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 amanz­i­

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 za/pub­li­ca­tions/P0211/ P02111stQuar­ter2017.pdf


Photo: Amanzi for Food

Rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing has changed the game for small-scale ru­ral farm­ers.

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