Exploring the Role of Agricultural Extension in Promoting Biodiversity Conservation in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa
Biodiversity conservation outside designated protected areas remains challenging in South Africa, where 80% of the biodiversity resources occur on private and communal lands. This applies to the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province, which is the focus of this study. Landholders logically choose agricultural production ahead of conservation, which they often perform using non-ecological methods. Extension is well positioned to promote ecological agriculture, but its current contribution is unknown. This study examined the role of extension in ecological agriculture in KZN by investigating extension’s promotion of ecological agriculture among smallholder farmers and the factors impacting their employment of ecologically compatible practices. Data was collected through semistructured interviews with 44 respondents, comprising 5 provincial biodiversity conservation practitioners, 1 national biodiversity conservation manager, and 1 national and 4 provincial agricultural extension managers, selected by purposive sampling; as well as 25 extension officers and 8 farmers, selected by convenience sampling. The study found that extension mainly engages in technology transfer and distribution of production inputs, which poses challenges to biodiversity conservation. Extension shows little concern for biodiversity, and effectively promotes its degradation. Four sets of factors impacting extension’s capacity to promote ecological agriculture emerged: household/community-level, governmental, extension management, and ecological factors. Key among these were inadequate involvement of youth and men in agriculture; inadequate household production resources; poor collaboration and coordination between extension and biodiversity conservation institutions; top-down extension intervention; poor extension management and delivery capacities; and irregular and inadequate rainfall, as well as droughts and flooding. The study concluded that there is a need for a clearly articulated extension and biodiversity conservation policy supporting appropriate linkages and better coordination and integration of services among extension and biodiversity agencies within the National and Provincial Departments of Agriculture and with farmers; more effective agricultural education in schools; strengthening extension support systems; and creating conducive atmospheres for effective extension.