NOMOKORINTE Nzondayipheli of Nkanunu village near Port St Johns says even without the bulk co-operatives that, when they come, will really unleash the potential of the Integrated Village Renewal Programme — it is already bearing fruit.
She still has no fence, so livestock and “naughty children” are entering her farm garden, and causing some losses.
“But this programme has made a big big change for the better in our household. Now I can sell a bag of oranges and go to buy paraffin for cooking and for light, and still have change. I can sell one orange for 50c and buy a pen for my child for school.”
Co-ordinated by the Agricultural Research Council and the NGO Is’Baya, in conjunction with Wild Coast village communities, the programme is focused at present on 52 villages in the Port St John area.
In Hluleka, George Gobelane, 75, is illiterate — but his son and daughter help him to keep his all-important farming records. They might have left home, they admitted, but there are no jobs out there, and staying and working with their Dad gives them food in their bellies.
Andile Sontlaba, 48, of Hluleka, said he is hoping the programme will attract back the youngsters, who are presently “running away” from the area, as soon as they leave school.
“They do not want to work like we work, but if they can see that this new system is more modern and that, actually, farming can make money, then it can bring them back.
“I want to see my children growing up in front of me. They can go away for a holiday, but they must come back home.”
Noamen Smith, 63, of Hluleka, said she had been living in poverty, unable to feed her family of 10, until she got involved in the programme.
“Now I can feed them, and sell what is left over to the school and the pay points.”
The groundbreaking development programme is geared around the introduction of new fruit cultivars, previously the preserve of commercial agriculture, have been introduced to village homestead farms.
The programme is doubly unique because the process is being spearheaded by households, not collectives, countless examples of which have collapsed due to in-fighting, and a profit distribution model that failed to recognise the best and hardest work.
Integral to this strategy is retaining revenue generated from surplus stock within the village, and using this market to grow local jobs and skills, strengthening the voice of the community and making “activating democracy” at grassroots.
Speaking to media during a tour of the area last week, Dr Shadrack Moephuli, CEO of the Agricultural Research Council, said the focus on committed individual effort, and an integrated mosaic of micro-farms, rather than on sprawling lands governed by collectives, could become a major agricultural blueprint for the country.
“Using modern agri-technology, this programme is helping rural people feed themselves and create their own markets, the way they are doing with such success in similar rural areas in the Far East.
“This is the way to go.”
Pandelani Nefolovhodwe, chairman of Is’Baya, said the benefits could be spread still wider.
“With future input from other arms of government, and from business, it can be replicated in other development sectors, not only agriculture.”
The programme is also significant because of its emphasis on responsibility and self-help, he noted. While the training is for free, and the 100000 fruit trees that are the centrepiece of the programme are subsidised by the council, the villagers do have to pay a portion of this cost, and it is their time and effort which is expended while tending them, and managing the harvests.
“By contributing in this way, these people become better citizens. We have created a door for them to enter the economy.”
Nef, as he is known, a former comrade of anti-apartheid struggle icon Steve Biko, spent six years in the late 1970s on Robben Island after being charged with treason. Democracy has come, but the struggle continues through programme’s like this, he said.
“Some people think the struggle is about a political party, but it’s not. It is about the struggle to chase away poverty, to empower our people to feed themselves.
The programme started with a request a decade ago to the council, from Is’Baya (which means kraal in isiXhosa), asking for data on what the most suitable and nutritious crops would be for the villages of the area.
A multi-disciplinary team of council experts investigated, studying issues like soil, weather and the traditional preferences of the local people.
They also considered climate change, and found that the predicted small temperature increase could actually boost growth. They found further that the possible slight decline in rainfall would be cushioned by the presence of the plentiful perennial rivers, and the existing high rainfall.
But the climate change situation is being assessed on a continuing basis by field workers from the council and Is’Baya, supported by a corps of programme monitors, based in the villages. A shift in disease vectors, particularly, is one related problem that they have been trained to look out for.
The feasibility study delivered positive indicators, and the programme was launched in 13 villages in the Port St Johns area 10 years ago.
Now, some 5000 households are participating in the programme with mangos, bananas, oranges, litchees, pawpaws and guavas flourishing in handkerchief-size farm gardens, perched on precipitous slopes.
All these fruit are originally alien species, but only guavas can be invasive, and as long as they are harvested and used, and not left to the birds, this is not a problem, programme manager and council tropical and sub-tropical fruit specialist Rosemary du Preez said.
No new land has been cleared, and felling any more of the dwindling indigenous forest is “not an option”, she emphasised. The orchards simply replace or expand the ubiquitous patch of tattered mealies and cabbage that was already there. A new array of veges has been introduced as part of the programme, planted inter-cropping style, between the fruit trees. And there are other newcomers as well: pineapples, sugarcane, macadamia nuts, coffee and herbs.
The harvest is regarded as organic, as no chemical pesticides are used. The farmers instead spray with soapy water or a mineral oil which they presently get from the council but which in time might be one of the bulk supplies that the planned co-operative can bring in at reduced prices.
They have been taught how to mulch, first creating their own compost, using all their bio-degradable waste, and then spreading a layer of this compost over the soil to help to retain moisture and to combat erosion. Grey water is used for watering or else water collected from nearby streams or from a rainwater tank if they have one.
The next step is to establish a primary co-op in each village. Some infrastructure will be needed to allow for stacking, washing and sorting of the produce before marketing, and for receipt of bulk “inputs” like fertiliser and packing material. In time, it is anticipated that a vegetable nursery will be established in the area to avoid having to bring trees in from Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.
To get the co-ops working, the co-op committee members, who have already been selected, have to be trained in the law and business aspects of these facilities, and this work has already begun.
A cornerstone of the programme has been the steady accumulation of records. Guided by Du Preez, the farmers, most of them with poor or non-existent formal education, have become enthusiastic book-keepers. Details on soil, water, weeds, pests and harvests are collated and carefully documented.
“It’s all about seeing how things are doing, checking and re-checking what works where,” she said. “It’s about getting the farmers to take responsibility in preparation for the time when the co-ops will take over our role, and we will pull out.”
Du Preez said there was no reason why African small scale farmers had to be consigned automatically to the subsistence trap.
“In Korea, I have seen garden farms from 3ha down to 0.8ha so even smaller than these, with superb orchards. How did those people achieve that? Fifteen years ago, their government introduced a subsidy, and improved cultivars, and a sustained training and monitoring programme.
“That’s what we are doing here. One of the problems is that our people have been working with inferior cultivars — small fruit, often with too much fibre — which are not marketable. So we are making available subsidised fruit trees of superior cultivars.
“Some people don’t like it when they hear ‘subsidies’. But in the old South Africa the white farmers were subsidised. So why shouldn’t we do the same for these people.”
The Integrated Renewal Programme is potentially a catalyst not only for sustainable rural development but for democracy itself, she said,
“It’s the turnkey for transforming subsistence farming into sustainable small-scale farming.
“Hard work gets rewarded, nutrition and food security improves and surplus or value-added produce is sold; money turns around in the villages, and new service providers emerge.
“The young people start coming back. Villages start speaking for themselves. Ultimately, democracy is activated.”
Is’Baya field manager Paul Oliphant said the long hours spent driving on the tortuous roads between the villages meant his work is sometimes tiring — but he loves it.
“When I go into the gardens and I see the difference that has been made, where all our training is being put into practice, it makes me very happy.”
At Noqhekwana village, Du Preez was greeted by shouts of joy from the group of women who transform farmer Elliott Belem’s oranges into marmalade. She hoisted a baby onto her hip, and danced a jig in response. It was difficult to see who was happiest.
Even as the programme makes great progress in its goal of alleviating the terrible economic hardship in the area, there is already extraordinary bounty, she said.
“After working here, I find I have trouble defining poverty. These people are very poor in one sense, but very rich in another. They still have ubuntu.”
Article source: http://www.peherald.com/news/article/6224