Chapter 5.1 – Poverties and Wealth: Perceptions, Empowerment, and Agency in Sustainable Land Management

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By Noel Oettle, DRY-Net Coordinator; and Bettina Koelle, Director, Indigo development and change


This section describes the development processes undertaken by small-scale farmers in the Suid Bokkeveld community in the Northern Cape province of South Africa to manage their land-based resources in a more sustainable manner so as to escape a poverty trap. The development of the Heiveld Cooperative as a local development institution is described, and the ways in which it has supported these processes by providing global market access to members for their organic and Fairtrade-certified rooibos and supported their efforts to adapt more effectively to climatic impacts and to conserve land and other natural resources. Drawing on their common heritage, these farmers have strengthened their sense of identity and found more holistic ways to meet their human needs. Empowerment, enhanced agency, and perceptions of ability to succeed in changing people’s circumstances have been crucial in improving their situation and adopting more sustainable land use practices.


Download the full chapter at ScienceDirect.


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About the Authors

Noel Oettle

Noel Oettle manages a suit of rural projects from EMG’s rural field-office in Nieuwoudtville, Northern Cape, where he also lives and tends to his patch of organic fruit and vegetables. Noel strives to link local and global realities in ways that enable small-scale rooibos farmers to respond more effectively to the challenges of trade, climate change and biodiversity loss while also enabling decision makers to understand and respond to the realities of rural people.


Bettina Koelle 

Bettina holds a Master’s Degree in Geography, Cartography and Anthropology of the Free University of Berlin. She has been working in the development field since 1997, focusing in trans disciplinary research and participatory methods. She is involved in climate change adaptation working with rural communities, training, social research, Participatory GIS and organisational development. Bettina is currently also undertaking her PhD studies in the field of climate change adaptation – focussing on how to increase problem solving communities in the adaptation process to increase resilience to climate change and climate variability.


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