Women's income-generating activities in a disadvantaged farming community : towards sustainability
Van Niekerk, Liezel
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A multi-disciplinary study, referred to as the THUSA Project, (Transition, Health and Urbanisation in South Africa) was conducted in the North-West University between 1996 and 1999. This study identified farm dwellers in the North West Province as a particularly vulnerable group concerning nutrition as well as physical and mental health. During 2001-2002 a needs assessment was further conducted in two farming communities in the province and it was found that the workers and their families lacked in quality of life and were not able to generate an additional income. Based on the results of the THUSA study and the needs assessment, a threefold training and education intervention was implemented to educate female farm dwellers in basic resource management, repairing and recycling of worn textile items and manufacturing crafts from available items. The aim was income-generation. Results obtained from the threefold study indicated the need for additional, intensive training of women to enable them to generate an income by applying newly acquired skills. An additional training intervention, aimed at product development, was therefore designed. The intention was to enhance competency with regard to the possibilities that could be attached to the generation of an income from product sales. It was apparent that business and practical training would have to receive attention if quality products were to be produced. Twelve women participated in the training and formed the "Holding Hands" women's group. Aim The aim of this study was to investigate factors that would contribute to and enhance sustainable income-generating projects applicable to a farming community Specific objectives The specific objectives of this study included the following: Identification of criteria from the literature that could be regarded as indicators of sustainability. Analysis of South African income-generating projects in order to determine factors contributing to sustainability (projects similar to and including the "Holding Hands" project). Identify and measure sustainability factors. 0 Formulation of recommendations for sustainability indicators for income generating projects similar to the "Holding Hands" project. Methods A literature survey was conducted to identify sustainability factors and gain information from various income-generating projects. A qualitative research design was also followed to determine the factors that would contribute to the projection of sustainability. Information was obtained by making use of informal telephonic and face-to-face interviews with project facilitators. To recommend sustainability indicators, a Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach was applied within the "Holding Hands" project. Results The steps in the PAR process included planning, acting, observing, reflecting and replanning. Planning incorporated identifying the problems and needs of the community. It was found that female farm dwellers do not have access to markets. market requirements, trends and prices. Selecting a project management team was an imperative necessity to ensure ownership and cooperation of project team members. It was found that through the project management team, skills were transferred, knowledge shared and team members became motivated. In order to ensure that all team members would have a clear understanding of the project aims, a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) was used as a logical planning instrument. It was found that project team members gained a better understanding of the tasks at hand by making use of the WBS. A further step in the PAR process involved a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. The SWOT analysis assisted the project management team to focus on their strengths, reduce their weaknesses, exploit opportunities and manage the threats they are faced with. It was further found that through thorough financial planning, project team members realised the importance of sound money management and that resources should be effectively allocated. A further step of the PAR process that was applied to the "Holding Hands" project was that of acting. This process included data collection, categorisation of data into themes, and negotiation and establishing ownership. A pre-training skills test provided the researcher with valuable data, which assisted in product selection, matching skills levels and interests of project team members. Following the data collection phase, themes were identified and categorised. These themes included the need for business training, practical skills training, facilitator involvement, the need to generate a sustainable income, to ensure project sustainability and to identify indicators to measure levels of sustainability. Through negotiation and establishing ownership it was found that project members took charge of daily administrative tasks. The observing phase allowed for the integration of monitoring and evaluation of participants as well as for the evaluation of the action plan. Reflecting allowed project team members to make sense of learning experiences and to engage in informal discussions, which in turn proved to increase their knowledge. The last step in the PAR process was re-planning. The re-planning phase took into account the outcomes of each of the steps in the PAR process in order to plan for future training. Recommendations The following main recommendations can be made for income-generating projects similar to the "Holding Hands" project: A participative approach must be followed, allowing the community to take ownership and responsibility for their own development. Sustainability indicators must be developed as a measuring tool, which will assist the community to monitor and evaluate their project progress, detect problems well in advance and take timely corrective measures. Facilitators of income-generating projects must be patient at all times and they must be willing to learn from community members and they should have an open mind. Checklists and evaluations are vital for both the facilitator and project members. Constant re-training of project members must occur in order to ensure continuity and sustainability.
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