Agency Development and Support
 

Farming for Amathole’s future

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Farming for Amathole’s future

Co-operatives are bringing much-needed investment and work to the rural Eastern Cape communities of Amabele and Ndakana. Among them are agro-ecological farming, wood products, and bee and honey groups.

22 May 2013

ADSndakana insideMtyhileli Nkanjeni from Lima trains villagers in agro-ecological farming methods

Travelling along the N6 from East London towards Stutterheim, the topography is quite impressive– undulating countryside is dotted with clumps of dense woodland, with the occasional homestead popping up by the roadside to break the vegetation.

About 15 kilometres before the town of Stutterheim, a sign directs you to take a right turn into Amabele, an outpost comprising a train station, modern houses and a sawmill. The population of Amabele is very small – estimated at 250 people.

A few metres before the Amabele turn-off, a dirt road leads left to a place called Ndakana, a cluster settlement comprising eight villages. Ndakana is farther from the road and much bigger than Amabele, but it has a more rural feel. Here, houses are built in rondavel style and the main economic activity is agriculture.

Amabele and Ndakana are located in the Amahlathi Local Municipality and fall under the N6 Corridor, one of the four spatial development interventions initiated by the Amathole Economic Development Agency to drive local economic development in the Amathole District.

The development agency, also known as Aspire, was set up by the Amathole District Municipality with the help of the Industrial Development Corporation to “promote and implement development policies in areas of economic production and investment” in the region.

There is a lot bubbling under in these seemingly sleepy villages of Amabele and Ndakana. Aspire has big plans that will benefit the two communities. Some of the plans have taken off already, while others are still in the pipeline.

Aspire project manager Sarel van der Walt says that despite meeting daunting challenges, the agency is making head-way in changing the lives of the villagers for the better. “We have several projects in Ndakana, some running and others in various stages of planning,” he says. “These include three co-operatives: the Household Agro-Ecological Support Co-operative, the Ndakana Wood Products Co-operative, and the Ndakana Bee and Honey Co-operative.”

Farming the traditional way

ADSndakana insideA Ndakana villager admires his crop

The agro-ecological co-op is most probably the most successful of the three ventures. Since its formation in 2011, it has managed to attract 100 households. “We hope that by 2020, more than 1 000 households will benefit from agro-ecological farming in the area,” says Van der Walt.

Mtyhileli Nkanjeni from the Lima Rural Development Foundation trains the villagers in agro-ecological farming methods. He says the method they use involves extensive use of kraal manure (cow dung mixed with cow urine). “For each [vegetable] bed, we dig and remove the top soil, and then we loosen the subsoil,” he explains. “The top soil is then mixed with kraal manure using one wheelbarrow of kraal manure per one square metre of top soil. The trench beds act like a sponge and encourage micro-biological activity.”

A visit to the home of one of the members of the co-op, Pinky Mbembe, confirms that the villagers have latched on and are becoming masters of agro-ecological farming. Mbembe’s garden is flourishing. He grows garden peas, pumpkin, spinach, lettuce, beetroot, green pepper, cabbage and onion. He says he started his garden in November 2011 and has never looked back.

“The method of farming that we are using is helping us a lot. Since I started growing vegetables with the help of Lima, I have never gone to the market to buy vegetables. I even have surplus which I sell to other villagers,” says Mbembe, a broad smile spreading across his face.

Using the agro-ecological farming method, he adds, is like “going back to the Xhosa traditional way of farming”. “It’s cheap, easy and all the inputs like seedlings and garden tools are provided to us [for] free.”

The co-op not only grows veggies; but it produces “field crops” as well, according to Nkanjeni. The main field crop grown is, of course, maize, which villagers grow for their own consumption and to sell. “Our aim is to see the gardens becoming highly productive agro-ecological food gardens enabling villagers to earn approximately R3 000 per month for a 500m² portion of land,” says Van der Walt.

Wood products

ADSndakana insideAspire project manager Sarel van der Walt examines a young bamboo plant

To ensure the commercial interests of the whole community of Ndakana and Amabele are protected, the Ndakana Community Development Trust was established in 2011, according to Van der Walt. There are challenges that Aspire is working to overcome. These include inter-tribal fighting over land and who should benefit first from the projects, he explains. “There is the woods products project where tension has developed between the nine villages involved. We have recruited 18 youths – two from each village – to work on the project.”

The Ndakana Wood Products Co-operative has been growing bamboo since 2011. In September of that year, five hectares of land were planted with bamboo in the Gasela area, with the help of the Eastern Cape Development Corporation. It chipped in with R2-million to begin the project. The idea is to produce biomass from bamboo, according to Van der Walt.

“We are also providing on-the-job-training to the youths. The IDC, through Aspire, has come in with a development grant of R900 000. The idea is to ensure that the project is self-sustainable and self-funding in the long run.”

It takes five years for bamboo to mature. During this waiting period, Van der Walt’s idea is to plant vegetables or any other crop between the young bamboo. “The bamboos are planted five metres apart and there is enough space for such an endeavour,” he says.

Agro-processing hub

Across in Amabele, Aspire has plans to develop the area into an agro-processing hub. This will include the establishment of a berry handling and processing facility, the bamboo processing facility and Amabele Combined Heat and Power. Van der Walt says the project has been “costed at R70-million”.

Other projects that will be blossoming in the coming months or years include establishing several more co-operatives and enterprises, which include:

  • Ndakana Nguni Beef and Hide Co-operative;
  • Ndakana Fruits Company;
  • Ndakana Wind Farm; and,
  • Runaway Skills Information and Communications Technology Co-operative.

 

“There is so much potential, especially in terms of farming, in the Ndakana/Amabele area. The business plans that we have come up with for the area identified significant agricultural potential that exists in the Ndakana area which will be complemented by the agro-processing hub in Amabele,” says Van der Walt.

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