The popular expression “two heads are better than one” definitely has some truth to it, but sometimes two heads just aren’t enough. A group of young farmers found that five heads were needed to yield the best results, and today they’re not only feeding their community, but they are offering agricultural training to women and children in Soweto.
The movers and shakers of the Senzushintsho Community Development Project Cooperative are promoting the benefits of home gardens to alleviate poverty and hunger in Soweto Region D.
The project was launched in 2015 by five young agricultural graduates of the Emndeni Skills Centre in the township, where they studied hydroponics. The chairperson of the cooperative, Nomgqibelo Mkhize, says the sole purpose of the cooperative was to sustain themselves and their families.
“My mother was not working and my father, who was our only breadwinner, passed away. Things were difficult at home and we often went to bed hungry,” the 28-year-old recalls.
In spite of growing up in different households, what linked the group of youngsters was the difficult circumstances they were exposed to as children. “This motivated us to change the course of our lives and that of our families,” she says.
Lungile Maseko (32, member and treasurer of the cooperative) says her family’s situation was no different to that of her farming partners. “It was very hard back then, because there was only one person working in our family of ten. You can imagine, it was a truly difficult situation living on one income.”
Rising above their circumstance took great commitment and plenty of sacrifice, but they were dedicated. The eager agriculturalists, however, never anticipated the obstacles and many struggles that would come with it. The first obstacle the fivesome encountered was when they were kicked off a garden plot they leased from a primary school.
“As part of our training at Emndeni Skills Centre we were given a tunnel to farm our crop. A year after our training ended, we were asked to move because the school wanted to utilize the ground for sports activities,” Mkhize says.
Uprooted and left destitute, the group had to urgently look for new land.
After a few months of searching, Mkhize and her team identified the Mara Primary School ground in Naledi to farm on.
The 60m by 30m square garden grows six types of lettuce, broccoli, kale, cabbage, pepper, tomatoes, potatoes and beetroot. The garden also sprouts spinach and spring onions that is donated to school feeding schemes.
Along with the new premises came loads of business opportunities. Soon, the school kitchen, parents of the learners and other community members started buying fresh produce from them. They even started producing spinach for two Pick ‘n Pay branches.
“We were doing so well, until the management of the school changed,” Mkhize says.
The principle who administered Senzushintsho Community Development Project Cooperative’s lease agreement retired and a new principle was assigned to the school. With the shift in leadership, the project was asked to uproot their garden for a second time around.
“After going back and forth and liaising with the department of education, we were finally allowed back on the school grounds after nine months. And today we are still going strong,” Mkhize explains.
What excites the group of farmers the most is the fact that the learners have started taking an interest in agriculture. The children have made a habit of going to the garden during their lunch breaks. Mkhize says they realized that there was a need to engage with pupils and now give them practical training free of charge.
“Today we train women as well. Most of the women in our community are bread winners in their families and they are not working. So, we give them the skills they need which will enable them to feed their families,” Mkhize adds.
According to Vusi Makho, the group’s deputy chairperson, farming cooperatives are important for the growth of both rural and urban economic development and encourages communities to start vegetable gardens in their areas. “Cooperatives receive great support from government and retailers are known to be big supporters of community farming initiatives,” Makho says.
One thing that is clear about the members of Senzushintsho Community Development Project Cooperative, is that they are a group of resilient farmers who refused to allow their struggles and obstacles to deter them from reaching their goals.
Makho’s advice to aspiring farmers is to venture into agriculture full-heartedly and to make sure that they do the required research. “Farming is a big and challenging industry, and in order to go far you have to have passion and also work hard.”