Future Farmers by Trish Beaver
Feeding the community
His love of farming came from his father who was a rural beef farmer. Mzwandile Duma (27) used to get excited when his father would say, “That one there is yours and that one too.”
The road into farming began at Zakhe College where he did his high school and then he applied to be part of the Future Farmers programme. For him this was the beginning of a journey that saw him exposed to a wider world.
Today he is a Regional Manager with African Conservation Trust (ACT) and his job is to help plan and organise food gardens in poor communities and to encourage food security. They have made a huge difference to the communities where they have worked – teaching permaculture skills and also giving local communities a way to improve their health.
ACT has established thriving food gardens in Hlabisa and in Richmond and the latest community to benefit from their programme is Mpophomeni. Many of the candidates they have working on the project are from the Future Farmers programme.
All of these staffers have to do a training course on permaculture which is done by local permaculture expert Paul Duncan. Using these skills they create thriving food gardens out of barren patches of land.
Mzwandile is proud of the impact they have made to the residents who have developed a new respect for the land and for growing food. He said: “If you can teach people how to grow food using the very minimum of resources then they should never go hungry.
“Permaculture is using what nature has provided and looking at the land, and working with it. Many people have the idea that they need to have tractors and fertiliser and that to create food is an effort and expensive. But using the principles of permaculture anyone can grow their own vegetable garden.”
Mzwandile went to Florida in the USA for his overseas internship, and he says that experience was invaluable. “To see how other people in the world operate is very inspiring, because you realise that in South Africa we some distance to go.”
“They use technology to their advantage and they have a very strong work ethic. It made me realise that we have the land but we need more people with skills to do the work. Too many of our farm workers are not exposed to the principles of farming and they do not see the big picture, that is why they cannot aspire to being a manager or owning their own farm.”
Mzwandile hopes that one day he will own his own dairy farm, as that is his real passion. But his work with ACT is very important to him as he can see what a difference it is making. He was the first Future farmer to receive the prestigious “Mentorship Award”.
This award is given to those Future Farmers who go out of their way to share their knowledge with others. In his position as regional manager Mzwandile oversees at least ten other people and he is always willing to help them and advise them.
One of the aims of ACT is for the people to grow enough food for themselves and then to find a market for their excess produce. At the schools where the food is grown they supply the kitchen with the food so that the meals can be healthy.
They also teach the learners about growing food and how to use permaculture. At the schools they have cleverly dug trenches from the gutters so the rain waters can feed the vegetables. The aim is to inspire the children to go home and make their own gardens.
They also use cut grass to put on top of the beds to prevent weeds from growing and also to prevent the moisture from evaporating. One of the things they use to prevent goats and cows from eating the crops is an old fashioned repellent where they mix cow dung with water and spray it on the leaves. This prevents the animals from eating it.
They are currently establishing a seedling nursery which will help to supply the gardens in the future. They teach the community how to harvest seed and how to do companion planting. This is a way to grow plants next to each other. The effect is to prevent insects and other pests from eating the crops.
Two of the young future farmers working on the programme have recently been identified as candidates to go to the United Kingdom, they will be learning how to grow strawberries in time for next year’s Wimbledon tennis championship.
Mlondi Mazeka and Thobeka Mthetwa are thrilled to be given this chance to learn and to experience the wider world. Judy Stuart, founder of Future Farmers says: “I see the potential in many of these young people and while you can nurture and teach them, the chance to learn in a new environment is invaluable. It matures them and gives them life skills. It also gives them a global perspective on farming which is really important.”