For centuries, food gardens were the source of basic foods for many Mzansi households. Zandisile Luphahla calls for a revival of these gardens. He believes it can greatly contribute to improved livelihoods and household economic welfare.
Food gardens were always an important element of family farming and local food systems. It was common for many households to turn even a tiny plot of land into a little food production and economic hub.
Home gardens have always played a positive role towards addressing food insecurity and malnutrition in our communities – going to the extent of providing additional benefits such as income for poor families.
For those of us who grew up in rural areas, taking care of the establishment and the upkeep of food gardens for our households was a basic a requirement from our parents.
Though there was not water to spare, as children we were held responsible for “ukucenkceshela imifino nee-mbotyi zika Mama” [watering our mother’s spinach and green beans].
The magic of family food gardens
My mother was quick to remind us that food was expensive and that the garden helped us a great deal. At least we were able to harvest the produce, cook porridge and eat.
We would hit the streets to go and sell the remains of what has been harvested from our family food garden.
The money made would assist in the daily running of the household.
Since the advent of time, as related even in the Bible, families depended on tilling the soil to live. The first family recorded, Adam, Eve and their sons Cain and Abel, are said to have relied on crop and livestock farming.
This is indicative of how each one of us has the innate ability to produce food by either hunting, livestock farming or working the land for the planting of trees and vegetables. The latter has so far, in our communities, stood the test of time.
As times evolved, nations went to war over fertile land which would be utilised for grazing and crop farming. This was done so that kings and their subjects could survive.
When the barter system came into play, goods and services were exchanged instead of using cash. Produce such as mealies would be bartered for livestock. Later, the bartering of food for spice and other valuable items such as mirrors and combs were introduced into the market.
Despite the evolution of the economy and advances in how businesses trade, food remains the basic need for everyone – keeping the production of crops as an essential part of our lives.
As part of its War Against Poverty strategy, the Northern Cape department of agriculture, environmental affairs, rural development and land reform, are now advocating for families to start their own food gardens. Or, as we call it backyard gardens. This is done under the stewardship of MEC Mase Manopole.
Backyard gardens are seen as a viable strategy to help families to mitigate hunger and will receive institutional support.
A recent Oxfam report indicated that child hunger is still a challenge in the Northern Cape. It also shows that this province has the highest proportion of households experiencing hunger. Also, more than half of households with young children that experienced hunger, were in urban areas.
It is logical to believe therefore that household food gardens play an important role in reducing the vulnerability to hunger of our rural and urban food-insecure families.
Focus on food production
Through the multi-departmental Provincial Integrated Food Security and Nutrition Programmes (PIFSNP), the department will continue to support households to establish food gardens and provide seeds, composts, tools and watering cans.
In addition to the PIFSN programme, in the coming months the MEC will roll out the greenhouse crop production programme which she believes will play a key role in the hot and dry Northern Cape environment.
The backyard garden programme is expected to assist in sustainable crop intensification, leading to optimisation of water-use efficiency in a milieu of water scarcity. It will furthermore assist in the improved control of product quality and safety in line with market demands, standards and regulations.
It has been reported that greenhouse crop production is now a growing reality throughout the world with an estimated 405 000ha of greenhouses spread across the globe.
The degree of sophistication and technology will align the department with the Northern Cape government’s vision of a “modern, growing and successful” province.
Moreover, our participation in smallholder horticulture, empowerment and promotion (SHEP) gives food producers an opportunity to sell their produce to leading retailers at very reasonable prices.
The SHEP approach, first developed in Kenya, has already been implemented in more than 20 different countries.
Among others, SHEP includes pursuing farming as a business, specifically in promoting the sharing of market information among farmers and relevant stakeholders.
Through technology, employed by greenhouse crop production and the SHEP approach, food producers will be able to grow the products demanded by the market. This, with the quality and time demands of the market leading to greater business results.
During the recent provincial SHEP webinar, farmers who have received support through this approach shared their testimony on how their lives have changed for the better. The webinar was led by Manopole and agriculture, land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza.
Some have modified their houses, bought trucks to deliver their produce to the market and also sent their children to better schools.
Our backyard garden programme has undoubtedly gained traction over the many years. Its economic benefits go beyond food and nutritional security and subsistence, especially for resource-poor families.
The evidence received from Bibliographic archives suggest that home gardens contribute to income generation, improved livelihoods, and household economic welfare. It also promotes entrepreneurship and rural development.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the global food crisis and soaring food prices, there has been an increased emphasis on enhancing and building local food systems in the Northern Cape.
Our newly merged department has a renewed attention to food production and livelihood enhancement through home gardens. We are excited about it.
- Zandisile Luphahla is the spokesperson to the MEC of the new Northern Cape department of agriculture, environmental affairs, rural development and land reform. A former radio presenter and journalist, Luphahla is an award-winning government communicator. He writes in his personal capacity.