Collective action for access to inputs, finance, markets and extension for smallholder farmers in Eswatini
Smallholder farmers’ access to inputs, finance, markets and extension is key to their success and contribution to rural development. In a study that was conducted in the Hhohho region of Eswatini, with a snowballed sample of 82 smallholders, it was found that most smallholder farmers are elderly women who generally had low levels of education. They predominantly held land that is less than 1 ha which was on Swazi Nation Land (SNL). Even those who were part of farmer groups operated as individuals, since group committees had difficulties in managing the groups. Farmers who had export market contracts were more likely to access bank finance, while those with NAMBoard market contracts were not. However, grouped farmers were more likely to access NAMBoard marketing contracts and extension services. The results suggest that collective operation for farmers is key to market and extension access but not finance. Therefore, as much as extension officers (EOs) should encourage and assist smallholders to form formal groups like cooperatives, they still need to go further to create strategies to assist the farmer cooperatives to raise capital. Cooperatives can raise capital through joining fees and shares, but the traditional cooperatives are inefficient in raising additional capital from capital endowed members and strategic partners later on in their life. This creates a niche for hybrid cooperatives, which are efficient in this regard. Thus, there is an urgent need to train EOs on the development of cooperatives and equally lobby for legislative innovations. This may allow the development of efficient cooperatives and improve the viability and sustainability of farmers.
Keywords: Access to markets, Cooperatives, Institutions, Role of extension, Smallholders