Food for thought … and for the community

Food for thought … and for the community

People in urban areas have very little access to excellent quality, naturally fresh produce. CLAIRE RENCKEN speaks to Philipa Farley of the KuhleKudla Project in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), which is trying to do something about this.

Farley offers some very interesting insights: “The community should be feeding itself and those around it. I really do have a quiet laugh at hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) procedures and protocols. Food goes through so many hands and warehouses that, by the time you get it in your local supermarket, it has so little nutritional content that you might as well throw it in the bin: the chips at McDonalds are probably better for you!”

She continues: “About 80 percent of the produce we consume in KZN is trucked in from elsewhere. The amount of time that produce spends sitting in facilities in the supply chain is frightening. Chemicals are used more often than not to extend shelf life.

“When last did you bite into a crispy apple and actually eat the entire thing and feel happy? When last did you buy an onion that didn’t (a day or two after buying it), develop black mould inside? Potatoes go soft in the bag, because people want them all shiny and white and clean. All root vegetables should come into your house with dirt still on them and be stored in a dark place. They’ll last about three to six months like that!”

Some interesting facts and figures: KZN has about nine-and-a-half million hectares of land in total; of this about three million hectares is tribal-trust land, which is managed through the Ingonyama Trust Board. About ten million people live in this province.

The KuhleKudla Project is helping local farmers in many ways. For example, it teaches them permaculture farming methods and how to make organic composts and sprays.Farley explains: “The international norm for food security is 0,7 hectares of land on which to grow food per person. For food security to be a reality in this province, we need to farm seven million hectares of land.

“Where is all our food coming from and where is the food we grow here going? Many unemployed people in KZN have access to land. But land redistribution is a huge problem, as people are just dumped on land with no equipment and no knowledge of farming. Vast tracts of what was previously commercial farm land are pretty much no longer productive.”

Taking all this into account, together with the fact that about 40 000 cabbages (or more conservatively 30 000) can be grown on one hectare, a logical conclusion for Farley’s mother, Susan Pletts, was to expand her training business (of delivering seedlings and buying back produce to feed into various different markets) to include an aftersales service.

Farley explains: “The people with access to land can sell the vegetables they produce for market-related prices and make quite a healthy profit, as they have very low overheads.”

Pletts elaborates: “The majority of commercial vegetable farmers retrenched staff due to the increase in the cost of labour. Aside from the increase in the minimum wage, other input costs have risen steeply. I have been deeply concerned about where our vegetables are going to come from with commercial farmers reducing staff.

“To ensure food security, each person, who has access to land, should be able to grow produce. And not just grow it, but do it in such a way that inputs are considerably reduced: by doing the work themselves and getting family members to help; by using compost and animal manure for fertiliser; and finally, by making use of natural remedies – one of our natural sprays is made from the ash from a wood fire, water and a bit of dishwashing liquid – to protect crops from disease and pests.

“People with smaller pieces of land can do this, while it would be impossible for large-scale commercial farmers. The excitement in the rural communities is almost tangible. As soon as their produce is loaded onto the vehicle, a cellphone is used to transfer money into their bank account. The economy in KZN is going to change!”

The KuhleKudla (a combination of Zulu words, which basically means “healthy food”) project is helping local farmers in many ways. It teaches them permaculture farming methods and how to make organic composts and sprays. Furthermore, when people are out in the field, cellphones are used to take photos of issues they encounter and send them back, so that action can be taken immediately to prevent and control diseases.

The project also has an impressive database that is used to manage its 600-plus farmers and their little farms. Adds Farley: “The database lets us know well in advance when plants need harvesting, keeps track of the plots of land (plugs into Google Earth so we can see where we’re going) and is being programmed to manage our logistics, in terms of planning a week or so in advance for collections. We’ll be able to see market trends for demands (baby potatoes and Brussels sprouts in December for example) and plant to meet the demand. As far as possible, the produce must stay in the local community and not travel out.”

The KuhleKudla Project is helping local farmers in many ways. For example, it teaches them permaculture farming methods and how to make organic composts and sprays.KuhleKudla is also building hubs in key areas, to which produce can be brought and collated into larger lots for collection. “So if you’re a gogo with only a small plot, you benefit from the collective selling power,” explains Farley. The hubs will be owned by the communities themselves.

She concludes: “The world has gone a bit crazy with what we expect to grow and what we eat. People have forgotten how to eat seasonally and to plan meals accordingly. We’re losing skills such as preserving. Every house should have a dark, cold room and a pantry with jams and preserves. Archaic? I think not. If we all ate responsibly and actually considered where our food came from, we’d make a massive impact on the environment!” 

A harvest of safety and security equipment

IFSEC SA and the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Expo Africa will once again be co-located at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand in May.

The agricultural sector, with its high-value livestock, expensive machinery and valuable crops, is increasingly relying on the advice of risk assessment consultants to ensure that a maximised return on investment is achieved.

Joshua Low, event director at UBM Montgomery explains: “IFSEC SA focuses on equipping farmers with the latest technology in the security sector, while OSH Expo Africa continues to assist a number of industries with health and safety compliance issues.” The pace is picking up on exhibitor stand bookings and, to date, a number of companies have released information on their upcoming product and service offerings.

Various companies will be showcasing their security technologies on the IFSEC SA side. In terms of the OSH Expo Africa, several health and safety products that will be on show are ideal for the agricultural sector, including gloves, face masks, goggles and sound monitors.

The emphasis is not only on the healthy handling of raw products, but also on the safety of employees.

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