The vegetable garden that Joe and Jabu share is a bright green rectangle in a crease between two hills covered with brown knee-high grass. A shallow stream flows between muddy banks beyond the wire fence which is stretched loosely between wooden posts, one of which bears a battered old watering can. Joe explains how he walks downhill from his homestead in the dark every morning at 6.30am, fills the watering can from the stream and tends to his crop. The Ntshangase’s are fortunate indeed to have an easily accessible water supply close to their garden, in an area where the majority of families rely on weekly municipal water tanker deliveries. Bright green leaves push through the freshly mulched beds. These thriving organic, non- genetically- modified plants in this neat, manicured garden are feeding Joe’s family of ten and Jabu’s family of six.
The seedlings are supplied by The African Conservation Trust and Ethekwini Municipality in a combined initiative called the EMSLI (EThekwini Municipality Sustainable Livelihoods Initiative) project. A valuable aspect of this project, in addition to the supply of seedlings, is the training and ongoing mentorship to support, assist and advise community micro gardeners. Marvin Ndelu is the Garden Mentor for the Matata area in Inanda where he presently lives and supervises 15 gardens visiting each one twice a week. It is a remote, rural spot which is an hour’s undulating drive from the ACT head office in central Hillcrest. Marvin is well trained, knowledgeable and has a flourishing vegetable farming enterprise of his own at his South Coast family home. He has become more friend than mentor to the community over the last two years, as he is as invested in and passionate about every garden as if it is his own.
Dark brown soil still clings to the freshly picked, bright orange carrot in Marvin’s hand as he stands in Thombi Mahlongo’s garden. Thombi has secured plastic, old blankets and corrugated iron sheets onto the fence around her vegetable garden which is a short walk from the busy tarred road. She explains that her greatest challenge is keeping roaming goats and chickens from eating her precious plants. Two of Thombi’s children help her to nurture their family crop, bringing buckets of water up from the nearby Jonono River twice daily. The tomatoes, carrots, spinach, beetroot, egg plants and green pepper seedlings provided by the EMSLI project have made it possible for her to feed her growing family of ten since last November, when she established the garden with Marvin’s help.
Micro farmers face many challenges in the dry, dusty Inanda Valley but with the support of the African Conservation Trust there are fewer hungry mouths and many more happy smiles.
Words by Sandy Woods and photos by Heidi Monica Christie (BrightBlue Photography)