Food insecurity is still a major concern worldwide, and the chances of achieving the Zero Hunger target by 2030 are slim, as more than 820 million people are experiencing hunger and malnutrition [1
]. Most food-insecure and malnourished people are found in developing regions, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa [2
]. While South Africa is considered food secure as a nation, not all South Africans are considered food-secure at the household level [2
]. For instance, about 9.34 million households (16% of the population) in South Africa will face severe food security levels in 2020 [5
]. About 20.6% of households will experience hunger in 2020 [6
]. Household food security is highly dependent on income as most households rely on purchased food. However, about 55.5% of South African residents live in poverty, the majority being children, women, and the elderly [7
Additionally, 25.2% of South Africans live below the food poverty line (FPL) [8
]. The country is facing epidemiological and nutritional transformation (about 25% of children under the age of 5 years are stunted, and 40% of women are obese) [8
]. Approximately 80% of South Africa’s rural population attain their livelihood from agriculture [10
]. This population generally depends on smallholder agriculture for food, employment, and income [10
]. This shows that agriculture remains a backbone in many rural households, vital in improving food security and reducing poverty [2
]. Despite all the potential that smallholder agriculture has, the sector is still faced with several challenges that limit its potential to ensure that all people in the rural areas can acquire sufficient quantity and quality of food, either through their own production, purchase, or equitable food distribution [11
]. Smallholder farmers that operate under smallholder agriculture can be identified as those who own small areas of land (less than 2 ha), on which they produce crops and rear livestock with limited resources [14
]. South Africa has approximately two million smallholder farmers [2
]. These farmers are mainly involved in subsistence farming, producing mostly for their own consumption and selling the excess within their local areas. Smallholder agriculture is categorized by low productivity, poor infrastructure, low input, lack of capital, technology and knowledge, subsistence production system, inability to reach economies of scale which are important to compete in the regional and global markets and inaccessibility to input and output markets [15
]. These constraints are coupled with the increase in population growth that pressures the sector in generating enough food for the South African population. However, South Africa has a great potential for agriculture, so promoting market-oriented agriculture would make a remarkable impact to enhancing rural farm households’ well-being in terms of food security. Market participation among smallholder farmers is expected to lead to more specialized production systems that will ensure the efficient use of resources [18
Smallholder farmers’ livelihoods in developing countries can be improved by integrating them into the market [19
]. Market entrance is a strategy that can ensure that smallholder farmers’ food necessities are met and that they make adequate income for their immediate consumption needs, investments and social purposes [20
]. It can also lead to more comparative advantages in resource use which can be shown in improved productivity through economies of scale, higher incomes, and access to new opportunities, which can lead to well-being gains for smallholder farmers [20
]. Smallholder farmers can be consumers and producers in the market. They can participate in the agricultural output markets and derive income from sales, which can be used to buy food items not available from their own production, thereby contributing to their dietary diversity and food and nutrition security [22
]. Consequently, market participation is expected to affect several aspects of rural households that influence their well-being, such as income, productivity, production, and food and nutrition security. Despite the potential benefits that market access can offer, smallholder farmers may still not interact directly with the market. Smallholder farmers’ market participation is affected by many factors, such as market imperfections, technical inability, inappropriate agricultural policies, limited knowledge, price instability, and socio-economic factors [23
]. This has resulted in smallholder farmers producing mainly starchy cereal crops and few protein-enriched crops, limiting food diversity from their own production [25
]. The failure of smallholder farmers in accessing markets has shown that there are inequalities in the food security strategy implemented by the South African government [26
]. The National Food and Nutrition Security Policy was developed in 2013 to ensure the accessibility, availability and affordability of safe and nutritious food at household and national levels [27
]. However, there is still an issue of availability, affordability and accessibilities within smallholder production [28
]. It is, therefore, important to assess how market participation affects food and nutrition, so that evidence-based information can be provided to improve food security and market policies.
Despite the importance of market participation in the food security strategies of many developing countries such as South Africa, limited empirical knowledge exists on the linkages between the two. As posited by Fusco et al. [29
], similar observations were found in developed countries, suggesting a need to give attention to developing and developed countries. Other studies [30
] have also investigated the problem of food security in economically developed countries. Several studies [33
] have paid more attention to analysing factors determining farmers’ market participation in various parts of developing countries. On the other hand, food security studies [12
] have not investigated the role of market participation. There is, therefore, a need for quantitative research linking market participation to food security indicators to offer empirical-based evidence of the role market access plays in reducing rural hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition. Against this backdrop, the study here presented has the following aims: (1) to determine the factors that influence market participation among smallholder farmers, and (2) to quantify the effects of market participation on rural farming households’ food security in two Provinces of South Africa.
The study’s main objective was to assess the impact of market participation on the food security of smallholder farmers in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces of South Africa. The overall results on HFAIS categories showed that most (85%) households were food insecure. This is because smallholder farmers in rural areas face numerous challenges threatening their access to healthy and nutritious food. Smallholder farmers in rural areas of South Africa can grow food for a living. However, they lack the necessary resources to help them continuously meet their dietary needs through production or purchase [47
]. In this study, the determinants of market participation were assessed, followed by assessing their impact on household food security.
Gender plays an important role in agriculture; males and females have different roles in ensuring crops are produced and marketed effectively. Rural women are an essential resource in agriculture, providing labour [49
] and mainly involved in the production side [50
]. Males are the ones that participate more in the market. They are mainly involved in cash crops meant to provide income than in subsistence crops grown for consumption [35
]. Our results confirmed that male-headed households indeed participated more in the market. On the other hand, the negative relationship between the gender of the household and the HFIAS of non-market participants implied that female-headed households were involved in other non-farm activities that provided money for them to spend on different kinds of food and enhanced household food security. However, this result was contrary to other studies [51
]. Taruvinga et al. [51
] found that female-headed households participating in the market were food secure compared to male-headed households. Magaña-Lemus et al. [52
] found that male-headed households participating in the market were more secure in food as they had enough resources and capital to improve their food security. Therefore, males and females play crucial roles, ensuring their families are well taken care of and their food security is improved [35
Smallholder farmers’ market participation was negatively affected by having a family member with a positive HIV status. This is because having a sick family member increases stress and affects other family members’ mental and physical health [53
]. This affects their decision to be involved in crop production and their decision to participate in the market [53
]. National Home Sharing and Short Break Network (NHSN) (Undated) stated that having a family member with HIV is associated with time, financial costs, and physical and emotional demands, which affects education/training and work decisions. According to FAO [54
], HIV results in low production and productivity as it affects most farm workers, thus reducing the total harvest that can make smallholder farmers participate in the market. Most rural households depend more on social grants for a living [55
]. This study confirmed that access to social grants had a positive impact on market participation and a negative effect on the HFIAS of the market participants. This result was in line with Sinyolo et al. [56
]. They found that in rural areas, there are high levels of unemployed and shortages of economic opportunities, resulting in rural households depending more on social grants for everything they do. The farmers use their social grants to purchase more inputs to use on the farm and produce more for consumption and sale. Social grants can increase many rural households’ productive and human capital capacity [56
]. In contrast to these results, Sinyolo et al. [56
] found that social grant-dependency had a negative impact on market participation. The study concluded that social grant-dependent households are more subsistent and they produce less marketable surplus, which could lead to susceptibility to food insecurity.
Older smallholder farmers participated more in the market because smallholder agriculture mostly involved older people [57
]. Older people tend to make better decisions when it comes to farming, as most of them use their retired funds to invest in farming [57
]. Therefore, they produce enough varieties of crops for home consumption and sell the surplus. Sinyolo and Mudhara [12
] explained that as the age of smallholder farmers increases, more experience is gained in managing resources and social capital, which then helps farmers to improve their food security. Social capital denotes the networks, contacts and trust that allow farmers to use their resources more effectively [58
The household size of both market participants and non-market participants positively impacted the HFIAS. This is because large households tend to only produce staple crops for their survival, not for their health [59
]. Moreover, an increase in household size causes farmers to produce more for consumption and fewer sales are made from agricultural products. This result was in line with that of Martey et al. [60
], who reported that large household size reduces marketable surplus that might help farmers to receive income that would help them to purchase healthy foods and be food secure.
Agricultural assistance from policymakers, government and other stakeholders is supposed to improve smallholder farmers’ production, marketing and consumption, which can lead to more production of diverse crops and improve the food security of smallholder farmers. Access to agricultural assistance can help provide improved varieties and market information that can improve farmers’ access to the market and increase their knowledge of production [35
]. It can also help farmers with the provision of varied seeds that would help them produce diverse crops for sale and consumption [62
]. However, in Nigeria, there was a negative relationship between agricultural extension and credit market participation among smallholder rice farmers [64
]. In this study, agricultural assistance increased food insecurity. The possible explanation for this might be that sometimes smallholder farmers do not receive enough or inadequate government assistance and end up utilizing whatever resources they have to produce only staple crops [2
]. Extension officers understaff the agricultural sector in South Africa, and poor training on sustainable crop production methods, such as crop diversification, means they do not provide sufficient market information or support [65
]. This results in farmers relying on their traditional methods to produce staple crops [57
The educational level of the household head increased the food security of the non-market participants. This could be attributable to the fact that household heads with higher education can better access and use information that can improve their ability to improve their households’ food security. They are also able to distinguish between healthy and non-healthy foods. The result is consistent with other studies [12
]. Also, the result revealed that livestock ownership negatively impacted the HFIAS of non-market participants. This implied that smallholder farmers that owned livestock and did not participate in the market were less likely to experience food insecurity. This is because livestock ownership is a sign of wealth in most developing countries like South Africa, especially in rural areas [68
]. So, households with more livestock are most likely to spend more on healthy food and are food secure. Bellemare and Barrett [69
] reported that livestock ownership helps ensure that food is always available as it can be sold during a food shortage.
The result showed that income had a negative effect on the HFIAS of the non-market participants. This is because households with income could spend on various foods. The result was substantiated by Gebre [70
], who found evidence that employed households earning income were expected to have a positive food security status. Also, Taruvinga et al. [51
] found a positive association between income and food security statuses. It can be concluded that income leads to high demand for various foods that lead to food security.
5. Conclusions and Recommendations
Improved education among smallholder farmers can improve both market participation and food security. Workshops and focused training that would help farmers engage with different people and encourage them to explore different things are needed. This will help in utilizing resources, as farmers will be exposed to different kinds of help and be willing to take risks. While agricultural services are expected to improve market participation and food security, the findings of this study indicated that agricultural assistance did not improve food security. There is a need to urgently address the shortage of extension officers, while also providing adequate training for improved quality service delivery to smallholder farmers. In the same vein, the age of the household showed a positive impact on food security. It is recommended that young people are also encouraged to participate in agriculture. This can be done by conducting workshops in rural areas that would demonstrate different careers in agriculture and the importance of youth involvement in agriculture.
Access to social grants showed potential in improving market participation and food security. However, some studies found social grants to be a disincentive to participate in crop production. To ensure that social grants are used effectively and sustainably, the government should reconsider the idea of giving cash to households. Sinyolo and Mudhara [56
] recommended a policy option where some of the grants are offered as ‘in-kind support’, which is specific to the intended individual beneficiary, instead of fungible cash. Mtyingizane and Masuku [71
] recommended that the state and development agencies consider supplementing social grant support with more sustainable food security programmes, such as investing in education and agricultural infrastructure for domestic food production. With these programmes, households would be self-reliant with sustainable means of accessing adequate food, diversified diets and benefitting from an increase in the number of daily meals.
Overall, it is advisable that the government and policymakers revise their agricultural marketing and food security policies and redo them so that they can cater to food and nutrition security improvements at household level and also consider the conditions under which smallholder farmers live and operate. The government needs to follow up on policy implementation, so that the food and nutrition status security of rural households can be improved and sustainable crop production can be attained, which would lead to more access to markets and crop sales.