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Abstract

The paper is based on a study that sought to understand the nature of the interaction between small-scale farmers and government in the Eastern Cape from a variety of different perspectives. The study involved a sample survey of farmers, and in-depth interviews with farmers, extension officers and other government staff, and leaders of farmer associations. This particular paper explores two themes that emerged in the course of the larger study: first, what is popularly known in South Africa and elsewhere as the 'culture of dependency and entitlement', and second, the forms of support that government chooses to offer to small-scale farmers. The paper argues that government is stuck in a vicious cycle whereby it seeks to placate expectant small-scale farmers with material support, which it can most effectively do via problematic group projects; although generally ineffective, the practice has the effect of maintaining widespread demand for such support, even to the point that small-scale farmers forming group projects for the sole purpose of attracting it. In seeking to compensate for the weaknesses of this approach, government has sought to introduce compensatory measures such as 'strategic partnerships', sometimes with the ironic consequence that small-scale farmers no longer play a role in farming in 'their' agricultural projects. The paper concludes that government in the Eastern Cape needs to return to the basics of effective extension support aimed at supporting individual farmers; to the extent material support is still needed, it should no longer be given away for free.

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