World Tourism Day: Tourvest and the Siyazisiza Trust – creating sustainability and ensuring food safety

Judi Nwokedi, Chief Operating Officer of Tourvest. Picture: Supplied.

Judi Nwokedi, Chief Operating Officer of Tourvest. Picture: Supplied.

Published Sep 27, 2023


“We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference.” Nelson Mandela

The word Siyazisiza means “we help one another”, which truly describes the country that our late President Nelson Mandela wished to see. This was why in 1999 Tourvest joined forces with Siyazisiza Trust’s former subsidiary, Khumbulani Craft, in line with Tourvest’s mission to create sustainable incomes within some of the poorest of our rural communities. In 2012, Khumbulani Craft merged with the Siyazisiza Trust to further its work assisting rural economic development.

While initially this partnership centred on marketing and the retail side of crafting, over the years this has grown to encompass the vital area of food security and sustainable livelihoods.

In early 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic struck, affecting the economy and tourism in particular, which saw these plans being cut back. The good news is that Siyazisiza Trust survived the pandemic and is currently overseeing several agricultural based projects in rural areas including Mpumalanga.

Justin Bend, co-CEO of the Siyazisiza Trust, explains how the need to grow this area of their work has impacted many rural communities as well as aspirant young farmers. “With the initial backing of Tourvest, our goal was to ensure food security by such initiatives as putting young farmers through our agricultural development programme. Currently we’re supporting 65 smallholder farmers across Bushbuckridge and Mbombela under our Agri-Enterprise Development Programme and 18 rural youth under our Young Farmers Development Programme.

Justin Bend, co-Chief Executive Officer of the Siyazisiza Trust. Picture: Supplied.

The focus of these programmes is to educate young people in “food sovereignty” - a system where those who produce, distribute and consume the food also control the mechanisms and policies of food production and distribution.

“Based on the very obvious climate change issues such as drought, we’re now looking at longer term projects and the growing of alternate crops that are able to cope with such severe weather issues, which are likely to get worse,” explains Bend. “We also needed to look at ways to add value to indigenous crops such as the planting of amaranth, more commonly known as morog, a type of spinach. This is often referred to as famine food, because the leaf is very nutritious. We learned how to gather grain from this crop, clean it and produce popcorn for instance, which we now distribute across the country to health stores and ethical food shops. We’re also trying to encourage the local farmers and communities to grow these older traditional grains including sorghum, which are also more drought tolerant.”

Another project currently being piloted right outside the Numbi Gate of the Kruger Park is the planting of over a hundred drought tolerant, indigenous fruit trees, which among others, includes lesser known fruits such as mangosteen, kei apple, and num-nums. The longer term aim is for this fruit to be harvested, dried and added, along with honey from Siyazisiza’s bee-keeping enterprises, as an ingredient in Community Farmer Networks range of cereals and snack-bars.

Farming champions

Once trained in the skills to produce and market these crops, the young farmers return to their communities where they pass on their skills, including setting up community food gardens and sourcing water. With Siyazisiza’s unique contribution now supplying local informal markets, major retailers such as Spar’s White River and Hazyview branches have also come on board to sell this produce and provide much-needed income.

Another key player in Siyazisiza Trust’s community development is Mandla Nkoana, Community Farmer Network Manager. With his passion and enthusiasm for his work coming through his words, Nkoana’s pride in his job is evident. “It’s really exciting to be able to help local farmers develop new food products from these fruit trees and sell them on, which will make a massive difference in these areas. This fits in with our mission around climate resilience, to get the farmers to evolve in terms of understanding the climate and develop products that suit the current weather trends.”

“For me to be able to work in agriculture and with the youth, building on the success we had with our craft development is wonderful. They do however need continual support because the agricultural value chain is so large and challenging. But the good news is that we’re seeing farmers go from a low to a sustainable level, he adds.”

For Judi Nwokedi, Chief Operating Officer of Tourvest, these words are music to her ears. “We’ve always been aware of the importance of these projects as longer term goals, with food sustainability at the forefront. Just recently a mother in the Eastern Cape killed herself and her three children, leaving a note saying she had become ‘overwhelmed’ by the pressure of providing for her family.

“While programmes such as these take time to come to full fruition, they are positive steps in the right direction. For Tourvest, joining hands over many years with players such as the Siyazisiza Trust means we are helping to make a positive difference in vital areas.”

  • The unemployment rate stands at 52%, with the youth unemployment rate being notably higher at 65%.
  • A significant 51% of the population live under the lower-bound poverty line, earning less than R810 per month.
  • A majority, 66%, of households rely on social grants for sustenance.
  • 40% of the households are identified as agricultural.
  • Less than 7% have access to flush toilets connected to a main sewage system.
  • Fewer than 12% of homes benefit from piped water directly within the dwelling.
  • A majority engage in some form of crop farming, either for personal consumption or as a source of income.
  • The prevalent crops grown encompass maize, peanuts, pumpkin leaves, pumpkins, jugo beans, mango, cowpeas, and spinach. Notably, spinach and maize are primarily cultivated for income generation. Income from crop sales is relatively minimal, contributing less than 7% to overall household earnings on average.
  • Livestock farming is not as widespread. Among those who engage in it, cattle and goats are predominant. A recent study highlighted that 18% of homesteads possess livestock.
  • The majority of household income is derived from off-farm sources, such as remittances and grants, accounting for between 38% and 47% of the total income.