By Sandy Woods
The African Conservation Trust’s (ACT) Sibongiseni Mabea says many successes have come from the Free State Food Security Initiative, which employs 520 people. The 24 teams alleviate hunger and provide food security for their communities, across the greater Phuthaditjhaba area, in the Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipality.
The Free State Food Security Initiative is an ACT project, funded by the Social Employment Fund's (SEF) mass employment programme. It falls within the Presidential Employment Stimulus and is managed by the industrial Development Corporation
SEF aims to provide a stipend for the unemployed, while they work on projects for the common good.
Participants attend a four-day permaculture course (the ACT Agro-ecological Farming Practices training course) covering permaculture principles, planting, natural pesticides, fertilizers, and seed saving. This is followed with supply of seedlings, consumables, and mentoring while the gardens are established.
The large harvests allowed participants to feed their families and sell the surplus, for supplemental income. The Free State Site Coordinator added that one participant gave up his place in the programme, after creating a sustainable income and a large profit from the vegetables he cultivated.
Mabea says, “He asked to sign out from the project, because he managed to make a lot of money in December, close to R34 000 by selling the vegetables that he planted, after giving him the course. He wanted to open a space for another person to join the project.”
The project participants also volunteer in their communities, which has strengthened bonds. For instance, the volunteers supply Makwane Police Station with vegetables and do maintenance work on the property. ACT coordinators work closely with extension officers from the Department of Agriculture, traditional authorities, and leadership, according to Mabea.
“We have wonderful, success stories from the community because we are doing almost every type of work. We are not focused only on gardens. We are fixing roads, unblocking, and cleaning the gullies. We are doing erosion control, water catchment, and driving the water to the right place. We are cleaning up in the town, picking up garbage, fixing the paving, and removing weeds. We are helping at schools, creches, hospices, and old age homes. We are doing almost everything in the community. So, everyone is happy with us because they can see the work we are doing,” says Mabea.
Seed saving is an important focus of the project, with the aim of eliminating the annual expense of seed or seedling purchases.
ACT permaculture trainer, Rory Clark says, “It is relevant to small-scale farmers as they can produce their own resources - if you have your own seed, you don’t need to go out and buy seed. It is quite an expense, as is fertilizer and compost. Our training focuses on reducing these costs, to empower our small-scale farmers.”
Clark says a further benefit is that the seed adapts to its environment. Thus, due to seed saving and recurring cultivation of crops from generations of seed, the plants adapt to the conditions at that specific location.
“If you have water-scarce conditions in your locality, for example, the seed growing in that soil every year will become better adapted to that area. Seed saving is a resilience-building, climate-change technique and an important aspect of the project and our work,” says Clark.
Thus far, 290 000 m2 or 29 hectares of vegetable and maize gardens have been mapped, established, or expanded by the participant teams.
“We have about 680 gardens established in Phuthaditjhaba, the majority of which are 32m2. We have about 28 that are big, but most of them are small homestead gardens. With a 32m2 permaculture garden, you can produce a lot of food, feed about six people, and sell the surplus. With permaculture, you are utilising all the space that you see in the garden, so it produces a lot of vegetables from that 32m2,” says Mabea.