Small-scale farms grow African women’s income

Kenalimang Portrait
Kenalemang Kgoroeadira is just happy that she is able to live her dream of providing healthy food to her community.(Image: eNCA)


• Kenalemang Kgoroeadira
Thojane Organic Farm
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Sulaiman Philip

There are some 36 000 commercial farmers in South Africa; they are in the main white and male. Yet, historically, Africa has been a continent of small-scale, subsistence farming where women crofter farmers have kept the food supply secure for their families and communities.

Now, a small – barely two hectares – organic farm in the North West Province is trying to revive that tradition. Kenalemang Kgoroeadira – or Mama Kena – a PhD student at University of South Africa (Unisa), who conceptualised the project, hopes Thojane Organic Farm will grow into a working example of small-scale sustainable farming that gives local residents access to healthy food.

Building communities using traditional African knowledge

Kgoroeadira and five other local women planted the first crops in 2009 on a single hectare plot. As an indigenous knowledge systems PhD candidate she wanted her neighbours to rebuild their communities using traditional African knowledge. “Transformation by enlargement is the vision behind this farm … [It’s] a place where people can have self-determination and begin to live like Africans, where what you do or learn is for the benefit of the whole society.

“It is knowledge that can benefit the whole nation,” Kgoroeadira told a Unisa journal.

Along with organic green beans, spinach and tomatoes, the farm produces herbs – mint, yarrow, lemongrass, lavender – that are sold at local markets, to national retailers like Food Lovers Market. It also donates produce to feeding schemes at the local Phokeng schools.

Produce from Thojane is grown without chemicals that strip the soil of its nutrients. Instead Kgoroeadira and her team use natural fertilisers like chicken manure. This method of farming is, Kgoroeadira believes, the most sustainable. It follows permaculture principles, which works with rather than against nature.

Kgoroeadira says, “It has always been my dream to go back to my roots, plough, interact with the soil like I used to as a girl, growing food, healthy organic food, not foods that are fed with chemicals for them to grow fast, losing all the nutrients.”

Fighting poverty through food security

Thojane is also Mama Kena’s schoolroom. It is where she takes all she has learnt and uses it to benefit her community. She encourages the women of Phokeng to plough their large back yards and turn them into vegetable gardens that can feed their families and give them an income. “In Phokeng, people are dependent on the mines, but they forget that platinum will be depleted one day. We need to fight poverty and have our own food security,” she says.

Her thesis advisor inspired her to take her “book knowledge” and build something tangible and real, something that would benefit her community and not simply become a book covered in dust on a library shelf. Thojane has become that, but for Kgoroeadira it is just the beginning. Looking out over two hectares of vegetables and herbs she sees more.

“One day this farm will supply all the hospitals, mines and even international markets. We will grow organic vegetables and herbs; there will be honey, mutton, indigenous chickens and eggs. You will be able to buy essential oils, herbal teas, bath soaps and creams with a Thojane label. One day.”

Her dream is no pipe one: what began as a small agricultural co-op has grown into an award-winning programme with Kgoroeadira being named Best Female Subsistence Farmer by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and Thojane has not only improved food security in Phokeng, but also increased the nutritional content of the food the poorest in the community eat. It is changing lives, one meal at a time.