How does your township grow?

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Published Sunday Times Sept. 9 2012

Dirt seems to be the greatest commodity on the Cape Flats. It litters the air, shreds plastic bags that whirl in the wind and stings ankles and cheeks. Where it settles it finds broken glass and shanty tin, and sometimes, if it’s lucky, gardens of astounding abundance.

In 1994 there were an estimated 7000 home farms in the townships just outside Cape Town. That number has declined due to social grants enabling people to live without growing their own food and enforced water charges making irrigation expensive. But there are a few township organisations that understand the importance of cultivating organic food locally, not just for food security, but nutrition security.

 Abalimi Bezekhaya

Abalimi Bezekhaya (Farmers of Home) has over 3000 township farmers registered today. Around 500 farmers work in over 100 community gardens and the other 2500 are home farmers. It’s an astounding number if you’ve never considered a township as a source of fresh, organic produce.

Besides training and support, Abalimi provides seed and equipment to farmers at below market prices, made possible by donations. Farmers can even be sponsored through the organization: R100 monthly will keep a farmer in business.

Farmer, Lina Mbanbo


At one of the community gardens in Philippi, farmer, Lina, plucks a green pepper and hands it to me. It is heavier than I expect. Dirt clouds the skin but a wipe of my thumb reveals a glossy green, and a bite reveals a taste like no other. It is like tasting a green pepper for the first time. That this came out of that very dirt amazes me.

“It tastes real because it’s organically cultivated,” explains Rob Small, co-founder of Abalimi Bezekhaya, “You should sign up for a box. We deliver every week to points in Cape Town.”

Harvest of Hope is Abalimi’s marketing division and they have around 380 suscribers. Every week they deliver boxes filled with a variety of seasonal vegetables to different points where suscribers collect them.

Organic produce in Harvest of Hope’s distribution shed


“We partner with a number of farmers, and farmer-field workers help them produce what is needed. We collect, then pack and distribute it from our shed in Philippi,” explains Small. A large, R105 box feeds a family of four and a R72 box feeds 2. By subscribing, people keep township farmers in business. 50% of that money goes directly to the people who grow the food, and about 50% of the food goes to the locals. Small says:

“It means about 15 000 farmer family members are getting fresh, un-poisoned nutrition.”

Small has been a driving force behind Abalimi’ since 1983 helping train over 10 000 people in sustainable agriculture. On writing this, Small was in Pondoland assisting and evaluating a rural micro farming movement as part of his other role with the Farm and Garden Trust. Plenty of dirt on this guy, and green fingers too.

Rob Small

c: 082 3319133 t: 021-3711653 email: rob(at)


Running since February 2011, the new guys on the block are FoodPods.

Founder and CEO, Heinrich Ungerer, got his hands dirty as an adventure guide leading expeditions up many of the world’s mountains. Inspired by the abundant vegetation on the foothills of Kilimanjaro, he wanted to feed himself from his garden back home which was little more than concrete. This led him to using an upturned pallet.

Today, Foodpods cultivates vegetables in mobile crates at a central hub in Philippi. Ungerer points to milk crates lined with hessian and packed with compost. “Each crate, or pod, has approximately twenty vegetable seedlings planted directly into a grow medium which eliminates the need for soil preparation and preservation.”

Alberinas Panni, above, and Laurance Cetynana, below, use simple cultivation methods to obtain healthy yields and alleviate hunger. Photos – Heinrich Ungerer

Franchisees of Foodpods come to the hub to buy crates and they in turn sell the produce to their communities, primarily out of their homes. A small portion is sold to spazas and the rest goes to feeding the entrepreneur’s family. The first 100 crates is subsidised for the Franchisees then, once a month, they return to the hub and use the profit to buy the next 100 crates. Ungerer determines Franchisees can earn a profit upwards of R1 800 a month.

Laurance, who was previously destitute, has become a Foodpods entrepreneur. “The pods make it very easy for me to be an urban farmer,” he says. The hub plants vegetables according to the demand of Laurance’s customers (Spinach is a big seller, as are beans and tomatoes). Under Laurance’s care the crates need only 3 or 4 weeks of cultivation and they can be easily moved into direct sunlight or stored indoors at night for security.

“One food pod sells enough to feed ten households – about 50 people,” says Ungerer. Currently there are 14 pods in Phillipi and Khayelitsha providing organic vegetables to approximately 700 people. “By winter next year we aim to supply 40 pods and thereby feed another 2 500 people.”

Foodpods has been developed with the support of social enterprise incubator, Heart Capital, and attracted corporate social investment from Estac Capital, a German Venture Capital Company; Maersk Shipping Line; Grand Parade Investments and a couple of private investors.

Heinrich Ungerer

c: 071 235 6712 t: 021 442 9600  email: heinrich(at)

Sustainable food security is paramount to these two organisations. What is remarkable is the focus on nutrition security and the potential for farmers and entrepreneurs to earn a living. It becomes clear that the greatest commodity of the townships is not dirt, it’s the people who get their hands dirty.

Also read: Fish farming in Philippi

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One Response to “How does your township grow?”

  1. brucehaynesza September 11, 2012 11:46 am #

    Fantastic blog! very excited to have come across this :D

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