About Us

Our Vision

Our vision is to support the harmonious living of people in their natural, social and economic environments in a way that supports and strengthens both the people and their environment.

Our vision is further to assist the rural poor to better their lives, to diversify their livelihoods and to face their challenges with resilience.

Our Mission

We aim to design and implement innovative projects and programme which promote collaborative, pro-poor agricultural innovation, working in partnership with other organizations and communities.

We aim further to work at the cutting edge of development methodology and process integrating learning (training), research and implementation into new models and process emphasizing synergy and integration.

What We Do

We are a small public benefit non profit organization consisting of rural development practitioners who specialize in participatory learning and action processes, sustainable natural resource management and low external input farming systems, including a focus on rain water harvesting, conservation agriculture, intensive homestead food production, food security, micro finance and enterprise development.

We design and implement rural development programmes and training processes providing learning processes for adults all the way from semi- literate farmers to post graduate university level. We work in partnership with government and non-government organisations alike. We are sensitive to and mainstream where possible gender, disability and living with HIV/AIDs.


Networking is an important aspect of our work. We are involved in a number of ongoing networking processes and initiatives these include: 1. VLSA- Virtual Livelihoods School-Southern Africa. networking and knowledge sharing and building a community of practice around livelihoods and food security in the NGO sector in South Africa. Visit Lima’s website.

2. Water Research Commission: reference group member. Water Utilisation in Agriculture thrust. Project; Action oriented strategy for knowledge dissemination and training for skills development of water use in homestead food gardening and rain water harvesting for cropland food production. Visit Amazi for Food’s website

3. SA Adaptation Network. The Adaptation Network was founded in 2009 to establish a creative platform for sharing of experiences, practical approaches and frameworks relating to climate change adaptation. The Network has members from Civil Society, Government, Parastatals, Academia and Business.The Network is hosted by the Environmental Monitoring Group, a civil society organisation based in Cape Town. Visit Adaptation Network’s website.

4. University of Missouri; Department of Rural Sociology. Participation in a community of practice in livelihoods and food security in KZN. Read on Community Commons.


Matatiele Livelihoods Assessment September 2014: Emerging data Read more…

Sustainable soil symposium, University of Stellenbosch, November 2015. Participation and presentation in a symposium celebrating the year of the soil; GrainSA-Sustainable Soil Management-6 Nov

CABI; Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International) Contribution to a new book on conservation agriculture. Chapter 12 CONSERVATION AGRICULTURE IN SOUTH AFRICA: LESSONS FROM CASE STUDIES Hendrik Smith, Erna Kruger, Jaap Knot and James Blignaut. Read more…

Siyavuna DC. A snapshot overview has been conducted for the SDC and the Agri-SCIP to outline the activities, scope and management processes for this programme with comments related to gaps and possibilities, with associated recommendations. The document has been compiled using a case study approach and is not meant to be considered as a formal evaluation of the programme. 

Siyavuna Abalimi Development Centre (SDC) Case study August 2015 University of Missouri. A Review of Participatory Agricultural Research and Development in South Africa and KwaZulu Natal. May 2014.Erna Kruger and Jere L Gilles. Read more…

Present Projects

LIMA RDF: Specialist support and training of trainers in food security programming and sustainable food production (2016 ongoing)

Zimele-  Water harvesting and water and soil conservation training and support to self help groups in the agriculture programmes across KZN (2014-2015)

PID – ETC and INR collaborative participatory innovation development learning programme for selected Ngo field staff (2015-2106)

GRAIN-SA –Conservation agriculture smallholder farmer innovation programme (2013-2015). National coordination and implementation.

AWARD: Agricultural Support Initiative within the Resilience in the Limpopo Basin Programme for the Building adaptive capacity and resilience to climate change for small-scale farmers of the Lower-Olifants River Catchment (2016 ongoing)

WRC: Research process under Water Utilisation in Agriculture: Collaborative knowledge creation and mediation strategies for the dissemination of Water and soil conservation practices and Climate Smart Agriculture in smallholder farming systems. (2017-2020)

And a number of other initiatives….

Previous Projects

These projects form the initial base and expertise on which the Mahlathini Development Foundation is being built. Research is grounded in Action research and Participatory Innovation Development and mostly combines the research elements with learning and implementation aspects.

We worked with the SaveAct Trust in the development and piloting of a model for implementation of agricultural enterprise development with saving and credit group between 2011-2015. This consisted of an agricultural enterprise development focus for Matatiele – EC (the piloting area) which included small business training, commodity interest groups, bulk buying, production support and local marketing initiatives. This followed on the finalisation of a market system analysis and savings and credit group functioning for productive activities research process which provided the grounding for the framework used. (2010-2012) Visit SaveAct’s website.

We fulfilled a specialist training role for the FSALP (Food Security and Livelihoods) programme supporting 20 NGOs (2011-2015) supported by Wesbank and pioneered the Arelemeng awareness raising and training days.

We coordinated the Tshintsha Amakhaya research process for AFRA for agrarian transformation in Land Reform between 2011-2013 and produced an extensive baseline report for farm workers and labour tenants, followed by piloting of agrarian reform processes, which included working with the AFRA Legal Unit on policy processes and preparation for legal action.

We worked with Lima Rural Development Foundation in the research and implementation of best practice training (facilitator and farmer with manuals) in traditional food and local seed systems, Food preparation and preservation, Methods for natural Soil fertility Enhancement and Natural Pest and Disease Control for the KZNDAE&RD (2008-2011) after conducting the Food Security baselines for KZN under the auspices of the KZNDARD. Manuals and DVDs have been produced and are available from Lima’s website.

We provided curriculum development and tutor training for SAIDE (South African Institute of Distance Education) for a UNISA based national short learning programme for food security facilitators (2010-2012) We facilitated implementation and training support to DWAF (Department of Water Affairs and Forestry) for their Homestead Rainwater Harvesting subsidy (in 5 communities across South Africa)(2009-2010)

We were part of a national team in the participatory development of training material for agricultural water use in homestead farming systems for improved livelihoods in partnership with Rural Integrated Engineering for the Water Research Commission (2005-2009). And produced a set of resource materials for facilitators and farmers.

We provided support for implementation of the Agricultural Research Council Eco-technologies programme in Hlabisa, (minimum tillage and intensive homestead food production), KZN (2010)

Learning and Implementation

MDF works within programmes, processes and projects that combine elements of research, learning and implementation in a holistic and participatory manner. We focus on the rural poor and strive create development frameworks and strategies that can lead to sustainable agricultural, environmental, social and economic practices while building human capacity.

It is important that all the elements are included in project design to ensure coherent implementation and long term sustainability. We focus also on innovation and change as well as the management processes implicit in these that include social platform building.

Learning Programmes

Learning programmes have been designed and implemented on various

Below is a list of training programmes that are on offer:

  1. Intensive homestead food production -8 modules:
    1. Garden layout and design (NQF 1,4,5)
    2. Nutrition and value adding (NQF 1,4,5)
    3. Rainwater harvesting and water soil conservation (NQF 1,4,5)
    4. Diversified crop production
    5. Fruit production
    6. Natural pest and disease control
    7. Farmer experimentation
    8. Seed saving
  2. Small business development (NQF 5) –  4 modules
  3. Participatory research in plant breeding (NQF 8) – week long short course
  4. Conservation Agriculture (NQF 5) – 5 modules
  5. Water and soil conservation – 3 modules
  6. Household Food Security Higher Certificate (NQF 5) – 6 modules (UNISA). 1 Year higher certificate course.
  7. Participatory Innovative Development (NQF 5) – short course

levels from NQF 1-8 including a range of topics.

Our Members

Erna Kruger

Mahlathini Development Foundation founder, managing director, facilitator and trainer.
MSc in Plant Pathology (UKZN), 25 yrs in rural development. Fields of expertise include among others; natural resource management and food security; water harvesting and management, household farming systems, participatory methodologies and practice, organic agriculture, seed saving and marketing options and processes.

Mazwi Dlamini

Facilitator and trainer (snr)
B Agric Honours (RRM) from UKZN, 2012, 4 yrs in rural development. Specialises in sustainable farming practices, organic gardening, conservation agriculture and facilitation and work with learning groups. He has worked also with savings and credit groups and commodity focus groups in value chains and is a tireless promoter of rural realities and life.

Thabani Madondo

Facilitator and trainer (snr)
Certificate in Participatory Development (UKZN), 12 yrs in rural development. Local facilitator smallholder farmer innovation programme in Conservation Agriculture (Grain SA (2014-..). Community mobilisation in all aspects of development and work with local savings and credit groups. He is a lay pastor.

Nozipho Ngcobo

Facilitator and trainer (jnr)
Post Matric Certificate in Food Security (UNISA), 4 yrs experience. She has acted as a local facilitator in livelihoods nad food security projects nad a specialist training in food security nad nutrition for the Wesbank Arelemeng programme. She also runs her own local business in RWH installations in Edendale, PMB.

Sylvester Malekeng Selala

Snr researcher and facilitator
Sylvester holds an Honours in Hydrology and an MSc in Bioresource Systems from UKZN. He is a natural scientist with experience in rural water management, soil and water conservation geographic information systems (GIS) and hydrological modelling and integrated water resource management (IWRM).

Sylvester has broadened his portfolio through a year long internship with the INR and now strengthens the research agendas and processes within MDF while also working as a facilitator and trainer in our climate change resilience and water management initiatives.

Phumzile Ngcobo

Facilitator and trainer
Phumzile holds a degree in Agricultural Management form the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth. She has worked as an agricultural extension officer for about 6 years moving from Government to a Consultancy and then NGOs. She joined MDF recently as a facilitator and trainer and provides support ot the sustainable agriculture programmes and research agendas.

Tim Houghton

Managing Director
Tim is a participatory development and education specialist with over 20 years’ experience as a programme designer, project manager, facilitator, trainer and researcher. He currently manages Lima Rural development Foundation’s CWP Learning Support Unit and is responsible for partnership management and stakeholder liaison. He is passionate about Permaculture and Peace Education.

Temakholo Nonjabuliso Mathebula

Stakeholder Engagement
Temakholo holds an Honours degree in Agricultural Extension majoring in Rural Resource Management from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
She worked three years at the Farmer Support Group at UKZN; as well as at various other NGOs and organisations around SothAfrica. She has experience in land reform, food security, community engagement and savings groups.
She joined Mahlathini Development Foundation in March 2017 as a Field Officer under the Grain SA-SFIP program. Her role is stakeholder engagement, village local savings (VLS) and conservation agriculture.