Opinion Piece

Backyard Garden: Our household economic hub

By Zandisile Luphahla

For centuries, food gardens have always been the source of basic foods for every household and the backbone of economic activity.

Food gardens were always an important element of family farming and local food systems. It was common for many households to turn even a tiny plot of land in to their own food production economic hub.

Home gardens have always played a positive role towards addressing food insecurity and malnutrition in our communities – going to the extent of providing additional benefits such as income for poor families.

For those of us who grew up in the rural areas, taking care of the establishment and the upkeep of food gardens in our households was one of the basic requirements from our parents.

Even though there was not enough water to spare, as children were held accountable for ‘ukucenkceshela imifino nee-mbotyi zika Mama’ (watering our mother’s spinach and green beans.)

My mother would be quick to remind us that, “Ukutya kubiza kakhulu bantwana bam, legadi iyasinceda ukuba sikwazi ukudibanisa imifino nepapa kutyiwe’ (My children, the food is expensive. This garden will assist us a great deal – at least we will be able to harvest the produce, cook porridge and eat).

It was a norm that we would hit the streets to go sell the remains of what has been harvested on our family food garden. The money made would assist in the daily running of the household.

Since the advent of time, as related even in the Bible, families depended on tilling the soil to live. The first family recorded; Adam and Eve and their sons Cain and Abel are said to have relied on crop and livestock farming. This is indicative of how each one of us has the innate ability to produce food by either hunting, livestock farming and working the land for the planting of trees and vegetables. The latter has so far, in our communities, stood the test of time.

As times evolved, nations went to war over fertile land which would be utilised for grazing and crop farming. This was done so that the king and his subjects could survive.

When the barter system (a system where goods and services are exchanged instead of cash) came into play; food produce such as mealies would be bartered for livestock.

Later, the bartering of food produces for spice and other valuable items such as mirrors and combs were introduced into the market.

Despite the evolution of the economy and advances in how businesses trade, food remains the basic need for everyone – keeping the production of crops an essential part of our lives.

As part of the War Against Poverty Strategy, the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs, Rural Development and Land Reform, under the stewardship of MEC Mase Manopole, is advocating for families to establish their own food gardens or as we call it backyard gardens.

Backyard gardens are seen as a viable plan that can assist families to mitigate hunger and will receive institutional support.

A recent report by Oxfam indicates that child hunger is still a challenge in the Northern Cape Province. The report also shows that our province has the highest proportion of households that experienced hunger. The report further states that more than half of households with young children, that experienced hunger, were in urban areas.

It is logical to believe therefore that the involvement of households in production of their own food gardens can play an important role in reducing the vulnerability to hunger of our rural and urban food-insecure families.

Through the multi-departmental Provincial Integrated Food Security and Nutrition Programmes (PIFSNP), the department will continue to support households to establish food gardens and provide seeds, composts, tools and watering cans.

In addition to the PIFSN program, in the coming months, the MEC will roll out the Greenhouse Crop Production Program, which she believes will play an important role in the hot and dry Northern Cape environment.

 The program is expected to assist in sustainable crop intensification leading to optimization of water-use efficiency in a milieu of water scarcity.

The greenhouse crop production program will in addition assist in the improved control of product quality and safety, in line with the market demand, standards and regulations.

It has been reported that the Greenhouse crop production is now a growing reality throughout the world with an estimated 405 000 ha of greenhouses spread across the globe.

The degree of sophistication and technology will give the department an opportunity to be in line with the provincial vision of a ‘Modern, Growing and Successful’ Northern Cape.

Moreover, our participation in the Smallholder Horticulture, Empowerment and Promotion (SHEP) will give our food producers an opportunity to sell their produce to the leading retailers at a very reasonable price.

The SHEP approach, first developed in Kenya- has so far been applied in over twenty countries.

Among others, the SHEP features include pursuing farming as a business, specifically in promoting the sharing of market information among farmers and stakeholders of the market.

Through technology employed by the greenhouse crop production and the SHEP approach, food producers will be able to grow the products demanded by the market, with the quality and time demanded by the market, as a result, approach the bank with a smile.

During the provincial SHEP webinar which was led by the Minister Thoko Didiza and MEC Manopole, farmers who have received support through this approach, have shared their testimony on how their lives have changed, for the better.

Some have modified their houses, bought trucks to deliver their produce to the market and they have managed to send their children to better schools.

It is without a doubt that, our home garden program, has for years gained traction and its economic benefits go beyond food and nutritional security and subsistence, especially for resource-poor families.

The evidence received from Bibliographic archives suggest that home gardens contribute to income generation, improved livelihoods, and household economic welfare as well as promoting entrepreneurship and rural development- hence as the province, we are aligning ourselves with this initiative.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the global food crisis and soaring food prices, there has been increased emphasis on enhancing and building local food systems in the province.

Our newly merged department has a renewed attention to food production and livelihood enhancement through home gardens.

We are excited about it.

Zandisile Luphahla is the spokesperson to the MEC of the new Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs, Rural Development and Land Reform. A former radio presenter and journalist, Luphahla is an award winning government communicator. He is writing in his personal capacity.

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