South Africa is located at the most southern tip of the African continent. It has about 1553 miles coast line along the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. South Africa is ranked as an upper-middle income country in the world, enjoying the largest economy in Africa. However, the country shows high poverty rate due to widespread unemployment and unequal income distribution. South Africa has a highly diversified population of about 51 million people. The country has three capitals: Pretoria (administrative), Cape Town (legislative) and Bloemfontein (judicial). There are nine provinces in the country. The provinces are divided into 52 districts, which comprise eight Metropolitan and 44 district municipalities. The district municipalities are sub-divided into 226 local municipalities.
The central region of South Africa is flat, hot and dry, with sparse population, while the eastern coastline is green, with tropical climate. The country, in general, has a temperate climate, but its diverse topography and the effect of oceans create as many as seven climatic zones ranging from Mediterranean, to sub-tropical and semi-desert. The winter season is from June to August. The south-eastern part of South Africa has high mountains, and the country is rich in biodiversity and wild life.
The agriculture sector of South Africa is divided into two distinct parts: one has relatively small population, but with highly developed commercial farming; the other has far larger population with subsistence farming. While about 12 percent of the country’s land can be used for crop production, only 22 percent of this is considered as highly potential arable land. Average farm size has been growing while the number of farms has been declining over the years. Limited water and erratic rainfall pattern are the main constraints in agricultural development. About 1.3 million hectares are under irrigation in South Africa, and these consume around 50 percent of the country’s water. Maize is the main crop followed by wheat, sugarcane and sunflowers. Citrus, deciduous fruits, and locally produced wines and flowers are exported. Cattle ranching and sheep farming are common in arid areas. The contribution of agriculture to the national GDP has been steadily declining during the past four decades, with the present contribution being about two percent. Still, about 8.5 million people are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture for living. The sector provides employment to about 638,000 people. Agro-processing is a popular aspect of the agriculture sector.
The official development assistance (ODA) for the agriculture sector of South Africa was about $57 million during the period 2005-07, which was about 2.1 percent of the total ODA for the country. Major donors for the country included the European Commission, USAID, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and Japan.
Key Statistics and Indicators
Agricultural land (sq km)
Agricultural land (% of land area)
Arable land (hectares)
Arable land (% of land area)
Arable land (hectares per person)
|Fertilizer consumption (kg per hectare of arable land)||49.20||2009|
Agriculture, value added (% of GDP)
Food production index (2004-2006 = 100)
Food exports (% of merchandise exports)
Food imports (% of merchandise imports)
|GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$)||6,960||2011|
Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above)
Literacy rate, youth female (% of females ages 15-24)
Literacy rate, youth male (% of males ages 15-24)
Ratio of young literate females to males (% ages 15-24)
Ratio of female to male secondary enrollment (%)
Mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people)
Internet users (per 100 people)
Population density (people per sq. km of land area)
Rural population (% of total population)
Agricultural population (% of total population)*
Total economically active population
Total economically active population in agriculture*
Total economically active population in agriculture (in %
of total economically active population)
Female economically active population in agriculture (% of
total economically active population in agriculture)*
History of Extension and the Enabling Environment
After South Africa attained the independent status of “Dominion” within the British Commonwealth in 1910, a Minister of Agriculture, named General Kemp, appointed the first ever six Extension Officers in 1925, adopting the idea of extension from the USA land-grant colleges. Colonel Heinrich du Toit was the first Chief of the Division of Education and Extension who, along with the six Extension Officers, was charged with the dissemination of existing knowledge and new research findings to the farming community. The Extension Service was divided into three separate sections one each to serve the White (Europeans), the Black (native Africans), and the Colored (people of Indian and other origins) farmers. The government, cooperatives and the private sector concentrated mainly on the White farmers. For the Black farmers, extension service was provided as a part of meeting community needs focusing on tangible products rather than on developing human capacity. As many as 24 rural areas were divided into farming areas for the Colored farmers. The Black as well as Colored farmers followed subsistence farming. The companies that served the White farmers also served the Colored people who farmed within the White areas.
Before 1994, South Africa was divided into seven independent regions, where research and extension worked side by side. Later, in the late 1990s, agricultural research was privatized through the creation of the Agricultural Research Council.. After the 1994 elections in South Africa, in which people of all races took part, the first Government of National Unity was formed and all types of the then existing extension services were merged into one extension service. Presently, there is one national level Department of Agriculture and nine provincial Departments of Agriculture. The extension services are required to cover both subsistence and commercial farmers of all races.
The dichotomy of the agriculture sector is very visible in the country, more so in the Northern Cape Province. There, only 10,000 white commercial farmers contribute to the provincial economy and employment while more than half a million African smallholders farm for subsistence. Public extension service is not well prepared to handle challenges of subsistence farming and the emerging commercialization of farms. There is not much coordination between the elected political officials of the Provincial Executive Councils and the extension administrators. It causes frustration among the farmers when politicians cannot deliver on their commitments. The extension staff spends a lot more time on administrative matters as compared to that spent on advising farmers.
In 1995, the then Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Environment developed a policy framework. The objectives were to involve farmers in decision-making, to benefit from the indigenous knowledge and improved technology, to make extension and research staff accountable to farmers’ organizations, to provide public funding for need-driven research, extension and training, and to build institutional capacity of farmers at all levels. These objectives could not be fully achieved due to weak pre-service and in-service training of extension staff, technology-driven extension approach, staff accountability limited to the government, and low funding for research.
In 1998, re-orientation of the public extension services was done with the involvement of managers, subject-matter specialists (SMSs), researchers, extension staff and farmers. The three categories specified for extension support included resource poor small farmers, emerging smallholder farmers engaged in both subsistence and commercial farming, and commercial farmers who produce for domestic and overseas markets. An externally funded lead pilot program called, Broadening Agricultural Service and Extension Delivery (BASED), replaced the traditional individual contact extension method by participatory extension approaches. Results were encouraging, leading to the decentralization of responsibilities to the regional and sub-regional levels, and integration of research and extension.
As mentioned earlier, the number of farms has been declining while the average size of farms has been getting larger. Currently, about 20 percent of the commercial farms produce 80 percent of the total value of production. On-farm employment has also been declining. The National Education and Training Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development, identifies multiple challenges to overcome before a well-trained extension force could be available in the country. In 2005, the ratio of extension agents to commercial farmers was 1:21, to subsistence farmers 1:857, and that to combined farmers 1:878.
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) is in the process of developing a national unified and all-inclusive policy on extension and advisory services in collaboration with the Agricultural Research Council. The new policy seeks to shape and align research and extension across the sectors of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. It will cover the national, provincial and local governments and is expected to promote and facilitate the harmonized extension and advisory services in the country.
The DAFF has specific “norms and standards” for extension, and annual official reports are issued on the state of compliance to them. Focus areas of the norms and standards are:
- Facilitate access to extension and advisory services that meet sustainable income generation by clients.
- Provide and facilitate access to agricultural information for improved planning and decision-making.
- Facilitate access to technology and, where possible, provide such technologies
- Provide and facilitate advice on skills development in agriculture.
- Strengthen partnerships for effective delivery of services.
South Africa has an active agricultural extension association - South African Society for Agricultural Extension (SASAE) http://www.sasae.co.za/- that was established in 1966 at the University of Pretoria. The SASAE aims at advancing and applying the extension and rural development as scientific discipline by stimulating thought, study, research, discussion, publication and exchange of knowledge, both nationally and internationally. It promotes the professionalism, status and dignity of the extension profession amongst the scientific fraternity, the general public and the studying youth. Presently, the society enjoys the membership of more than 500 persons.
Major Institutions Providing Extension/Advisory Services
Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
The national level Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries (DAFF) is headed by a Minister. Currently, it is engaged in developing a national policy on extension through broad consultation. A dedicated website exists at DAFF for suggestions and feedback from stakeholders. The DAFF plays a supporting and coordinating role for making extension services effective, but does not provide direct extension advice to farmers.
Directorate of Education, Training and Extension Services
The Directorate of Education, Training and Extension Services (DETES) is one of the divisions of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The mandate of DETES is to ensure that farmers and other stakeholders have access to appropriate agricultural knowledge and skills for the development of agriculture as an industry. To achieve this goal, DETES’s has listed its priorities as follows:
- Develop and facilitate the implementation of the National Agricultural Education and Training Strategy.
- Develop a performance improvement plan for extension and advisory service.
- Develop an implementation plan for future governance of colleges of agriculture.
- Develop and publish reports on agricultural education and training.
- Develop and implement targeted training programs.
- Ensure the generation of appropriate agricultural qualifications for the advancement of agriculture.
- Liaise with agricultural line function sector and education and training authorities to ensure alignment of their work with the strategic priorities of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries.
- Facilitate the development and implementation of protocol between the departments of agriculture and education for the advancement of agricultural education and training.
- Coordinate and manage agricultural international training.
The clientele of the DETES include: provincial departments of agriculture, faculties of agriculture in institutions of higher learning, agricultural high schools, Further Education and Training (FET) institutions with agricultural offerings, Agricultural Line Function SETAs, colleges of agriculture, agricultural community-based organizations, NGOs, farmers, youth, National African Farmers Union (NAFU), AgriSA, Transvaal Agricultural Union, and directorates/functional units in the Department of Agriculture.
Provincial Departments of Agriculture
South Africa has the following nine provinces and all of them have their individual departments of agriculture that are responsible for providing extension services to the subsistence and commercial farmers.
- Eastern Cape.
- Free State.
- North West.
- Northern Cape.
- Western Cape.
The names of provincial agriculture departments may differ from province to province. For example, in the North West Province, the department is known as the Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Environment (NW DoACE). In the Northern Cape Province, it is called the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.
Table 1: Human Resources in Public Agricultural Extension in South Africa as of June 2008
|Province||Number of Extension Staff|
Williams B., D. Mayson, R.D. Satgé, S. Epstein and T. Semwayo.2008. Extension and smallholder agriculture: Key issues from the review of the literature., Phuhlisani, Cape Town. Photocopy. Available at: www.phuhlisani.com/
Note: Assuming that the number of extension staff given in the source for each province is correct, the total number (2155) of the staff shown in the original table of the source was wrong and was therefore corrected to 2092 while preparing this table.
The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) is the principal agricultural research institution in South Africa. The ARC comprises, in addition to a central office, 11 research institutes which are grouped under various divisions, one of them being the Technology Transfer Division. The division seeks value creation from public investment in science to ensure that ARC contributes to a prosperous agricultural sector. Six units at the Appropriate Technology Center work together to facilitate partnerships, coordinate and integrate technology transfer processes to deliver tangible products and services into the market place for the benefit of the society. The ARC also runs training programs and offers consulting and advisory services.
Agricultural schools, technikons, colleges and universities
There are large numbers of agricultural secondary and high schools, technikons (known until 1987 as Colleges of Advanced Technical Education providing tertiary level vocational education), colleges and universities that offer academic programs and training courses in various agricultural subjects. The exact nature of extension work carried out by these institutions in and around their physical locations is not known, but extension is implicit in all of their activities. Examples of these institutions:
- Augsburg Agricultural Gymnasium, Clanwilliam.
- Boland Agricultural High School, Windmeul.
- Kgotso Agricultural Secondary School, Hoopstad.
- Niekerksrus Agricultural School, Viljoenskroon.
- The Cape Technikon, Cape Town.
- Port Elizabeth Technikon, Port Elizabeth.
- Fort Cox College of Agriculture, Eastern Cape Province.
- Cedara College of Agriculture, KwaZulu-Natal Province.
- Glen College of Agriculture, Free State Province.
- University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.
- University of the North West, Mmabatho University of Venda for Science and Technology, Thohoyandou.
- University of Pretoria, Onderstepoort
There is no private company in South Africa that may be called as an extension advisory company. However, as the country enjoys a vibrant commercial agriculture sector, there are many private companies that are involved in various agricultural operations such as agro-processing and marketing. Names of some of them are:
- Astral Food (poultry production)
- Rainbow (chickens)
- Daybreak Farms (poultry)
- Karan Beef (beef and products)
- AFGRI (agricultural services and foods)
- Prosoy (developed “Skimpro” a substitute for skim milk powder)
- Massmart (wine producer; multinational retail store linked to Wal-Mart, USA)
- Commercial Suppliers Ltd. (Association of Fresh Ginger in South Africa)
- Pallanca Group (oil seed trading)
- Makhathini Cotton (Bt cotton)
- Meadow Feeds (animal feeds industry)
- Mega Merinos Klipplaatrfontein (sheep)
- Milk-Pro (milk pasteurization equipment)
- Nippy Brand Branding Iron (cattle branding equipment)
- Organic Green (organic growth fertilizers)
- Ratho Farms (crocodile farming)
- Fresh Harvest (citrus and deciduous fruit juices)
There are many local, national and some international NGOs operating in South Africa carrying a variety of welfare and development agendas. Some of them undertake rural community development activities and get involved in implicit or explicit agricultural extension or extension type activities. Names of some of the NGOs currently active in South Africa are mentioned below:
- AgriAids (empowers farm workers to be responsible for their own wellness through HIV control and other life improving programs on farms and in farming communities)
- NEPAD Business Foundation (NBF) (promotes sustainable economic development in Africa)
- Association for Rural Development (AFRA) (working on land rights and agrarian reform in KwaZulu-Natal Province, focusing on the black rural people)
- Democratic Alliance (health and malnutrition)
- Community Media Trust (producing all forms of media)
- Biowatch South Africa (challenges industrial agriculture and demonstrates ecologically sustainable alternatives)
- African Organic Farming Foundation (market research, building farmer capacity, organic group certification, agro-enterprise)
- Potatoes SA (official representative of potatoes producers)
- Agri Business Forum (engages the private sector for Africa’s agri-food growth)
- TechnoServe (to directly help disadvantaged entrepreneurial men and women to develop economically)
Farmers-based associations, cooperatives and societies
A Native Farmers Association was established in South Africa as early as 1918, and was the first organization to create conservation farming among the Black farmers. South Africa has a substantial number of farmers’ associations and agricultural cooperatives all of which strive to benefit their members through lobbying, marketing and provision of a variety of services sometimes including extension support. One example could be the South African Subtropical Growers Association. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries organized a National Agricultural Cooperatives Indaba in 2012.
Names of a few farmers’ associations and acclaimed agricultural cooperatives are as follows:
- Zamani Ward 11 Cooperative Limited, Eastern Cape Province.
- Metsimaholo Communal Property Cooperative Limited, Free State Province.
- Super Grand Agric Feed Mill Cooperative, Gauteng Province.
- Isizwesivumelane Primary Agricultural Cooperative Limited, KwaZulu-Natal Province.
- Sasekisani Cooperative Limited, Limpopo Province.
- Bambanani Farmers Cooperative Limited, Mpumalanga Province.
- Baobab Cooperative Limited, North West Province.
- Itekeng Tsineng Goat Cooperative Limited, Northern Cape Province.
- Friemersheim Multi-purpose Cooperative Limited, Western Cape Province.
- African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA) (focuses on the Black farmers) .
- Agri South Africa (represents about 70,000 farmers)
- National African Farmers’ Union (NAFU) (represents predominantly Black small-holder farmers)
- Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU SA)
- Marine Finfish Farmers Association of South Africa (MFFASA)
- Abalone Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA)
- Western Cape Trout Association (WCTA)
- The South African Tilapia Farmers Association
- Asibambisane Farmers Association
- South African Subtropical Growers’ Association
- The Aquaculture Association of Southern Africa
List of Extension Providers
The following list shows an excerpt from the GFRAS Directory of Extension Providers for South Africa. Some of these entries may be specially marked for having more detailed information in the database of the Worldwide Extension Study WWES.
Training Options for Extension Professionals
Pre-service training in agricultural extension or relevant disciplines may be pursued at any of several agricultural secondary and high schools, technikons, colleges and universities that have faculties of agriculture as well as at many agricultural colleges scattered throughout South Africa. Some of the universities have been mentioned earlier. Additional institutions of higher learning are:
- University of Fort Hare.
- University of the Free State.
- University of KwaZulu-Natal.
- University of Limpopo.
- North West University.
- University of Pretoria.
- Stellenbosch University.
- Tshwane University of Technology.
- University of Zululand.
Some of the agricultural colleges have been mentioned earlier. A list of additional agricultural colleges is as follows:
- Cedara College of Agriculture.
- Glen Agricultural College.
- Madzivhandila College of Agriculture.
- Owen Sithole College of Agriculture.
- Potchefstroom College of Agriculture.
- Taung College of Agriculture.
- Tompi Seleka College of Agriculture.
- Tsolo College of Agriculture.
For in-service training, extension staff may benefit from any of several agricultural training institutes in the country that offer a variety of courses. Two sources of information on agricultural training institutions are the South African Agricultural Training Association (SAATA), and the National Agricultural Training Board. However, the three main agricultural training institutes are:
- Cape Institute for Agricultural Training (CIAT) (has branch campuses in Elsenburg, George, Oudtshorn and Clanwilliam) .
- Dicla Training Center (located in Gauteng Province).
- South African Institute for Agricultural Extension, University of Pretoria.
Info-mediaries and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Agriculture and Extension
In 2011 the number of mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people) in South Africa was 126.83 (World Bank 2011). During the same year, the number of Internet users (per 100 people) in the country was 20.94. South Africa has a well established and sophisticated ICT sector with a 99 percent digital network. The country plays a leadership role in Africa in mobile software and electronic banking services. An ICT Research, Development and Innovation Strategy was prepared by the Department of Science and Technology and adopted in 2007. The 2015 ICT vision goes as follows:
“South Africa is an inclusive information society where ICT-based innovations flourish. Entrepreneurs from historically disadvantaged population groups, rural communities and the knowledge-intensive industry benefit and also contribute to the well-being and quality of life of our citizens. South Africa has a strong national ICT brand that captures the vibrancy of an industry and research community striving for excellence, characterized by innovative approaches to local and global challenges, and recognized for its contribution to the economic growth and well-being of our people and region.” However, there is little evidence of any modern ICT tools being applied to the agriculture sector or to agricultural extension. That might change in future as the government has included agriculture among several key ICT domains identified in the ICT policy.
Resources and References
Chaminuka, P., F. Anim, L.K. Debusho and S. Nqangweni (2006). Impact of HIV & AIDS on Agriculture and Food Security: The Case of Limpopo Province in South Africa. FANRPAN Working Document: Series Ref. Number: NAT SAA005. Joint publication of FANRPAN (Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network), SADC (Southern African Development Community) and the EU (European Union). University of Pretoria, South Africa
Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Republic of South Africa (March 2012). A Report on the National Agricultural Cooperatives Indaba
Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Republic of South Africa (2009). Annual Report on the State of Compliance to Norms and Standards for Extension, 2008/09
Gbetibouo, G.A. and C. Ringler (August 2009). Mapping South African Farming Sector Vulnerability to Climate Change and Variability. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
IST-Africa Consortium (20 April 2012). Guide to ICT Policy in IST-Africa Partner Countries; Version 2.2
Khan, F. (1994). Rewriting South Africa’s conservation history—the role of the Native Farmers Association. Journal of Southern African Studies, Volume 20, Number 4, December 1994, Pp 499-516
Kimaro, W.H., L. Mukandiwa and E.Z.J. Mario (eds.) Towards Improving Agricultural Extension Service Delivery in the SADC Region: Proceedings of the Workshop on Information Sharing among Extension Players in the SADC Region, held at Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 26-28 July, 2010
Kirsten, J., C. Haankuku and R. Stander (2010). Assessing Private Sector Agriculture Research and Innovation in South Africa. Paper presented at the Joint 3rd African Association of Agricultural Economists (AAAE) and 48th Agricultural Economists Association of South Africa (AEASA) Conference, held at Cape Town, South Africa, September 19-23, 2010
Liebenberg, F. and P.G. Pardey (2010). South African Agricultural Production and Productivity Patterns. Chapter 13 in The Shifting Patterns of Agricultural Production and Productivity Worldwide. Ames, Iowa, USA: The Midwest Agribusiness Trade Research and Information Center, Iowa State University
Ngomane, T., J.S. Thomson and R.B. Radhakrishna (2002). Public sector agricultural extension system in the Northern Province of South Africa: A system undergoing transformation. Journal of International Agricultural and Extension Education, Volume 9, Number 3, Fall 2002, Pp. 31-37
Nyhodo, B., W. Mugido, T. Gumbo, M. Bandama, C. Goosen, F. Naude, A. Shepherd and N. Tema (2009). FAO – NAMC Expert Consultation on “The Role of NGOs in Linking Farmers to Markets”, held at Somerset West, South Africa, 5 – 8 October 2009; Workshop Report issued by the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC), South Africa and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Qamar, M.K. (2003). Facing the Challenge of an HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Agricultural Extension Services in Sub-Saharan Africa. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Raidimi, N.E. (no date). Chapter 11: The Status of Agricultural Extension in the Limpopo Province. Available at: www.Ida.gov.za/dowloads_reports/Extension.pdf
Ramkolowan, Y. and M. Stern (November 2009). The Developmental Effectiveness of United Aid: Evaluation of the Implementation of the Paris Declaration and of the 2001 DAC Recommendation on Untying ODA to the LDCs; South Africa Country Study. Waterkloof, South Africa: Development Network Africa
Stevens, J.B. (no date; probably 2000). Outsourcing of extension service—a case study. Available at: www.aiaee.org/attachments/article/1361/pa44.pdf
USAID (November 2010). African Agriculture and ICT: An Overview (Briefing Paper)
Williams, B., D. Mayson, R.D. Satge, S. Epstein and T. Semwayo (16 June 2008). Extension and Small Holder Agriculture: Key Issues from a Review of the Literature; first draft. Available at: www.phuhlisani.com/...
Worth, S.H. (January 2008). An Assessment of the Appropriateness of Agricultural Extension Education in South Africa. Ph.D. dissertation. Pietermaritzburg: Center for Environment, Agriculture and Development, Faculty of Science and Agriculture, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Worth, S.H. (September, 2012). Agricultural Extension in South Africa: Status Quo Report, Dept. of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries, Republic of South Africa: Phuhlisani, available at: http://www.extensionpolicy.za.net/view.asp?ItemID=27&tname=tblComponent1&oname=News%20/%20Events&pg=exhibitions
- South_Africa_Extension_Profile_Report_-_2007.pdf 1.9 MB2020-02-17
Do you have corrections or additions to this article? Please use the commenting feature below to submit your contribution. And please be specific, point out what is missing, what is wrong, or what needs to be updated.
We will then incorporate your contribution into the main text.
- Authored by M. Kalim Qamar (April 2013)
- Edited by Burton E. Swanson