WATCH | Planting hope: University of Pretoria teaches residents of Cemetery View to farm

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  • The University of Pretoria and stakeholders have launched a food security project that will teach and train residents in informal settlements around Pretoria to farm their own produce.
  • The Imvelo Urban Food Systems initiative was launched at the Living Word Pretoria East Congregation.
  • This month a training centre and borehole will be installed at the congregation.

The University of Pretoria's Community Oriented Primary Care Research Unit (COPC) in partnership with the Living Word church, SA Cares, and other faculties of the university have joined hands to curb the harsh reality of food insecurity in suburbs around Pretoria.

Together they launched the Imvelo Urban Food Systems, an initiative which aims to support residents and teach them how to farm vegetables and herbs in their yards.

READ | Lockdown: 'Inadequate' nutrition in food parcels may worsen child malnutrition - NGO

The Covid-19 pandemic has left many vulnerable families in informal settlements, without a source of income.

However, Dr Ellenore Meyer, the COPC research unit's lead-research investigator and project-lead told News24 that the coronavirus outbreak provided the perfect opportunity to rethink solutions for sourcing sustainable and nutritional food for the vulnerable.

A different approach

"Covid has taught us that we need to think differently about sustainability and how to reorganise food systems and how we offer healthcare," she said.

"We should think about health holistically: health, nutrition and education. If we have communities that can solve their problems and have access to food and education and health needs within themselves then we won't have to come in anymore and hopefully solve the problem we have now," she added.

Imvelo Urban Farms aim to serve as safe havens and a source of food security by providing vegetable gardening training. This in turn will empower people, while creating a sustainable food production and retail model.

One of the partners, The ARC, has developed a farming plan to be implemented for food production for revenue, and training on how residents can grow their food.

"Within five years we hope that the trainees will become the experts, so they will be able to run the project and not just be a research and community engagement but perhaps become a community business," Meyer said.

"We need to think differently about how we organise those systems to create jobs and an opportunity for trade even without money where unemployment is so high. This project is the ideal opportunity to partner with people that don't have the resources but might have the drive, skills, need and ability."

Learning new skills

The incubator project will take place at Cemetery View informal settlement. Early last month, the initiative had a soft launch where the university’s dietetics students came to teach members of Cemetery View how to plant and take care of the seed vegetables they received from their home-garden starter kit.

The next phase of the project will begin in October, with SA Cares installing a borehole. The church will also be preparing the land they donated where the residents will come for practical training.

"Not only will the residents have access to more water, but they will gain knowledge on farming and start farming for themselves," Meyer said.

The Living Word Pretoria East Congregation was the ideal partner for the Imvelo Urban Farms initiative since they are situated right next to Cemetery View, and had already started assisting the community with providing food weekly during lockdown.

"We have been looking for ways to partner with the community... The community contributed and helped out with donations, so we were able to provide food week by week, but that’s not sustainable. So now we can teach them a sustainable food programme. So we are going to have a training centre, where community members are going to get training here and can apply what they have learned here back home," Living Word's pastor, Wilmer Grovè said.

"This project was like a prayer answered. Being in the ministry you have so many ideas, but you often need so many hands to help you to do that work. We knew that this was much bigger than we thought and not just us as the church alone trying to help the community," he said.

Pressure release

Community health worker and resident of Cemetery View, Tseleng Lekuba assisted the church in finding the first 50 people to participate in the Imvelo Urban Farms initiative. She believes it will bring plenty of positive changes and benefits such as future employment, new skills learned, and self-sufficiency.

"The church called us to find 50 people that they can teach about gardening. We found 50 people, and they started to teach us. As someone who works in the health sector, I think eating healthier will also be beneficial for a lot of households. I believe the initiative will help a lot of people in this area because there isn't [sic] a lot of employment opportunities. So, if you can afford to buy a bag of mielie meal, you'll reduce expenses if you already grow your vegetables," Lekuba told News24.

"Although there isn't a lot of space for us to plant things we'd like to grow, they taught us to be flexible and use things like a buckets, tyres and other containers as long as you can punch holes at the bottom of it," she said.

Cemetery View community member, Trymore Maroveke told News24 that he was grateful for what the church did for them during the lockdown, and involving them in the initiative as it would relieve the pressure of providing food for his family.

"I wasn't working during lockdown... After stocking up food for the initial 21-day lockdown, things became very tough when the lockdown was extended. I kept thinking about how am I going to feed my wife and children," Maroveke said.

"But Jesus heard our prayers because the pastor from the church came to our rescue with the food gardening programme. That's when things really started looking up because now I can grow my own vegetables and all I have to worry about is getting a starch to go with the produce we grow. Maybe if I become good at this, I can start selling what we grow and make some extra income," he said.

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