Home Food for Thought It Takes a Village Former banker champions organic food to give Mother Nature a break

Former banker champions organic food to give Mother Nature a break

Khaya Mposula (50) spearheads the farming division for the Wana Johnson Development Project in the Eastern Cape.

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The toll that is taken on the environment to grow Mzansi’s food has inspired a former Johannesburg banker to utilize her “green thumbs” and start an organic garden project in the former Transkei area of the Eastern Cape.

Visionary of the agricultural project, Khaya Mposula (50), says the project was named the Wana Johnson Development Project in honour of her late grandfather. Wana Johnson died on 6 June 1960 during the Ngquza Hill massacre near Flagstaff and Lusikisiki, Eastern Cape.

“After my grandfather passed on, the family started the Wana Johnson Foundation centred around community development. One of our focus areas was agriculture and food security, which I decided to spearhead,” Mposula explains.

The community garden educates women and youth in food and nutrition security as well as raising awareness on climate change. It is part of a large project situated in Taweni, a small town about 36 km from Lusikisiki. There, Mposula schools the local community about the benefits of organically grown food versus genetically modified foods.

Khaya Mposula (Front left) with some of the youngsters in the farming programme.
Khaya Mposula (Front left) with some of the youngsters in the farming programme.

Mposula grew up in Taweni, close to the Ingquza Hill local massacre site. When she moved to the bustling city of Johannesburg to pursue her career in banking, Mposula promised herself that she would one day return home to farm. And in 2012 she finally did.

On the four-hectare piece of land Mposula’s family owns, she grows kale, peppadews, chilis, a selection of herbs and flowers with young men and women from the area.

They’ve also started testing crops like sorghum, moringa (a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree used as a vegetable or antioxidant), rosella (small hibiscus-like buds), green amaranth (plants consumed as vegetables) as well as fruit trees (orange and avocado orchards). “The rosella plant is our favourite. When the rosella begins to flower, we harvest it to make teas with,” she says.

“Getting the community excited about organic farming has been challenging.”

With the help of Yes4Youth, Wildlands Conservation Trust, Nedbank and Sustain The Wild Coast, young people work in Mposula’s garden, where they learn vital farming skills and conservation.

The project has three focus points: organic farming, recycling and renewable energy, and tourism. “I educate them about the benefits of working the soil while looking after the environment, but at the same time reminding ourselves what our grandparents practiced in terms of tradition and culture,” Mposula explains.

Oyama Mtshikitshwa, a participant of Yes4Youth, says that after he joined the project he developed a deep love for gardening. “Working at the garden, I’ve been equipped with valuable agricultural skills that I believe have made me ready to enter the job market,” Mtshikitshwa says.

Members of the garden use recycled cardboard for mulch in order to help minimise weeds and retain moisture. This encourages plants to grow.
Members of the garden use recycled cardboard for mulch in order to help minimise weeds and retain moisture. This encourages plants to grow.

The organic garden has also suffered in the Eastern Cape’s droughts. However, in 2018 the RollaHippo Foundation donated 50 hippo rollers to the community. Hippo water rollers are devices used to transport clean water efficiently.

Mposula says water is a big challenge in the area. “It has affected our farming operation. We don’t receive much rain during winter here in Taweni.”

She is determined to increase production and impact more people in the community. They’re currently working on starting a pre-school which will also be centred around agriculture.

“Getting the community excited about organic farming has been challenging. We hope that the young ones will encourage and inspire their parents to start growing crops without negatively affecting the environment,” Mposula says.

Duncan Masiwa
Duncan Masiwa
DUNCAN MASIWA is a budding journalist with a passion for telling great agricultural stories. He hails from Macassar, close to Somerset West in the Western Cape, where he first started writing for the Helderberg Gazette community newspaper. Besides making a name for himself as a columnist, he is also an avid poet who has shared stages with artists like Mahalia Buchanan, Charisma Hanekam, Jesse Jordan and Motlatsi Mofatse.
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