Wa­ter-wise farm­ing a game changer

Vuk'uzenzele - - Ruralgdeenveerlaolpment - Hlengiwe Ngob­ese

THE STARK RE­AL­ITY of unem­ploy­ment in South Africa means that peo­ple need to start their own ini­tia­tives to sur­vive.

Alack of job op­por­tu­ni­ties and stark poverty, cou­pled with an abun­dance of land suitable for farm­ing, led to the es­tab­lish­ment in 2006 of the Ix­hiba co-op­er­a­tive by six women in the Im­bali town­ship near Pi­eter­mar­itzburg.

These women were de­ter­mined to change their fate.

To­day, Ix­hiba grows hy­dro­ponic toma­toes; green, yel­low and red pep­pers; cu­cum­bers; spinach; beet­root and let­tuce with great suc­cess.

With hy­dro­ponic farm­ing, plants are sup­ported by a wa­ter and nu­tri­ent mix­ture, rather than soil. Plants can be grown closer to­gether and in smaller spa­ces. Hy­dro­pon­ics use less wa­ter be­cause the wa­ter is re­cy­cled.

Ix­hiba co-op­er­a­tive mem­ber Hlale­leni Buthelezi (64) said they opted for hy­dro­ponic farm­ing be­cause they wanted to save wa­ter, and with the drought chal­lenges re­cently faced by the coun­try, their choice was a wise one.

“We try to save as much wa­ter as we can while at the same time mak­ing sure that we get good crops that are of high qual­ity,” she said.

Buthelezi said when they started, they had no bud­get.

Com­mer­cial banks which were ap­proached for a startup loan turned them down or of­fered them un­com­pet­i­tive in­ter­est rates.

Even­tu­ally, they knocked on the doors of Ithala Devel­op­ment Fi­nance Cor­po­ra­tion.

“It was our sav­ing grace. They gave us a loan of R60 000, which we used to buy our first tun­nel and crops.

“In 2017 we en­tered Ithala’s Im­bokodo Iyazen­zela Women in Busi­ness com­pe­ti­tion and were se­lected as one of the win­ners. This gave us an in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity to be men­tored by Ithala."

Their men­tor helped the co-op­er­a­tive draft a busi­ness plan for the Agribusi­ness Devel­op­ment Agency. We are also re­ceiv­ing as­sis­tance with record keep­ing and bet­ter un­der­stand­ing our profit and loss sit­u­a­tion,” she said.

This sup­port means that the co-op can in­ves­ti­gate new mar­kets and new grow­ing tech­niques.

“We have been able to in­crease the num­ber of tun­nels from one to five and have pro­vided 10 em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties,” said Buthelezi.

Hlale­leni Buthelezi shows off her hy­dro­pon­i­cally grown spinach, broc­coli and cab­bage.

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