Climate change: Spekboom project aids farmworkers

An Eastern Cape farming project is set on planting a million hectares of spekboom and, in the process, create better working conditions for farmworkers. Organisers say the project has the powerful potential to also address climate change

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One million hectares of spekboom. This is the mission of three Eastern Cape companies who joined forces to combat climate change through the rehabilitation of ecosystems which, they believe, will also restore the dignity and hope of farmworkers.

The partnership between Ncedisa Agriculture Solutions and Dr Anthony Mills, chief executive of C4 EcoSolutions and AfriCarbon, is set to drive environmental solutions and biodiversity by planting spekboom, a drought-resistant succulent native to Mzansi.

Spekboom is a succulent plant with small leaves indigenous to the Eastern Cape. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Spekboom is a succulent plant with small leaves indigenous to the Eastern Cape. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

The pilot project, that commenced at the beginning of February on a farm just outside of Port Elizabeth, has seen a specially trained team of 19 farmworkers plant 5.5 hectares of 45 831 cuttings of Spekboom in the first ten days.

As production systems improved the next five days yielded an increase to planting around 12 000 cuttings across 4.5 hectares per day.

In the first 15 days alone more than 105 000 spekboom cuttings were planted. Improved systems now capacitate a team to cover around 4-6 hectares of rough, dry, and mountainous terrain to hand-plant around 12 000 stems of spekboom per day.

Capturing carbon

Spekboom, which has the scientific name Portulacaria afra, has small leaves indigenous to the Eastern Cape. Because of its fast-growing capabilities, research has highlighted that spekboom is the best option available for restoring degraded land and has a high efficacy for sequestering carbon dioxide.

In essence, the humble spekboom is the earth’s amazing natural solution to restore degraded thicket, create jobs and capture carbon.

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Chief operating director of Ncedisa Agriculture Solutions, Mkonto Mntwini, says, “Being on the forefront of a pilot project that provides worldwide benefits and garners global recognition with the support of the United Nations, it is important to value and recognise the farmworkers who put boots to the ground to make it all possible, and that is where Ncedisa Agriculture Solutions plays a vital role.”

Mntwini adds, “Ncedisa is dedicated to providing solutions to the agricultural sector that optimise sustainable income for farmers while creating rewarding experiences for the workforce. Therefore, it is imperative not to forget the people behind the restoration process, fair treatment, and the capacity- building potential to restore livelihoods.”

Since the initiative commenced, productivity has increased by implementing an effective team structure consisting of 19 members with designated tasks.

The process starts with two cutters who harvest spekboom cuttings from bushes where there is already vigorous growth, then three groups of five members implement piece work that includes striking holes and planting who are all supported by a runner, driver and supervisor.

In addition to improving cost-effective production systems for the project, the organisation strongly advocates for social sustainability in terms of fair wages, working conditions as well as training and upskilling opportunities for all farmworkers. Being a pilot project, there are plenty of learning opportunities and adjustments to implement as discovered with the improved team structure and payment systems.

Data collected during the first 10-days alongside discussions with farmworkers revealed that the challenging environmental conditions to work in required an alternative remuneration structure for workers.

The change in team structure and amending a per day rate per farmworker to paying on a per piece work concept was a more dignified and rewarding system. The farmworkers now get compensated per piece of spekboom cutting planted, and this has not only had a financial reward per worker but motivated planting from 4 000 to 12 000 cuttings per day.

The initial phase created 19 new direct jobs, and as the project expands to plant one million hectares of spekboom across the Eastern Cape progresses, more teams will be employed.

Ncedisa farmworkers aim to plant one million hectares of spekboom across the rough and rugged terrain of the Eastern Cape. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Ncedisa farmworkers aim to plant one million hectares of spekboom across the rough and rugged terrain of the Eastern Cape. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Tackling social ills

Spekboom planting further generates hope for future employment opportunities in the agriculture sector through restoring land that has been degraded by inappropriate farming methods, drought and overgrazing that in recent years lead to massive job losses within the sector.

An increase in opportunities for farmworkers can potentially decrease economic inequalities related to unemployment, poverty, and helplessness within the industry. Social ills within the struggling agriculture communities include the rise in alcoholism, drug abuse, violence and theft by demoralised community members.

Mntwini believes spekboom initiatives have the powerful potential to address climate change, but in South Africa and the Eastern Cape, equally, to capacitate workers to reclaim their dignity with access to resources and employment that offer fair and proper compensation.

ALSO READ: Climate change: 2025 food security targets at risk

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