Living for water
It’s hit home in the Eastern Cape that long-term drought is a reality, and of the nine provinces, ours recorded the highest increase in unemployment (3.8 percentage points) according to Stats SA’s latest report.
Looking for ways to increase food production through more efficient and effective use of water is the mission of a group of researchers from Rhodes University’s Environmental Learning Institute, led by PhD researcher Tich Pesanayi.
A reliable supply of good quality water is essential to growing food and that’s the basis of the project Pesanayi works with, AmanziforFood.
“Water is life’. As the user of 62% of South Africa’s available water, agriculture has a major responsibility to ensure the most efficient use of this most precious of resources,” AFF say on their website amanziforfood.co.za
The rural areas the Amanzi for Food team works in are hardest hit by the drought and they and the communities they work with have had to be extraordinarily resourceful when it comes to harvesting and conserving rainwater. As a result, they have valuable lessons for urban home-owners and tenants who want to grow food for subsistence or selling in their gardens or yards.
Pesanayi said the resources they offer include their short course to train trainers to work with small scale farmers in partnership with dedicated agricultural educators based at Fort Cox Agricultural College, the University of Fort Hare and Lovedale College and agricultural extension offices, as well as the local economic development directorates of municipalities.
Their main tool for learning and teaching, though is the productive demonstration sites where people can sign up for NQ5 and 6 qualifications, accredited by Rhodes. Participants are selected on the basis of their likelihood to share what they learn and expand the community’s skills base. They operate within learning networks. “We learn from each other,” Pesanayi says.
One of the networks is based in Lloyd VIllage, where they work in a co-operative garden run by 23 people, 18 of whom are women, and Pesanayi used this as an example of the kind of problem-solving that happens.
The Imvotho Bubomi group found that drought had shortened their growing season, with less rain coming later and later.
“Rainfall was their only source of water,” Pesanayi said. “Without it they could do nothing.”
With the help of a tractor from UFH the group built a farm dam, 10m in diameter and 1.5m deep, as well as furrows in the land to divert rainwater.
Other techniques used to conserve water include tied ridges - a way of creating little pools of water; mulching and deep-contour design of planting areas.
“In June 2015 the winter rains came and the dam filled up. The farmers could water their crops and they extended the growing season,” said Pesanayi. “There was a drought, but they still harvested vegetables.”
“A lot of the changes are really simple, and cost nothing, but they make a huge difference,” Pesanayi said.
An important task for the team from Amanzi for Food, as researchers (“it’s research, not development work that we’re doing”) is to make material developed by the Water Research Commission accessible to communities that need it.
Material available for free on the WRC website includes rainwater harvesting, biogas generation, aquaculture, growing traditional leafy vegetables and greywater harvesting.
If you’d like to learn more about cost-efficient and water efficient ways of growing food in tough conditions, you can apply for the next round of training (details below).
Is this kind of information relevant for people living in Grahamstown?
“Definitely,” says Pesanayi. “We know that Grahamstown is struggling with water, so these harvesting and conservation techniques are essential for people growing food in their yards.
“The market is opening up for small-scale growers on homestead plots. Growing food in Grahamstown can sustain families and also provide an income.”
He feels schools could do more to develop food gardens, teaching learners to produce their own food.
“We’d like to invite more people to team up with the Centre in supporting food gardens in Grahamstown,” he said. “If we don’t grow food at home, our children will never learn and that important part of our culture will be lost.”
• Sources: Quarterly Labour Force Survey, Quarter 1, 2017 http://www.statssa.gov. za/publications/P0211/ P02111stQuarter2017.pdf
Rainwater harvesting has changed the game for small-scale rural farmers.