No fewer than 20 small-scale and subsistence farmers in Atlantis, Western Cape are ready to play their part in mitigating food poverty and help ensure access to improved nutrition in their communities. This, after they graduated from the food security and ecosystem training programme by the Atlantis Special Economic Zone.
On Tuesday, 20 September several residents from the Atlantis community graduated from a year-long training programme that aimed to arm them with basic plant production knowledge.
Making their way to the stage to receive their certificates, graduates couldn’t hold back their emotions after a full year of intense theory and practical work.
A moment that will long be remembered was when Gurswin Martin, one of the graduating participants, were gifted with a small piece of land on which to cultivate food.
The patch of land, situated on the premises of Grosvenor Primary School in Atlantis, is where the group completed heir practical work. The garden is fully equipped and grows spinach, peas, onions, green peppers, and tomatoes.
“I am very excited about this opportunity. I have waited for [this] for a very long and I want to make something out of it. The announcement has taken me by surprise, but I know I am ready to work the land,” Martin told Food For Mzansi at the graduation ceremony.
The gift of access to land
Participants in the project attended bi-weekly training sessions hosted in the computer lab of Grosvenor Primary School. They were trained on anything and everything from different soil types, water requirements, nutrition, plant physiology and what chemical reactions take place during the growing process.
“I learned a lot,” said Martin. “I also want to learn more and with the farm now being my responsibility, I will learn while I work. It’s quite exciting, I’m ready to roll up my sleeves.”
One of the community projects that have benefited from the garden is Orion, an organisation in Atlantis that cares for differently abled people.
Pauline Steenkamp, senior fundraiser and marketing manager of Orion, said the project has been making meaningful contributions to their feeding scheme initiative.
“The vegetables that come from this farming project are fresh. It assists us in the organisation as they are nutritious to our members but importantly, the cost of buying food have gone down since getting the vegetables from them,” Steenkamp said.
Yes we can…
Meanwhile, the principal of the school, Terrence Adams explained that they were excited about Martin using the available land to build on his farming dreams.
“For us as the school it would be pointless to have the land [go to waste] while there is someone who can use it properly,” he said.
Adams said 60% of the profits made from the garden will go to Martin and the rest to the school.
“We are seeing this as a benefit to our pupils who will be exposed to farming. Young people know farming as hard labour, but this is an opportunity to [do] away [with] that myth. Farming is business.”
Another graduate, Anastasia Smith said the programme offered their poverty-stricken community a number of benefits.
“This is an opportunity for us to step out there and say yes, we can do it. Yes, we can go forward, and yes, we are equipped with tools on how to farm.
“We need to believe in ourselves and take the step of establishing our own projects. Food security is close to my heart, and this [programme] is an opportunity to make a [meaningful] contribution to our community,” she said.
Smith did, however, point to access to water being a major challenge for them. She called on government and the private sector to work together and make provision for water.
Onwards and upwards
Meanwhile, the community liaison officer for the project, Chris Matthews dubbed the programme as a steppingstone in the right direction.
“It was difficult from the onset because the programme was exposing participants to something that they have not done before. But through persistence they managed to pull through and today they are graduating.
“They now know that farming is about timing. They now know what to plant and when to plant. That is great boost for them [and will help them in] starting their own initiatives,” he said.
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