Peasant households own potentially valuable natural resources, indigenous
knowledge and labour sources.
Peasant households near Bushbuckridge
use their indigenous
knowledge about the marula tree
and its fruits to lift themselves out of
poverty. They are showing government
that they are not satisfied to merely
receive hand-outs, but that they want
to create sustainable and economically
viable opportunities for their families.
The people of Bushbuckridge have
been conserving, cultivating and using
marula for decades.
Recent years have seen the commercial
processing of the marula fruit into the
well-known Amarula cream liqueur,
pharmaceutical products and cosmetics
that have reached international markets.
However, the marula tree itself has
never been commercially farmed.
Local peasant households are at the
heart of the lucrative and growing
marula industry. They draw on
indigenous knowledge and social
networks, and are responsible for the
propagation, harvesting and supply
of the fruit and other useful parts of
the marula tree.
But widely accepted economic theories
and current government approaches to
rural development are preventing these
key players from reaping the benefits
of commercialised marula production.
This is the opinion of Dr Vuyo Mahlati
who received her doctorate in public
development in December 2011 for
research on the role of peasant household
in the sustainable commercialisation
Dr Mahlati relates how the chairperson
of a Marula Committee in
Bushbuckridge, Mrs Mabuyi, explains
their traditional production system,
"We look after the trees, and we plant
them, harvest them, clean and sort them.
We use wheelbarrows to transport
marula to our households and collection
points, and then collectively hire cars
to take them to the central point."
The marula committees even ensure
resource conservation by organising
campaigns to stop people from chopping
"Despite production methods being
pre-industrial, Mrs Mabuyi approaches
her enterprise as an investor and
entrepreneur, not as a survivalist,"
believes Dr Mahlati. "Her supply
strategy targets opportunities locally,
and buyers for primary and secondary
producers. She does long-term planning
and has a long-term view, all in an
effort to benefit from the poorlymanaged
ecosystem and imperfect
The result is deepening rural poverty despite escalating expenditure on rural
development by government.
"These findings challenge the
widely held view that peasant households
are risk avoidant or that they
are poor because they are backward
and inefficient," believes Dr Mahlati.
"These peasant households are
value actors," emphasises Dr Mahlati.
"They are not just workers or employees,
but employers themselves."
The disregard of the productive
and entrepreneurial potential of rural
households has meant that government
rural development programmes have
focused on welfare and cash grants.
Little or no attention has been paid to
creating an enabling environment for
them to join the mainstream economy,
such as creating roads and other
According to Dr Mahlati, these
misguided government policies are
based on current macroeconomic flow
models, in which the firm or the factory
is the productive centre, rather than
households. The latter can only be
providers of labour, the beneficiaries of
wages and the consumers of products.
This approach has exposed peasant
households to exploitative and
paternalistic business relations. "The
households absorb many production
costs and associated risks that are not
compensated for or rewarded by the
buyers. They witness their buyers
grow while they struggle to survive.
The result is deepening rural poverty
despite escalating expenditure on rural
development by government," holds
"We need a new approach for
inclusive and sustainable rural
economies," she believes. "It should
be an inclusive economic system that
recognises and appreciates home
production and the traditional sectors
that serve local and particularly rural
"The household production centre
must be connected with the industrial
production centre to create an inclusive
value chain model," says Dr Mahlati,
who is a senior advisor to government
on economic and rural development
and a member of the National Planning
Commission. "There should be clear
contracts between suppliers, producers
"Through the relationship between
rural and urban, small and big, we can
create new opportunities, new value
and economic growth," she believes.
Peasant households own potentially
valuable natural resources, indigenous
knowledge and labour sources. "They
can strategically use commercialisation
to secure sustainable livelihoods and
prosper as industry players in the
mainstream global market economy,"
Dr Mahlati said.
2012 new voices in science 03