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City gives small-scale farmers their big day


The canteen at the Metro Centre, the City of Johannesburg’s headquarters in Braamfontein was temporarily turned into a fresh produce market on Friday, September 2, when up-and-coming farmers converged to sell their products under one roof.

Customers, mainly City employees and visitors, turned up in large numbers to buy vegetables, fruit and other farm products such as vegetable juice and eggs during the City’s Farmers’ Market Day.

The initiative, which is spearheaded by the City’s Health and Social Development Department, is part of a drive to contribute to food security in Johannesburg under the auspices of the Agriculture and Food Security Programme. The programme came to being after a 2012 study by the Independent Development Trust found that 42% of poor people in Johannesburg did not have a meal at regular interval.

As part of the programme residents were, among other things, encouraged to use their backyards and rooftops to establish food gardens. Small-scale farmers were provided with seeds and training so they could contribute meaningfully to food security and showcase their produce at the City’s Farmers’ Market Day. Statistics show that over the past five years, the City has, through the programme’s various initiatives, managed to bring down the number of poor people who sometimes go to bed hungry to 24.5%. This is the second year that the City has staged Farmers’ Market Day. Each region in the city has its own Farmers’ Market Day once a month.

Some of the fresh produce on sale on Friday included organic spinach and onions.

Thoko Nhlapo, co-ordinator of the programme in Region F, under which Metro Centre falls, said those who came to sell their products included farmers, co-operatives and backyard garden food producers.

“This opportunity gives them bigger exposure. We’re not only fighting hunger but we’re also tackling unemployment,” she said.

One of items that drew attention was organic spinach grown on a rooftop in the Johannesburg CBD by the Three Kotze Food Garden Co-operative. No soil or chemicals are used to grow the vegetable. Instead, it is grown in tunnels filled with water. The tunnels each have space for up to 75 plants at a time.

The Three Kotze Food Garden Co-operative, which is run by five women, embarked on the project in May 2016 after being provided with extensive training by Ubuntu Business Consulting in conjunction with the University of the Witwatersrand and the City of Johannesburg. Belinda Ratyana, one of the co-operative’s members, said their major aim was to promote healthy eating among Johannesburg residents.

“This has been a great learning curve for us. It’s a skill we didn’t have. We all wanted to see how it was done. One is learning every day about plants. It’s actually therapeutic. The beauty of hydroponic farming is that the plants grow quickly,” said Ratyana.

Another happy farmer was Cynthia Leballo, who has a plot in Eikenhoff, south of Johannesburg. She said this was the first time she sold her products at the Farmers’ Market Day.

“I’ve had the plot for 10 years. It’s only now that I’m into farming. Such an opportunity uplifts us as African people. I’m happy to be here. My idea is to expand. This market is really an opportunity for growth and for farmers to market themselves,” she said.