Strong ties, weak actors? Social networks and food security among farm workers in South Africa

Nicole Claasen, Stefanie Lemke

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    9 Citations (Scopus)
    150 Downloads (Pure)


    Farm workers employed on commercial farms are among the poorest and most food insecure population groups in South Africa. This study investigated formal (organisational) and informal exchange relations and the association with food security within ego (N=561) and whole networks (N=54) among farm workers and their households on three commercial farms. All households were food insecure, with mildly food insecure actors (n=22) showing significantly smaller-sized networks with regard to total number of ties and food exchange ties compared to moderately food insecure actors (n=32). Informal exchange networks were largely kin-related and characterised by low economic status, located within a 50 km radius. While these networks represented an important strategy to cope with food insecurity, farm workers lack bridging ties to actors (individuals or institutions) outside the farm who may enable access to information and opportunities to mobilise resources towards enhancing food security and livelihoods in the long term. Shop owners and farm owners occupy a central position in the networks, highlighting dependency and ongoing paternalistic structures. This study contributes empirical data to the scarce literature on network analysis in the context of food security in South Africa, providing in-depth insights on a population that is formally employed, but remains poor, marginalised and forgotten in contemporary debates on food and nutrition security. Efforts to implement existing policies remain crucial to enable farm workers to access resource-rich networks, including socially more advantaged actors or organisations, in order to achieve better livelihoods outcomes.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)417–430
    Number of pages14
    JournalFood Security
    Issue number2
    Early online date25 Mar 2019
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019

    Bibliographical note

    The final publication is available at Springer via 00902-5
    Copyright © and Moral Rights are retained by the author(s) and/ or other copyright owners. A copy can be downloaded for personal non-commercial research or study, without prior permission or charge. This item cannot be reproduced or quoted extensively from without first obtaining permission in writing from the copyright holder(s). The content must not be changed in any way or sold commercially in any format or medium without the formal permission of the copyright holders.


    • food security
    • social networks
    • farm workers
    • coping strategies
    • rural poor
    • South Africa


    Dive into the research topics of 'Strong ties, weak actors? Social networks and food security among farm workers in South Africa'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this