farming for
prestige has declined in communal areas because farmers are farming to generate income. Despite generating
income from livestock, respondents alluded that goats and cattle are most important species, because these
species are used for cultural purposes such as traditional ceremonies, ritual purposes and traditional weddings.
Similar findings were reported in the same province by Solomon et al. (2014) who mentioned that the
importance of culturally related functions is mainly associated with slaughtering goats during ceremonies,
funerals and ritual sacrificial purposes. Respondents stated sheep were kept primarily for cash generation, meat
and wool production. This finding agrees with the findings reported by Kunene and Fossey (2006) from Kwa-
Zulu Natal and Solomon (2014) in the Eastern Cape Province.
Even though none of respondents mentioned the selling of animal by-products such as hides and skins.
The respondents stated that they were capable of producing hides and skins if the market was available.
Musemwa et al. (2010) reported that livestock farming played an important role in the livelihood of rural
communities and produced a wide diversity of products such as hides and skins. Animal traction (7%) and
milk (4%) were the least important reason for keeping among respondents (Table 3). According to Allsop et
al. (2007), the use of animals for animal traction is declining because small-scale farmers rely on government
mechanisation scheme. Respondents acknowledged that animal traction is cheaper than tractors but its labour
intensive. Livestock farming has demonstrated a great potential for income generation but also a viable solution
to malnutrition and poverty.
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Table 3 Purpose of keeping livestock by scale farmers (3 = most important, 2 = important, 1 = least important)
(respondents, n = 30).
Purpose
Frequency
Proportion (%)
Rank
Milk (consumption & sales)
1
4
1
Meat (consumption & sales)
5
19
2
Sales (live animal and wool)
15
60
3
Prestige or status
3
10
2
Animal traction
2
7
1
Challenges associated with covid-19 experienced by small-scale farmers
The current study revealed that reduced access to markets (50%) and government animal health services
(19%) were ranked as the most important constraints by the respondents (Table 4). Respondents indicated that
they had lost market and income due to the suspension of traditional ceremonies and initiation schools by
government. Similar results reported by Bekuma (2020) in Ethiopia. Solomon et al. (2014) discovered that
smallscale farmers generate more income during initiation season, traditional ceremonies and weddings (i.e
around June and December months). Under alert level 4, farmers were allowed to transport live animals and
auctions were opened because agricultural activities were declared as essential services (Meyer et al. 2022).
Respondents who are farming in communal land indicated that they had never participated in a formal
market such as auctions and abattoirs. They mainly rely on the local markets; hence, they were the most
affected by the suspension of cultural functions. High transport costs were cited as the main reason why these
farmers were not taking the advantage of formal markets. Despite the impact of coronavirus outbreak
respondents assumed that, formal markets for wool production were moderately disturbed, because these
buyers came to collect wool directly from farmers.
Because of gatherings especially in the communal areas where farmers are sharing dipping tanks or
handling facilities, health services were disrupted, resulting in a loss of livestock from the tick-borne diseases.
However, under the alert level 4, all agricultural activities were restored (Meyer et al. 2022) and animal
technician were visible, and further losses of livestock were prevented. Reduced access to livestock medication
(15%) was ranked as an important factor (2) which has led to infestation of ticks and tick-borne diseases,
because arcaricdes for ticks and medicines were not easily accessible (Table 4). Farmer’s panic buying and
disruptions of medicine supplies due to country’s shutdown resulted in a shortage of livestock medication and
feeds and other veterinary supplies. Reduced access to government extension services (8%) and unavailability
of farm workers (8%) were the least ranked constraints by the respondents. Comparable finding was reported
by FAO (2020), who reported movement of restrictions and illness of farmworkers resulted in labour shortages
and reduced supply or delayed access to livestock medicines and feed. Nonetheless, small-scale farmers
admitted that the coronavirus has directly impacted on their livelihoods through the anxiety, sickness and
deaths among workers and relatives. This finding concur with results reported by Wegerif (2022) in same
country. Government’s intervention towards the impact of covid-19 were recognised by respondents even
though it was not sustainable. This finding disagrees with Wegerif (2022) who argued that the government
responses have further disrupted farmers’ operations in numerous ways and many farmers have not even
benefitted from government.
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Table 4: Challenges associated with covid-19 experienced by small-scale farmers (3 = most important,
2 = important, 1 = least important) (respondents, n = 30).
Constraints
Frequency
Proportion of farmers (%)
Rank
Reduced access to markets
13
50
3
Reduced access to livestock medication
4
15
2
Reduced access to government extension
services
2
8
2
Reduced access to government animal health
services
5
19
3
Decline of farm workers
2
8
1
Strategies used by farmers to cope with covid-19
As a result of limited access to markets farmers had to keep their stock longer with higher maintenance
and production costs. Livelihood of small-scale farmers were severely disturbed by the pandemic, with farmers
losing markets and income due to the stringent restrictions. As previously mentioned the shutdown of economy
has caused difficulties on accessing markets, accessing the medication for livestock, accessing government
health services and extension services. Prior the outbreak of covid-19, farm visits, information days, meetings
and demonstration trials were keys activities where farmers and government officials (extension officers and
animal health technicians) shared information. All of those gatherings and activities were prohibited mainly
to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Nonetheless the study revealed that 66% of small-scale farmers opted
to use cellphone in order reach extension services such as advising farmers on different commodities
(livestock, vegetation, wool fibre and bee keeping) (Table 5).
Approximately 21% of small-scale farmers used WhatsApp groups in order access vaccination and
dosing programmes. Information amongst farmers, extension officers and animal technicians were shared on
WhatsApp in the form of videos clips and voice notes (Table 5). Extension officers and animal technicians
made it easier for the farmers in this way. However, some of these farmers especially the elderly were reluctant
to adjust to the use of WhatsApp because of age, expensive data and poor network coverage. This finding
concurs with Baars & Aptidon (2002) who reported that high proportion of elderly farmers may find difficulties
in adopting new technologies because of age. Shortage of livestock medicines at retail shops which was caused
by panic buying has pushed 13% of farmers to purchase medicine online (Table 5). However, agriculture was
declared as an essential service as result extension and animal health services were rendered and farmers who
struggle to use WhatsApp were relieved by the announcement. Even under alert level 4 traditional ceremonies
as target informal market remained closed, only funerals were allowed as results sheep and goats were sold
and casual workers were hired by farmers during dosing, dipping and vaccination periods because full-time
farm workers left farms due to anxiety and deaths associated with covid-19.
Table 5 Coping strategies used by farmers under Covid restrictions (3 = most important, 2 = important,
1 = least important) (respondents, n = 30)
Responses
Frequency
Proportion of farmers
(%)
Rank
WhatsApp group
5
21%
3
Google
3
13%
2
Cellphone communication
10
66%
3
Conclusion and recommendations
In conclusion, coronavirus had a great impact on the livelihood of farmers. Small-scale farmers were
greatly affected due to mobility restrictions, reduced access to markets, reduced access to government health
services, reduced access to livestock medication and reduced access to government extension services. Some
farm workers left their jobs because they were scared of coronavirus called pandemic.
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Use of cell phone communication and the establishment of WhatsApp groups were used as one of the
coping strategies to get access to extension services, purchasing livestock medication online, sharing
information etc.
It is recommended that farmers should at least have smart-phone in order to access information from
different platforms and government should ensure all areas have a network coverage of at least 3G. Despite
the stringent covid-19 regulations imposed by government at the beginning of March 2020, small-scale farmers
remained resolute, with agricultural activities continuing because the majority of small-scale farmers rely on
farming as a source of income.
Acknowledgements
The authors are indebted to the co-authors and for their assistance during the preparation of manuscript.
We are also grateful to Extension officers, Dohne Agricultural Development Institute (ADI) and Department
of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR) for permitting us to conduct this research. Many thanks
goes to farmers for allowing us to conduct the study.
Author’s contributions
Conception: ST and TT, data collection: ST, TT, NN and NM, study site map: WM, data analysis: ST,
Critical revision and final approval of version to be submitted: ST, TT, UG, MG, UG, AS and NCM.
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