Eswatini: Farmers keep vegetable supply flowing (IPS)

| August 17, 2020

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In many places, farmers have been affected by market closures due to the COVID-19 crisis. But Nobukhosi Cebekhulu and Khetsiwe Tofile have produced their own seedlings and pesticides. The women participated in a permaculture training program in Malkerns, Eswatini, where they learned many sustainable farming practices, including how to make compost, harvest water, and plan their production calendar. The training centre also supports them to market their products during the coronavirus crisis, when many markets are closed due to government lockdown. The training centre is selling the women’s farm produce from their own building, providing farmers like Mrs. Cebekhulu and Mrs. Tofile with much-needed income.

Nobukhosi Cebekhulu and Khetsiwe Tofile are both well into their sixties. The women sit outside Mrs. Tofile’s home in Malkerns, Eswatini, a small, bustling rural town. They hold basins of lettuce that will be collected by the Guba Permaculture Training Centre.

The women are small-scale vegetable farmers who are growing in their permaculture home gardens. They are proud they can make a small contribution towards a healthy nation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and happy they can continue to produce and sell vegetables without leaving their homes.

Mrs. Cebekhulu says, “We don’t go to the shop to buy inputs, but we use seedlings that we produce and share among ourselves.” Their produce is collected from their homes and taken to the market.

The women are part of a program run by the Guba Permaculture Training Centre that introduced them to ways of producing food that rebuild and strengthen the surrounding ecosystem.

Using 100% solar energy, Guba harvests rainwater for sanitation and irrigation and produces its own compost and seedlings. Guba runs a 12-month permaculture training program that builds practical skills and knowledge for improving homestead food security and crop resilience.

Mrs. Cebekhulu and Mrs. Tofile were part of the 2014 class of 25 farmers who learnt to build a fence using scrap material and invasive plants. They were also taught to produce their own seeds, and to make compost and pesticides that are not harmful to the environment.

The women make pesticides using wild garlic, chillies, onion, soap, and warm water. Mrs. Cebekhulu explains, “This doesn’t kill the pests but it chases them away.” She adds, “Pesticides aren’t good for our health and the environment. They’re also expensive.”

While Guba initially supported the farmers to produce enough for their families, Mrs. Tofile says the centre later trained them on business management so that they could sell and generate an income.

She explains, “Guba collects the produce and sells it on our behalf.… That’s why we don’t have to worry about leaving home during this period.”

A partial lockdown is in place because of the COVID-19 crisis, and people are advised to avoid public gatherings and respect physical distancing. This can make marketing difficult for farmers.

According to Guba director Sam Hodgson, the year-long permaculture training program is a response to the nutrition and poverty challenges in Eswatini. It also helps farmers better adapt to climate change.

Participants in the training spend two to three days a month at the centre learning permaculture practices, after which they apply what they’ve learnt at their homes. They learn how to harvest water, make compost, mulch, plant perennial species of trees, and design their production cycle according to the four seasons.

Deepa Pullanikkatil is co-director at Sustainable Futures in Africa. She says that permaculture helps farmers adapt to the changing climate by using sustainable farming practices that mimic nature. Farmers harvest and conserve water, which helps farmers adapt to climate change in Eswatini because the country is experiencing erratic rainfall patterns due to climate change. Farmers also use low- or no-tillage methods and composting, both of which are great for soil fertility. Using less tillage also frees up time and is less costly than hiring labour or tractors.

Deepa Pullanikkatil explains, “The practice produces healthy organic crops which can improve their incomes, thereby enhancing their adaptive capacity.”

Guba also realized that farmers had difficulty paying school fees for their children and catering for other needs. So the centre decided to train farmers to produce for the market and acts as “an ethical middle-man,” selling on behalf of the farmers.

Mr. Hodgson says that they collect, repack, and deliver to many restaurants and middle-class people who want fresh produce. The project earned about $1,100 from selling vegetables. Each participating farmer makes about $200 per month.

During the partial lockdown that the government introduced in March to deal with COVID-19, all restaurants had to close overnight. To respond to this sudden loss of markets, Guba opened a farm stall at the centre.

Mr. Hodgson says, “After four weeks of operating the farm stall three days a week, we’re doing well. Sales are increasing and customer feedback is very positive.”

Guba continues to buy produce from the farmers even during the COVID-19 outbreak, thus maintaining their income stream and, at the same time, supplying fresh produce to the local community.

Photo: Khetsiwe Tofile in her garden in Malkerns, Eswatini. Credit Mantoe Phakathi / IPS

This story was adapted from an article originally published by Interpress Service titled, “COVID-19 – How Eswatini’s Garden Farmers are Keeping the Vegetable Supply Flowing.” To read the full story, go to: