The call by Johannesburg Executive Mayor Councillor Parks Tau to residents to use every available space in the city for food production has seemingly fallen on fertile ground – with more and more people in Johannesburg, especially the poor, now working the land to make a living.
In his call to fight hunger and starvation, Mayor Tau said: “There can be no justification for anyone in Johannesburg to go to bed hungry when there is space that people can use to produce vegetables for their own consumption.”
A study by the Independent Development Trust conducted in 2012 found that about 42% of poor people in Johannesburg do not have a meal at regular intervals.
Since the mayor’s call, young and old, men and women have turned to gardening and/or subsistence farming to ensure that their food requirements are met, especially against the backdrop of an economy that is unable and will not be able to provide everyone with a job.
Judith Mathavhatha and Gugu Khoza are just two of the women who took the mayor’s food security challenge head-on. And they have not looked back since.
The two women might have had different reasons and motivation for trying their hand in subsistence farming. But none of them had ever imagined they would one day become fully-fledged small-scale farmers whose produce would be sold in the marketplace.
Mathavhatha took up gardening and small-scale farming due to health considerations and also to avoid the spectre of boredom after resigning from her job as a shop assistant.
For Khoza, she was simply responding to a calling, having fallen in love with working the land from childhood.
“I’ve not done or been interested in any job other than working the land to produce something to eat. I have known from a very early age that the food we eat comes from the soil, thus my interest in farming.
“It was, however, the encouragement and support I received from the City of Joburg that tipped the scales and strengthened my resolve to work harder,” says Khoza.
From their humble beginnings – a backyard in Orange Farm for Khoza and a small piece of land in Riverlea for Mathavhatha – the two women have guided their respective individual ventures on a path that saw them attracting the attention of others.
This cultivated an interest that culminated in the creation of a communal venture.
The intervention of the City has had a profound impact on communal farming, with more than 200 small-scale farmers organised into cooperatives.
For its part, the City has provided the people behind these backyard ventures with the necessary training and support, with the result that many have since graduated beyond the immediate family-interest operations.
The 200 cooperatives operating in the City’s seven regions each consists of between five and 15 members, bringing the total membership of these business ventures close to 2 000 people.
The City’s establishment of the Food Resilience Flagship Programme, whose main objective is to combat hunger and under-nutrition brought about by food insecurity, was approved by the mayoral committee.
The programme is also aimed at tackling lifestyle diseases caused by poor diet and the lack of physical activity.
Under the Food Resilience Flagship Programme, the City supplies small-scale farmers with seeds, provides them with equipment for soil preparation and conducts training in food production.
The programme also engages the services of other stakeholders to conduct community training. We have Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development extension officers, Joint Aid Management (JAM), the National Department of Trade and Industry and the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market assisting with training.
Rodney Mudzuli, Acting Sub-Unit Head: Food Resilience Unit, says the skills development initiative includes fostering understanding of the different kinds of soil texture, seeds and seeding, soil preparations, watering, Cooperative registration and governance, packaging and processing. The emerging farmers are also taught the importance of the seasonal rotation of the vegetables to avoid soil exhaustion and maintain the richness of the soil.
These food security programmes are carried out on government allocated land. People interested in taking part have to organise themselves into cooperatives to ensure the viability of their projects.
The most common produce cultivated by the emerging small-scale farmers includes cabbage, butternut, tomatoes, onions, spinach and carrots. The produce is not only sold to locals but it is also supplied to a number of local retail chain stores.
Mudzuli says the City’s Department of Social Development has established Agri-Resource centres in the each of the seven regions of the City to beef up the work of the Food Resilience Flagship Programme. The City has also contracted an independent company; Disaster Management System (DMS) to assist aspirant gardening enthusiasts start their projects through Agri-Resource centres. The Agri-Resource is a one stop centre on Agriculture programmes where aspirant farmers and community membres can access information, quality seeds, tools, trainings, cooperatives registration, and tractor services.
Mudzuli adds that the main objective of the programme is to put in place initiatives to mitigate poverty. “This could be the first practical step towards the eradication of poverty.”