A recent study by Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) academics found social learning interventions to be necessary for any success in introducing new agricultural crops that contribute to nutritional diversity, and fight food insecurity.
The study – Introducing grain legumes for crop diversification and sustainable food production systems among urban small-holder farmers: food and nutrition security project in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa – was published in the journal of Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems Volume 46, Number 6.
It was co-authored by Dr Bonginkosi Mthembu, the Head of the Department of Community Extension at MUT; Dr Xolile Mkhize, a Senior Lecturer in the same department; Professor Wilna Oldewage-Theron of Texas Tech University; Professor Carin Napier, the Director of Research and Postgraduate Support at the Durban University of Technology (DUT); and Kevin Duffy, Director of the Institute of Systems Science at DUT.
The study found that “social learning interventions through partnerships, meetings, workshops, knowledge exchanges, as well as trial demonstrations, provided farmers with knowledge and skills on various legume crop management techniques”.
The two MUT academics’ study also found that training farmers on legume nutritional benefits shifted mindsets on enhancing crop diversification and managing legumes from production level. The study added that the change in mindsets was necessary for sustainable land management.
“The study demonstrated that the farmers had the capacity to adopt new behaviours of accepting and adaptation toward legume diversity within their production systems. Continuous commitment and compliance within the planting seasons were part of the positive behaviour shifts which can have environmental impact,” the study revealed.
The study also contributes to efforts to enhance food security and increase legume consumption; the legume is an important and environmentally friendly source of protein. This is because of the “stronger correlation between female farmers and successful production of legumes”. This is because women played a vital role in deciding what to plant, and in influencing the consumption of legumes.
The study was conducted at Marianhill, north-west of Durban, with urban small-holder farmers. The farmers involved in the project previously only planted vegetables and relied on the municipality to make seeds available to them, which limited what these farmers could plant. Urban small-holder farmers were chosen because of their potential to “increase and improve food and nutrition security in urban areas”, the study revealed.
However, the study acknowledged that although social learning interventions were key to successfully introducing new crops, the shortage of water and pest infestation needed to be addressed.