Published on IPSnews, by Stephanie Nieuwoudt, December 29, 2008.
A few years ago 66-year-old grandmother Regina Fhiceka and her family of five ate vegetables only once a week. They would survive on maize and bread the rest of the time – the cheapest food available in the poor township of Philippi, just 15 minutes from the affluent business district of Cape Town. But then Fhiceka got to hear about a municipal project where people were encouraged to get together to establish community gardens …
… “In the global economic downturn where food insecurity has increased due to soaring food prices, backyard and community gardens are some of the most basic survival strategies. Many people who live in the poor informal settlements have come here from rural areas. They turn to backyard farming because they survived as small farmers in the rural areas and they apply these skills in the cities.”
A backyard garden four times the size of an ordinary door, can supply a household of six people with fresh vegetables for a year. By replanting and ensuring that the ground is fertilised well, the four-door garden can be farmed fruitfully for years.
“Trench gardening is also popular in the townships,” said Visser. “The people dig trenches into which all their biodegradable waste is thrown. It is covered with soil and seeds are sown on top. The soil is high in nutrients and it can be farmed for up to four years before new compost is needed.”
Rob Small, director of the NGO Abalimi Bezakaya (a Xhosa expression meaning gardens of the home), which is involved with community gardens in a number of townships in the Cape Town metropolis, said that women who are involved in community gardens often help those poorer than them and the sick.
“Women have a strong sense of community and they are always helping others. These gardens are often established on school property because the principals are keen to become involved with the communities they live and work in and where they are daily confronted with the devastating effects of poverty. The national department of education formally supports community gardens on school grounds.”
Small said that community gardens make ecological sense as the farmers usually plant hedges and other flora around their plots. The gardens (which can be anything from 1,000 to 5,000 square metres in size) and the hedges attract a number of insects and small animals turning the areas into small conservancies.
Fhiceka says that eating vegetables regularly, has improved her health. “Before I became involved with the community garden, I did not eat well and I was always ill with colds. Now I seldom get sick.” (full text).