In Atlantis, a community situated just 20km outside of Cape Town, locals have placed their faith in agriculture as a means to escape unemployment, poverty and inequality.
Since the start of the year, 21 hand-selected community members have been learning the ins and outs of what it takes to establish a sustainable food garden through the Atlantis Special Economic Zone Food Security Programme.
With the goal to help locals emerge from backyard growing and cultivating food on a much larger scale, the project is slowly making an important difference in this community where investment seems to have declined.
Speaking to Food For Mzansi during a recent site visit, Byron Booysen, technical lead of the project, emphasised that agriculture had the potential to change the lives of the participants and the community at large.
“We need to include people into the system so that we can create our own ecosystem for our people to be able to empower themselves economically,” Booysen says.
“[An ecosystem] where we can buy from each other, provide produce to each other. An ecosystem that will last not just a few years but right into the future, where people can succeed and create jobs for themselves,” he adds.
Booysen is the founder of Booysen’s Tunnel Farm, a small-scale farming operation in Kraaifontein. He farms on 1.7 hectares of land on Avondrust Farm, specialising in growing high quality fresh produce using hydroponic farming methods.
His passion for farming was sparked by his parents and grandparents who farmed mixed crops on a small piece of land in the Eastern Cape.
Participants in the project attend bi-weekly training sessions hosted in the computer lab of Grosvenor Primary School.
Here they learn anything and everything from different soil types, water requirements, nutrition, plant physiology and what chemical reactions take place during the growing process. The programme also helps locals understand why their community has challenges with food security and what they can do to address this.
On the school grounds, Booysen and the participants have erected a tunnel garden which they’ve proudly dubbed the “People’s Tunnel”. Here participants have an opportunity to implement what they learn in theory.
According to Joe Ruiters, CEO of the Business Associate and project lead of the ASEZ food security project, they want to see the growers sprout into entrepreneurs who run sustainable farming enterprises.
“The bigger plan of this project is to make sure that we create an enabling environment. We want to take participants from producing [food] to agro-processing.
“We want to create an Atlantis local market so that the community can buy their goods from their own people. It’s our vision to create in Atlantis the first agricultural incubator,” he explains.
Ruiters says it was important for them to get the right team. Appointing Booysen as the technical lead was the success factor of the programme, he adds.
“If you want to say who is the X-factor, that would be Byron. [He] is an emerging farmer and understands the challenges that comes with that. He comes with a wealth of experience running a successful farm in Kraaifontein.”
According to Ruiters, getting the right role model to inspire and lead participants was very important for them.
“In a community like Atlantis, you need to be able to understand the challenges. People do not have capacity, resources and access to land. So you need to leverage from someone who was exactly in that situation,” he says.
‘Seeing the fruits of their labour’
Ellen Fischat, executive for integrated ecosystems at Atlantis Special Economic Zone, says that they promote collaboration on different projects between different people, communities and government.
Fischat adds that she was particularly excited about their food security programme. “A community has come together, they see the fruits of their labour and also how they can grow food. It’s great to see that they are actually harvesting what they sowed. The next step is of course for them to be selling their produce,” she says.
Booysen echoes Fischat’s sentiments, adding that he hopes that participants would by the end of the programme walk away with confidence to approach any piece of land and initiate a community food project.
“I can’t wait for them to build their own projects and production plans,” he says.
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