by Sihle Mlambo
Durban - After more than a decade of teaching and training local farmers in agricultural techniques to enhance their ploughing skills in the rural town of Msinga, 400 small-scale farmers have been capacitated by a university farming unit.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Farmer Support Group (FSG) unit, which first worked with the Msinga and Bergville community in 2004, encouraged the community to become self-sufficient.
Dr Maxwell Mudhara, of the university’s College of Agriculture and a co-ordinator at FSG, said the farmers had become self-reliant.
The FSG assisted and taught the women to start vegetable gardens to become self-sufficient.
The women – who work as a group – now produce their own spinach, beetroot, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and honey – while they have also set their sights on making uniforms for local schools.
“We looked at capacitating rural area farmers in their general livelihood, and also to meet their own food requirements and possibly go to the market and sell,” Mudhara explained.
“When we started in Msinga in 2004, there were just three communities that we worked with, but over time this has increased to 11. These are communities that have in the past not been doing much for themselves to produce food, but that is not the case any more.
“They support each other and identify places where they can produce as a group, not as individuals. We train them and then we allow them to practise what they have learnt,” he said.
Mudhara said the women were now servicing the community and supplying businesses with their produce, but they were not ready yet to supply supermarkets, as they needed to be taught and organised about scaling and grading for big supermarket chains.
“The people have realised that they can supply their own vegetables, and these gardens are mushrooming everywhere. When I went there the first time, some did not know how deep to put the seed in the ground,” he said.
One of the beneficiaries, Hlekani Mdladla, 58 – said the programme was a welcome boost for the community, and said young people were part of it – which ensured continuation.
She said their community was riddled with social ills and orphaned youth.
“We sell our produce to vendors at the local one-stop at the moment; there are people that we supply with the goods. In the community people do buy, but sometimes the problem is that people have financial problems and do not have money to buy,” she said.
“Sometimes we have to give them food for free so they can survive, because some of the children live in households with no income, so we give them for free. We cannot watch people die of hunger.”
Mdladla said their bee farm – which produced honey – was their most lucrative venture, but said the drought was hampering progress.
“The drought has affected us. It has ruined us as it takes us back when we wish to carry on moving forward. There is a special plant that the bees like to eat; with the drought these plants are not growing any more, so it is hard for us to bottle as much as before,” she said.
Mdladla said some in their group had undergone sewing training and they were looking to produce school uniforms for four local schools.
They had spoken to the principals, but were now stuck as they had no funds to buy materials.