In Lenasia, south of Soweto in Gauteng, far from the Johannesburg city noise, sits the female owned enterprise Ntirhisano Farmers’ Cooperative.
The business was started in 2014 by a Zimbabwean couple, Mosibudi and Peter Moyo, who is perhaps better known as a renowned former investigative journalist for SABC and ETV. Mosibudi is the director of the cooperative and Peter acts as the CEO.
The intention was to create access for women to the agricultural sector. Mosibudi says, in the past women were excluded from participating in the sector and she has made it her mission to correct this.
Indigenous vegetable garden
“We started a 300m² food garden (the size of about 25 car parking spaces) that was run hands-on by six members (5 of which are women). We leased the land from Kransvley Farm Resort, with the mission of supplying and diversifying the vegetable market in South Africa as well as contributing to food security by proving nutritious vegetables at affordable prices,” Mosibudi says.
However, the lease agreement soon expired, and the owners of the farm were no longer willing to extend it. The couple then moved to Johannesburg where they attempted to revive the farming cooperation by planting vegetables in their front yard. “People were surprised that we were planting vegetables instead of flowers,” Peter jokes.
One of their neighbours were curious enough to find out what they were planting and offered to help them acquire a bigger portion of land. There, they farm with Chomoulier (also known as Covo Viscose or Rugare), Tshomalia (also known as giant grape), Muchina, Okra and other exotic vegetables.
The 120-hectare plot is nestled close to the Lanseria informal settlement and has provided job opportunities for people from the area.
“We’re in production with more than 30 000 plants of the exotic Zimbabwean vegetable English Giant rape and 25000 plants of Chomoulier (also known as Covo Viscose or Rugare), Muchina and Okra,” Mosibudi says.
They also farm with cabbage and spinach, supplying to different markets in Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West. Mosibudi explains that in addition to getting women involved in the agricultural sector they were also curious to see if farming exotic vegetables from across Africa was viable in South Africa.
After doing thorough market research they discovered that the production and consumption of indigenous food crops had declined in Mzansi, despite their nutritional and economic value.
Mosibudi says that traditional vegetables have been neglected because people associate it with the rural lifestyle and poverty.
Echoing her words, Moyo adds that indigenous vegetables are an attractive alternative to ordinary vegetables and that they have a short growing time and are cheap to produce.
“Some of the workers who joined the cooperative didn’t have skills when they started with us. But since joining the cooperation they are now skilled agriworkers and can provide for their families,” Moyo explains.
They have even erected a wendy house to provide basic accommodation for the workers who struggle with transport to and from the farm.
With the cooperative increasing their production and acquiring a large piece of land, a number of challenges followed. They didn’t have access to municipal water and a borehole had to be sunk. They also needed put irrigation in place and build storage facilities.
Moyo and the group of women then decided to approach Shoprite for support, via their Act for Change Twitter platform (@weactforchange). Within a few hours they received a response.
The retailer in partnership with Food & Trees for Africa solved one of Ntirhisano Farmers’ Cooperative’s biggest worries by installing a 80-hectare irrigation system. “Within a month of installing it, our production went up by more than three times and it will probably go up about ten times within the next three months,” Moyo says.
Currently, their main struggles are mostly mechanical. Sometimes they must hire tractors to transport their produce to markets. “At times we don’t deliver on time, which makes us look bad as a farming business,” Moyo explains.
He adds that because they don’t have transportation, they are at times forced to transport their vegetables in their own personal cars.
Despite this, Moyo says their future is brighter than it was a few years ago. “Shoprite gave us valuable advice on how to farm better. We hope that by 2020 we would have seen bigger profits,” Peter says.