“Farming gives hope and meaning to the lives of people.”
This is why Nokubonga Ndima, or “Noku”, loves being a farmer, and why we love having her as our Food & Agriculture Director. She is well versed in five languages, including Spanish — which she taught herself while graduating from EARTH University in Costa Rica. Since joining the Orchard: Africa team, Noku has developed innovative solutions to the hunger crisis facing parts of South Africa. We sat down with her to find out what challenges she has faced farming in her region and what inspires her to create sustainable agricultural solutions for the communities she works in.
Soil quality, limited space and lack of knowledge are big obstacles in the Western Cape.
The Western Cape province of South Africa is home to great diversity and contrast. There are stunning landscapes like Table Mountain, rolling green hills with fertile soil that house world renown wineries, and harsh sandy dunes on the Cape of Fear that host the vastly overcrowded and underdeveloped township of Khayelitsha.
Orchard’s work is in Khayelitsha, where what little ground space that is not taken up by small shacks is composed of barren sandy soil. Yet, while Noku has had to work hard to find a solution to those challenges, perhaps the biggest challenge was also the most surprising:
“I would say [what has surprised me most] is the lack of knowledge, because most of the citizens are from a farming background in the Eastern Cape [province], but they came to the Western Cape and just gave up.”
Khayelitsha, home to an estimated two million residents living in great poverty and struggling to find work and provision, has that effect on newcomers that were once hopeful of finding work and a better life closer to the big city of Cape Town.
Vertical Farming is the best solution to overcome the physical obstacles.
While attending EARTH University in Costa Rica, Noku had learned of a farming methodology called Vertical Farming. The premise of the methodology is as simple as it is innovative: reuse trashed containers and clothing to create strategic growing systems that hang from a post or a wall instead of taking up space on the ground. When Noku came to work in Khayelitsha, she quickly saw that Vertical Farming was the solution to growing rich gardens with minimal soil and ground space.
“Having to prove to them that Vertical Farming is the best system for them” was, according to Noku, the first order of business in getting community buy in. So she started building vertical farms in a local Church and taught the pastor and church members how to maintain and grow the farms. She then got to work creating an in-home, turn-key solution for families, which became known as a Farm-in-a-Bag.
The beneficiaries of the programs are shocked and amazed that Vertical Farming works, but are still slow to adopt the new methodologies.
“How can that be possible?!” says Noku when quoting the most common reaction she receives from Khayelitsha residents who visit the farms at the Church. There’s always a great deal of joy when you see the smiles of former farmers and parents reacting to being able to provide for their families again, though sometimes old farming habits still creep in:
“A number of ladies that I have taught would take home the seedling that we had planted during the course and plant them directly to the ground. Even though we had planted them in either jeans or plastic bottles.”
Startup material and training motivate people to take action, instills confidence they can make an impact with their lives, and restores the hope that they will be able to provide for their families.
The effects of having healthy food to eat is easy to see in a family and a community, but Noku is quick to point out that the actual impact of Orchard: Africa’s Agriculture Program goes well beyond a daily meal:
“[The Program] gives hope and meaning to the lives of people. They can still put a plate on the table even though they are not working. It keeps people busy. Motivates other people to learn how to fish, meaning to stand for themselves and believe that there is something that they can do with their lives. Creates job opportunities and is a skill people can add to their résumé when applying for job that has to do with [farming].”
Noku is right, we all deserve the dignity of providing for ourselves, and empowering someone takes more than temporary assistance. Empowerment requires skills and education that breed innovation and provision.
Churches play the most critical role in sustaining adoption and success.
The local Church is the foundation of all our programs and our Agriculture Program is no exception. We invest in the whole person, because a healthy body doesn’t accomplish much if the spirit and mind are not also thriving. This is why we give our Agriculture Program to Churches to run, and unite those Churches with other Churches from around the world. Noku captured the power of this approach with one of her favorite stories from a recent Missions Trip:
“It was touching hearing a lady who has been [farming] for years and has attended a lot of agriculture trainings elsewhere say that the training she received from a Missions Team visiting the Khayelitsha Church was her first time being in one where God is put first, where everyone is treated with respect and equal, and where she learned a lot.”