“We are glad we are farmers, glad to grow food for our family and community.”
We are deep in rural Limpopo, in the region locals still refer to as Venda, where farmlands are still backdropped by virgin bush. In fact, Kruger’s remote Punda Maria gate lies less than 70km away. The Denzhe Mukula Garden Project lies at the end of a rutted track, the rich red soil contrasting with a green fecundity that perfumes the air. The rains have been good this year – ‘too good’, Ndivuyo, project manager for the Pick n Pay Foundation, shakes his head. Most of the tomato crop has been washed away; the spinach sodden; baby butternuts are rotting. Farming is not for sissies.
But Tondani Rahobo, one of five comprising the Garden Project, welcomes us with a smile as wide as the overarching African sky. ‘We are glad to be here. We are glad we are farmers, glad to grow food for our family and our community,’ she says. The others project members present – Lucy Musetsho, Margaret Netshifhefhe and Kevin Makhuha nod vigorously. ‘We wouldn’t want to do anything else than this,’ adds Margaret with a shy smile.
The five are farming on land loaned to them by [name], the Venda headman who controls land access in this region. In the great spirit of ubuntu, he does not ask for anything in return, merely that the soil is productive; that fresh produce is available on the market. But while land is essential, it is not enough.
‘We planted half a hectare of spinach in 2002, using sticks to dig holes to put the seeds in. But we soon realized that we needed irrigation.’
Tondani looks at the lush surrounds and smiles at the irony, ‘It can get very, very dry here.’
Aside from irrigation infrastructure – water tanks, pump, pipes for drip irrigation – the farmers also needed gardening tools.
‘We found the names of the organisations and companies who could perhaps help us financially. We wrote to all of them, asking for assistance. Only Pick n Pay replied.’
A Foundation member [Ndivuyo?] was duly dispatched to visit us and inspect the project. While it was relatively small, the commitment of the five farmers impressed, and the project received R109 641 from the Pick n Pay Foundation.
‘Without the help of Pick n Pay I am not sure how we could have done this. We bought tools, fertilizer and seedlings, purchased a pump and installed drip irrigation. That year we had the best harvest ever!’
Today the Denzhe Mukula project supplies not only local markets but also the Pick n Pay Family Store that opened in Sibasa in 2009. It is a classic ‘win win’ situation: the project members now have access to a far larger market while in turn the mentored Family Store franchisee is provided with freshly picked produce – rich in nutrients, low in ‘food miles’.
‘It’s working well. In fact, we would like a more formal supply contract. Because Pick n Pay helped us so much we like to sell to them.’
The farm has grown to 10 hectares, growing spinach, tomatoes, butternut, pepper and cabbage. ‘We still plant and weed and harvest in the old ways. But thanks to the Pick n Pay Foundation we have grown more than just land. We are proud, showing our families and communities what can be achieved.’
Photo Credit: Karin Schermbrucker, Slingshot Media