When the hard lockdown was implemented last year, many people were left without an income, and thus the means to buy food and basic necessities. Organisations, realising the humanitarian crisis that was on our doorstep, rushed in to meet this immediate need by distributing food parcels in vulnerable communities. It was a necessary short-term strategy to stop people from starving to death.
Recently, the riots and looting that affected KZN and Gauteng brought this issue to the fore again. Stores were destroyed and plundered, and people could not get access to food. Once again, civil society organisations and citizens played a crucial role in offering practical assistance to those in need.
These events have made it quite clear that many people cannot survive during times of crisis without a helping hand. People are living on the bare minimum as it is; even before lockdown and the recent unrest, unemployment was rife. Some families have only one breadwinner. If they are cut off from the few resources they depend on, they will struggle to survive.
To paint an even gloomier picture, unemployment stood at almost 33% in the first quarter of 2021, according to StatsSA, compared with 14% in the US and 4.4% in the UK. More and more families in South Africa are struggling to survive, and many previously middle-class families are now living below the poverty line.
The only way forward, according Alef Meulenberg, CEO of Afrika Tikkun, is to find ways to help communities to stand on their own feet; to help families to strengthen themselves from within.
‘At the beginning of Covid-19, we realised that long-term solutions were needed, and that we needed to do more to make vulnerable communities more self-reliant,’ explains Meulenberg. ‘We bought land outside of Diepsloot, and we utilised that land as a training farm. As a result, we are addressing two needs in one project: unemployment and food security. We are calling this “agripreneurship”. Recently we’ve extended the project to Mfuleni (Cape Town), Vredenburg (Western Cape), and Tembisa (Gauteng).
‘Currently, most communities are reliant on major retailers for food and basic necessities. There certainly is a space for major retailers in communities, but when a community produces food, a higher margin of the cost of that food stays within the community. This assists with the economic and socio-economic growth of the community.’
Afrika Tikkun’s training farms teach young people to farm with chicken, sheep and produce, some of it using aquaponics. They also conduct agricultural outreaches at Orange Farm. Through this training, people are learning the most basic and essential of skills: how to work the soil and care for animals, so that they produce their own food.
Having received training in both agriculture and entrepreneurship, beneficiaries of the project each receive a small piece of land (50–100m2), which they rent from Afrika Tikkun, and from where they operate their own agri-businesses. At the outset, Afrika Tikkun supports the fledgling farmers by purchasing all their produce. With initial support, however, many are now expanding into other markets.
This programme energises and guides the youth, who struggle to find employment. Through the programme, they acquire access to the economy and, having gained practical agricultural and business knowledge, they have a skill for life. Currently, Afrika Tikkun has 110 agripreneurs who are using this programme to start their own small businesses.
‘Over the long-term, we’d like to implement agripreneurship programmes throughout the country and to become a major food supplier to retail stores, and to sell directly to consumers as well,’ says Meulenberg.
‘The more we equip communities to become self-sustaining, the more resourceful we will be, and the better we’ll all be able to withstand crises.’