Understanding the relationships between companies and rural communities benefits the environment, communities, and animals.

Laura Potgieter  |  23 July 2021

Agricultural land is the cornerstone of our natural resource base. The availability and sustainable use of farmland to grow crops and for animal farming remains an important sector in the South African economy.  South Africa has vast tracts of land suitable for agricultural production, with 37,9% of our total land area currently being used for commercial agriculture.  Land is a productive asset that generates profit and can be used for collateral to secure other assets.  The productive and social activities of rural towns and service centres are centred on their support to primary agriculture and related activities such as agri-tourism and game farming.

Many farmworkers live on commercial farms and their children receive education on farm schools.  Agricultural spaces are surrounded by communities and there are many perceptions from communities and agricultural owners and larger corporate companies that revolve around the relationship between these structures.  Their relationships are usually complex and layered.  Sappi identified the challenges that were being experienced throughout the country and to provide enough focus to unite and grow the sector, and operate at full potential, initiated a programme within the communities to work together in a more strategic manner.  The company was committed to change and improving relations between the company and its forestry community, as a critical business success factor, and went the extra mile by implemented a research programme within the communities to better understand (and report on) the dynamics of its communities.

DevCom facilitated the case study and based on the findings in the case study, the company built a social mobilisation model that empowered youth in communities directly and had a measured positive effect on social indicators.  This is applicable to the industries, and these are the steps:

  1. Open the dialogue through communication-based research and listen for understanding all perspectives.
  2. Use Asset-based community development to map all assets – those of the agricultural organisation, and those of the communities around us. The environment is a big asset, but we don’t always frame it that way.
  3. Co-design solutions based on what you have found out in step one and two. The environment is saved by people who work together, with what they have, and follow a step by step, do-able plan.
  4. Measure the progress. Use tools like the Greenlight Office’s stoplight to understand the 50 social impact indicators, and then aim to shift these strategically with the continued feedback to the communities. The environmental indicators here is a key element in the coordination with agriculture businesses and their communities.

Activating the communities through upskilling unemployed youth to assist with creating a credible communication channel for the sector to convey messages to community members, will ensure that animals, the communities, and the environment can live in harmony. The full case study is available on https://www.dev-com.co.za/portfolio/community-engagement-from-fighting-fires-to-changing-lives/.

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