Food gar­dens help to green Cape Flats

Tokyo Sexwale is con­sid­er­ing widen­ing a project to beau­tify Delft, re­ports LYNNETTE JOHNS; pic­tures by TRACEY ADAMS

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

IS­RAELI tech­nol­ogy has helped turn patches of the Cape Flats into flour­ish­ing food gar­dens. Re­cently Min­is­ter of Hu­man Set­tle­ments Toyko Sexwale toured 30 food gar­dens in Delft where thou­sands of gov­ern­mentsub­sidised houses are be­ing built.

This week Sexwale’s spokesman, Chris Vick, said the depart­ment was looking at the eco­nomics of rolling out the project.

“We have re­ceived a pre­sen­ta­tion and vis­ited the site. We are now looking at the cost­ing and see­ing if it is fea­si­ble and if peo­ple in fact want gar­dens,” he said.

As Delft is built on sand dunes, in sum­mer a wild south-easter blows sand into eyes, ears and mouths. Gusts heap sand in houses and on the roads. In win­ter heavy rains turn the sand into soft mud and of­ten flood­ing dumps sand in homes. But the food gar­dens are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

Gil Ar­bel, owner of Agrire­nais­sances, pi­loted the food gar­den pro­gramme at the re­quest of Lindiwe Sisulu, Sexwale’s pre­de­ces­sor. Af­ter test­ing the soil, he says, they made up spe­cial en­riched com­post, routed bath wa­ter into un­der­ground ir­ri­ga­tion pipes and planted seedlings which his com­pany had ger­mi­nated.

The re­sult is houses with at­trac­tive patches of green which pro­duce a range of veg­eta­bles, in­clud­ing cab­bages, pota­toes, spinach and onions.

Part of the deal in­cludes plant­ing grass, which Ar­bel says helps to an­chor the foun­da­tions.

It cost about R10 000 per house to es­tab­lish the gar­den. Most of the money goes into rerout­ing the wa­ter – but Ar­bel be­lieves the gar­dens could go a long way to help feed res­i­dents and beau­tify low-cost de­vel­op­ments.

Ar­bel re­lo­cated from Is­rael to South Africa about 30 years ago and has been help­ing farm­ers im­prove their pro­duce and in­crease their yield through tech­nol­ogy honed over years in the desert coun­try. This has in­volved dis­tinc­tive com­post mixes and un­der­ground pipes with holes in them to wa­ter cer­tain ar­eas.

Us­ing this tech­nol­ogy Is­rael pro­duces half a bil­lion rands’ worth of veg­eta­bles on desert-like land the size of the Kruger Na­tional Park.

Ar­bel’s ul­ti­mate dream is for South African farm­ers to ex­port veg­eta­bles to Europe, but in the in­terim, he says trans­fer­ring skills to those who need them the most, is just as im­por­tant.

How­ever, Ar­bel cau­tions that food gar­den­ing is dif­fi­cult. It re­quires con­stant check­ing and prob­lems like cater­pil­lars chomp­ing the pro­duce have to be nipped in the bud.

He has also been work­ing with the Zetler fam­ily on their straw­berry farm in Stel­len­bosch for the last 12 years. In that time the Is­raeli tech­nol­ogy has led to a huge in­crease in their yield.

“We have dou­bled the pro­duc­tion of straw­ber­ries and cur­rently the yield is about 600g per plant,” Ar­bel said.

Pre­vi­ously the Zetlers’ farm de­pended on gas to heat the green­houses, but re­cently a gas short­age forced them to bring in a wa­ter-based heat­ing sys­tem.

The 30 hectares of land is cov­ered in scores of plas­tic tun­nels un­der which straw­ber­ries are grown. There are also two green­houses in which the Zetlers grow red, green and yel­low pep­pers. Most of the pro­duce is sold at Wool­worths.

The spe­cial plas­tic, which dif­fuses sun­light to pre­vent the plants from burn­ing, is im­ported from Is­rael.

A com­puter sys­tem, which takes weather and soil con­di­tions into ac­count, dis­penses wa­ter and “liq­uid food” via un­der­ground pipes to all the tun­nels.

The com­puter also cal­cu­lates the ra­tio of nu­tri­ents the plants need to thrive.

But, says Les­lie Zetler, even with all the tech­nol­ogy in the world, farm­ing will still fail if “you are not there to see that ev­ery­thing is work­ing”.

STRAW­BERRY FIELDS: Les­lie Zetler and Gil Ar­bel in­spect straw­ber­ries grow­ing un­der tun­nels. The Lim­ber­lost farm in Stel­len­bosch has seen their yield dou­ble since they started us­ing Is­raeli tech­nol­ogy.

SHEL­TERED EM­PLOY­MENT Even though it’s pour­ing with rain, work­ers on the Lim­ber­lost farm can still tend the straw­ber­ries which are grown in tun­nels.

FRESH: Huge, sweet straw­ber­ries are har­vested for Wool­worths.

HANDS ON: A labourer car­ries boxes in which the har­vest will be packed.

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