Lungile Shelembe, a community gardener from iXopo, KZN, has a deep-rooted passion for sustainable farming. In 2018, she started gardening due to unemployment. However, she never anticipated that her passion would eventually lead her to supervise 240 home gardens in iXopo and the surrounding areas.
Shelembe says she started gardening at home with beetroot, cabbage, and spinach to avoid having to purchase everything from the store. She subsequently developed a strong affection for it.
Seeing her handy work thrive was a great source of motivation for her. iXopo is renowned for its sugar farming and forestry. The Southern Midlands of KZN is a highly motivating region for farming, as agriculture thrives exceptionally well in this area.
Prior to becoming a farmer, Shelembe used to sell amagwinya (vetkoek) and chips to neighbours, people on the streets, and schoolchildren.
Sustenance to start
“When I started, I simply wanted to farm for sustenance. Training and employment were unexpected.”
Shelembe was fortunate to receive training in entrepreneurship management, business, and communication skills through the Wozamoya Organisation. This opportunity was granted to her after the organisation recognised her hard work.
“Even in the face of financial challenges and high unemployment rates, utilising one’s skills and resources to create something can provide a means of sustenance and prevent going to bed hungry.”
Communal land to rescue
Shelembe tells Food for Mzansi that she didn’t have sufficient space at home after selling some of her harvests. A number of people came looking for more, so she had to make another plan.
She hunted out a location to plant additional veggies at Cekazi Primary School in Emashekeni, Ixopo.
“I am farming on a one-hectare plot at school, it’s divided into 15 smaller plots. I have cultivated cabbage, lettuce, spinach, kale, green peppers, onions, cauliflower, brinjal, peas and beetroot.”
In 2021, she secured a job as a coordinator through Wozamoya. Her work involves using nets for nurseries and primarily focuses on organic farming.
“My main clients are teachers from Cekazi Primary School and Imavangana Senior Secondary and members of the community. In general, I wouldn’t be where I am now without them.”
The ultimate objective
As a coordinator, her responsibilities involve educating the community on how to start their own gardens. She has been showing them how to make their own compost and implement rotational farming.
“The Wozamoya Organisation is helping the community by distributing seeds and water tanks. Their efforts have been very helpful in making things easier in this regard.”
In addition, she maintains six community gardens, coordinates 240 home gardens around iXopo and also trains families and women to start their own gardens and farm cooperatively.
Shelembe’s main goal is to continue her amazing work of encouraging healthy eating and sharing skills, particularly within a community with a high unemployment rate.
“My greatest wish is to own a piece of land where I can establish a farm school.”
She says the training she received has empowered her to accomplish great things for both her and those around her.
“While the community was concerned about farming certain crops during winter because of excessive rain, others were worried about farming during summer due to the scorching sun. I introduced the concept of rotational farming, and it was well received by the people in attendance.”
According to Shelembe, agriculture in rural areas is relatively stable. However, the primary obstacle faced by farmers in the iXopo region is the scarcity of water.
“If we had dams, maybe we would just thrive without worrying about water challenges.”
She believes that relying on organisations or potential sponsors is not a viable option because the equipment still requires maintenance.
Shelembe started out empowering herself, now she’s doing it for her community. Who knows what she’ll do next? Watch this space…
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