|Lack of access to market, low productivity, inadequate access to credit, poverty and food insecurity were common challenges affecting smallholder farmers in South Africa. Since 1994, the South African government has been concerned about these issues. As a result, several programmes, including Agri-Parks have been implemented to address smallholder farmers' challenges. Debatably, the effectiveness of this programme has not been studied. Therefore, the main aim of this study was to assess the existing Agri-Park model's effectiveness in transforming the rural economy. Specifically, the objectives of the study were: to assess the implementation approach of Agri-Parks interventions (FPSU & Agri-Hub), identify and highlight socio-economic factors affecting farmers to participate in the Agri-Park mandate and measure the direct and indirect benefits of the Agri-Park programme in the North West province. Data were collected in three selected districts of the North West province. Stratified random sampling was used to select 128 smallholder farmers in the study area. Descriptive results indicated that the majority of smallholder farmers were male 58%, while only 42% were female. From the thematic analysis results, eleven themes emerged, which are the mobilisation process; infrastructure; locality; sustainability; productivity ( food security), rural economy transformation (ownership); job creation, farmers' production support unit (Agri-hub) status; mechanisation; Government funding and challenges of the implementation process. One of the results is a pointer to the main challenges faced by Agri-Park programme mechanisms, that is, how the programme interventions, such as budget constraints, coordination and implementation measures, are coordinated and rolled out. Hence, the Agri-Park programme is not fully supporting smallholder farmers with the market to maximise their livelihood and income. In addition, the programme is operating at a slow pace that was not anticipated because there was a timeframe allocated for every milestone in the programme.
The results from the probit model indicate that variables, such as gender, age, education level, access to training, market access, farming experience, hectares produced, specialised commodity and distance to Agri-Park, had the greatest influence in determining the farmers’ participation in Agri-Park programme. Variables of gender, farming experience and hectares produced were statistically significant at
10% and the variables of age, level of education, specialised commodity and distance to Agri-park were statistically significant at 5% level. Access to training was statistically significant at 1% level. Furthermore, other variables, such as marital status, employment status, household size, access to transport, access to marketing information, access to credit, and off-farm income were not significant in explaining the smallholder farmers' participation in the Agri-Park programme.
The results from the Propensity Score Matching model indicate that the estimates for the average smallholder farmers' income earned from Agri-park participation range from 6715.30 to 6297.60, depending on the matching method used. The study was designed to compare two groups, the treated and control group, to assess the impact of the programme. In addition, the Propensity Score Matching Model, using the Nearest Neighbour and Kernel Matching Methods of the outcome variables, total farm/project income, indicates a positive and statistically significant result at p < 0.05% level. These results provide insights into addressing the question about the appropriate developmental path for transition from the Agri-Park programme. The continuously comprehensive support to smallholder farmers in the form of funding, production inputs, mechanisation, extension services and access to market through Agri-Parks is needed to enhance income and food security.