Alexandra food gardening in hard times

Phala Violet Mabaso says the lockdown has affected food gardens negatively. Photo by Thembisani Dube.

Covid-19 and the consequent lockdown has affected communal food gardens that contribute to food security for the poor in Alexandra.

Lenin Drive communal garden in Alexandra, which aims at alleviating hunger among the poorest residents, used to be one of the more successful food gardens in the township. But due to covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown, things are not what they used to be.

Started with help from the City of Johannesburg, the project has thirteen community members, mostly women, who share one hectare of land where they plant various vegetables such as spinach, beetroot, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and watermelon which they sell to the community and donate to the needy.

A member since 2015, Phala Violet Mabaso (59) reflects on the highlights and the impact coronavirus has had on the garden. Prior to the start of the lockdown in March, she was awarded a role at another garden in Eikenhof where she planted a lot of maize, which sadly she could not fetch to sell because she needed to have a permit first.

“At least I could have made R40,000 if I had a permit. Unfortunately, the process of getting one was not easy so I lost out big time as my maize dried up and was destroyed. I applied for covid relief fund. Not sure if I’ll get it. I’m still waiting,” she says. Since she left her interior designing job, she says she hasn’t looked back.

Another challenge during the lockdown which she says affected the garden badly was the restriction of people’s movement as police and the army were strict in enforcing the regulations. “Although we were declared an essential service, this scared people to come to the garden and affected our sales,” says the mother of four children.

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“On a good month I make around R10,000. Remember just a 250g pack sells for R10. Looking at our customer profile that’s not bad. Another downside of lockdown is that a lot of people have lost jobs meaning some vegetables will go for free but let me add that social development bought quite a lot of vegetables from us during their food parcel distribution. This really helped our revenue.”

On a weekly basis she says there are about twenty (20) unemployed women who come to the garden to assist and afterward each will take a few packs to feed their family. “While I’m running this garden like a business, when there is a call to help, I don’t hesitate. We serve an extremely poor community and lockdown has made things worse.” She says so far she has won several awards and recognition from both national and provincial government.

Obed Malinga (76) also a member of the garden says a hard lockdown confined people and made it hard to look for ways of survival, causing such hunger that the government needed to intervene. “But for me personally I’ll forever be grateful for being here. Besides eating healthy, being able to provide for my family with vegetables, the garden has kept me active and young, which is needed to fight covid,” he says.

According to Oxfam’s latest report on hunger, covid-19 is deepening hunger in the world’s poorer hotspots and creating new epicentres of hunger across the globe. The report predicts that by the end of the year, as many as 12,000 people per day could die from hunger linked to covid-19, potentially more than will die from the disease itself.

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“The pandemic is the final straw for millions of people already struggling with the impacts of conflict, climate change, inequality and a broken food system that has impoverished millions of food producers and workers. Meanwhile, those at the top are continuing to make a profit: eight of the
biggest food and drink companies paid out over $18-billion (R298-billion) to shareholders since January even as the pandemic was spreading across the globe – ten times more than has been requested in the UN covid-19 appeal to stop people going hungry. While governments must act to contain the spread of this deadly disease, Oxfam is also calling for urgent action to end this hunger crisis and build fairer, more robust, and sustainable food systems,” reads the report.

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