Food gardens are growing fast thanks to partnerships between corporate South Africa and organisations like Food and Trees for Africa, making a significant difference in the lives of thousands of families.

With the myriad challenges experienced in getting food to the hungry, it has become increasingly important to focus on food security solutions that are sustainable through and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

While food parcels solve the immediate and short-term plight of hungry communities, it certainly is not sustainable as it creates dependency. What is sustainable is teaching community members how to feed themselves. It is truer now than ever before: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime (origin unknown).

As a network of grassroots NGOs, the MAMAS Alliance CSI team brings strategic corporate partners to Food and Trees for Africa to start or strengthen community market gardens in many impoverished areas across South Africa. The Community Market Gardens programme is an income-producing vegetable production initiative highly suited to the South African agriculture landscape, providing a sustainable livelihood for the most vulnerable in society.

The extent of these impactful interventions depends largely on the corporate sponsor, and range from periods of 12 months to three years. It includes provision of equipment and seedlings as well as monthly skills development workshops. Once the programme coordinators see that the gardeners are skilled enough without support, the garden then graduates and exits the programme.

According to Magali Malherbe, Managing Director at MAMAS Alliance, “The socio-economic impact of food garden initiatives is significant. Not only does it empower communities to self-sustain, the independence also restores their sense of dignity. Freeing people from the uncertainty of where their next meal will come from, enables them to learn, grow and ideally thrive.”

The soup kitchen from the community market garden project in Ntsoanatsatsi, Free State province, feeds over 266 children daily. It is run by Kate Molefe, fondly known as MAMA Kate. From Monday to Friday volunteers and the mothers from the orphans and vulnerable children programme tend to the gardens by ploughing, watering and harvesting. The harvest provides the daily vegetables for the soup kitchen. Surplus spinach, cabbage and beetroot are sold into the community, while the maize is freely given to the children of child-headed homes.

Interestingly, during the lockdown period, more technical gardening skills were being passed down from “gogos” (mums) to children who have been accompanying them to the fields, seeing as schools have been closed.

“Through partnerships with NGOs we can resource stack; effectively seeing greater impact for civic organisations and the vulnerable people they serve. Food and Trees for Africa and MAMAS Alliance have worked together over the last three years to develop, train and expand vegetable production as well as the cultivation of herbs and fruit trees to build sustainable feeding programmes at their centres across South Africa,” says Robyn Hills, Programme Manager for the Food Security Department for Food & Trees for Africa.

Hills continues, “One of the major restrictions we face is when we meet an NGO who is viable on all fronts, but they do not have a reliable water source. Water is a key component for the success of a food garden. Borehole water, specifically, allows for further self-sufficiency as it gives gardeners total control over the water supply and they are not inconvenienced by municipal restrictions. Aside from the initial expense of installation, the ongoing costs are minimal as it requires very little maintenance.”

“The logistical challenges of providing food to potentially millions of hungry South Africans under lockdown are enormous, and possibly won’t be resolved through the existing systems. With enough support, people can grow their own food.” concludes Malherbe.

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