BATTLEFIELDS: Protesting against genetic modification at Monsanto.
BATTLEFIELDS: Protesting against genetic modification at Monsanto.

Johannesburg - Urban permaculture was the theme for the rest of our time in Gauteng. And what better place to see urban gardening in action than Jozi, home to the world’s largest man-made forest and the economic hub of Africa?

Although Midrand, on the outskirts of Joburg, is designated an agricultural holding, it’s more of a suburban area by anyone’s standards. Still, you can see occasional horse stables and a rudimentary food garden here and there, but it’s by no means a place where substantial food production occurs. Or so we thought.

Ukuvuna Urban Farming is run by John Nzira, a long-time permaculturist and sustainable organic farmer from Zimbabwe, who now calls Midrand home.

Despite being shot and burgled last year, Nzira has no intention of leaving his property, which is next to Tembisa. In fact, he realises that he’s needed here more than ever.

The thriving permaculture centre he has established is testament to his dedication. Indigenous maize grows with a vast array of medicinal herbs, apple trees flourish next to lavender, and reed beds cleanse the irrigation water, with the help of African bullfrogs.

Apart from intensive vegetable and fruit production, Ukuvuna showcases a worm farm (the worm “wine” feeds crops and helps deter pests), a fishery, beekeeping, water harvesting, animal husbandry, medicinal plants and herbs, and even seed banking – all on just one hectare of land. And if the number of people attending his introduction to permaculture course was any indication, Nzira is set to transform urban areas across Joburg.

Our next stop was deep in the city centre to view the Greenhouse Project, established with the assistance of the Tlhago Primary Agricultural Co-operative.

Situated on the edge of Hillbrow, the Greenhouse Project occupies a corner of Joubert Park. With a vision of greening Joburg, the project demonstrates green building techniques – with a double-storey earth building built mostly from recycled materials.

It shows what can be done with limited space, with vertical gardens, trench beds and container gardens supplying the local community with fresh produce and medicinal herbs. A layer of straw spread over the ground helps the soil retain water, which is from a borehole.

Two rooftop gardens have been established in the heart of the metropolis, transferring urban gardening skills to residents.

Everything is planted using sustainable and organic methods, and the garden beds, made using recycled tyres, produce a host of fresh vegetables, including cabbage, spinach, carrots, and even olives. Produce is sold to the building’s residents and additional income comes from the preparation and sale of traditional medicines.

With more than 60 percent of South Africans living in cities, which consume 75 percent of the Earth’s resources, rooftop gardens, balcony gardens, herb gardens and urban farms are becoming increasingly necessary.

Apart from fighting poverty and hunger and contributing to greater environmental and public health, urban agriculture even helps to reduce crime. As the saying goes: the best security is a well-fed neighbour.

Having fresh, healthy produce readily available in cities also contributes to food sovereignty. If we are in charge of our food supply, we will no longer be dependent on industrialised agriculture – responsible for chemical-laden food, massive carbon emissions through transport and bad farming practices, and, to a large degree, genetically-modified (GM) crops.

As we were protesting outside Monsanto, a multinational biotechnology corporation that supplies GM seed to farmers, as well as AgriSA, one of the main proponents of GMO in South Africa, we were surprised at how few people knew what GMOs were, despite most of South Africa’s maize being genetically modified and, scarily, in many of its infant formulas and cereals.

A recent study by a team of French scientists found that rats fed genetically modified maize were at greater risk of developing tumours, suffering organ damage, or dying prematurely. It provided a chilling reminder that the long-term health consequences of eating GM foods are largely unknown.

Farmers who grow GM must buy the patented seeds every year. They cannot use seeds from the previous year’s crop. Despite massive campaigns claiming that GMOs are the answer to world hunger, it has been shown that they produce no increase in yield or reduction in pesticide use.

Waving our picket signs and singing protest songs, we represented the consumer’s right to choose whether they want to eat GMOs – with the need for mandatory labelling and greater consumer awareness.

Leafy Greens, on the West Rand, has been GMO-free and organic since Peter De Luca started his garden, an example of small-scale urban agriculture. The café, owned by De Luca’s daughter Antonia, a talented raw food chef, serves fresh, healthy, sustainably produced food, passed directly from farm to plate.

Riding back to the city to take our bikes in for a service at Cava Motorcycles, we cruised along Johannesburg’s highways, impressed by how courteous most drivers were.

Perhaps that’s due to Jozi’s Vespa club – the Vesperados. We rode in convoy with them to the Nelson Mandela Bridge, a fitting tribute to an incredible time in the city of gold, and were finally ready to embark on the next phase of our trip – the road to St Lucia and beyond. - Cape Times

l Andrews and List are on a 7 500km carbon-neutral scooter safari to document and photograph SA’s natural beauty and the inspiring environmental projects that aim to conserve this.

Follow them on their journey at www.eco-friendly-africa-travel.com or www.facebook.com/EcoFriendlyAfricaTravel