Making the most of education and training opportunities in agriculture.

On the 25th of June we hosted the legendary Tim Abaa, a master agro-ecology trainer and farmer in the iZindaba Zokudla Virtual Farmers’ Lab. We also hosted two farmers from African Women in Agriculture, Kutlwano Sekhulo and Njabulo Phakhathi, who related to us their journey of becoming fully fledged farmers. Unfortunately, Mpho had a bad connection and could not join us properly for the session.

The panel discussion was also interrupted with a wifi-outage, but we succeeded in regaining connection. This reminds us of the flaws in internet organising, and it is in fact quite concerning that we cannot organise in total freedom. However, we will continue and hope for the day that we can freely organise people for an iZindaba Zokudla!

In my announcements and blogs on this Virtual Lab, I also mentioned the need to understand how education and training interlinks with the current and an alternative agricultural system. In a sense we gained great insight into both how one should make the most of education and training opportunities, and in how local food systems interlink with education and training opportunities.

Tim Abaa trains anybody from “3 to 100 years old” in agriculture. He identified a large gap in the market in training people in what I call low external input urban agriculture. His moto of “maximum production on minimum space” is supremely appropriate for an urban and alternative agriculture.

Tim spoke of how he started as a trainer. Initially he charged R 1 a day per person. I remember these days, and he used to say bring me 10 people “and I will train you for R 10 a day”. Soon he commanded up to R 45 per person per day and today he is often flown around the country on specialist training assignments. We often forget his humble origins. In the beginning of the iZindaba Zokudla Farmers’ Lab, Tim was one of the few (inclusive also of Philasande Cele and Makhulu Cyiprian Sibiya) who was able to train others in agro-ecology. It is instructive to note his comments on how well those he has trained are living now. What Tim has underscored is that it is possible to create a dignified livelihood out of local organic urban agriculture.

Tim started at his house on Orange Farm and stated harvesting food waste from people for his poultry and pigs. He pioneered a food for waste system in this regard, and would give fresh produce discounts in return for food waste (mostly leftover pap) and he would give the waste to his pigs. How many farmers in the townships miss this really important opportunity? I remember a few years ago, Tim would slaughtering a pig a month (for about R 4500 then) and this was all due to “repurposing” and transforming food waste.

Later Tim would harvest potato peels from Chips shops and these were also fed to the pigs. They were a;o fed to worms and his use of worms is another interesting technology that he has pioneered. Worms add a layer of value to your ordinary compost. Processing compost through worms not only creates an event more fertile compost, but the worms can be sold to other farmers, fed to poultry and also sold for specialist customers like fishermen.

Tim created remarkable interlinked sub-systems (holons) on his farm. I would recommend this as a “paradigm” or framework for thinking, when deliberating on urban agriculture. The productivity of nature needs to be harnessed by an urban farmer. Thi8nk of each unit on the farm as a self-contained system that can feed itself. Link this to other systems, like linking pig feed with chip shop waste) and a ecological system will begin to emerge on your farm. This agro-ecological system is what any farmer needs to create to farm sustainably. Tim also developed a nursery that doubled-up as a education training centre. Please note the interlinked holons here! He would teach people the benefits of nutrition and this enabled them to see the merits in buying from him. Urban farmers sit at the threshold to one of the greatest food revolutions in history.

The discussion arrived at a point where community and adult education for food and nutrition security became emphasised. Tim related a story of the youth he has trained in agriculture. Because they can spot “agro-ecological opportunities” in the urban system they now live good lives, and are able to produce food from urban farms. It is this kind of knowledge we need to improve the lives of our people in the townships sustainably.

We spoke about the idea of a seed library. Tim spoke about this as a means to educate people in farming and to also make the necessary material things – seeds – available. I noted this, and make the point that the seed library operationalises community learning about food systems. The creation of such a library makes possible the knowledge that people would eventually learn, and this is a knowledge that is created by all who participate in this seed library. It is in participating in this seed library that the community learns about their place in the worlds and how the world can benefit them. You cannot teach nutrition, agro-ecology or entrepreneurship without building on top of these community institutions.

I though about this very important point a lot since then. We need to see a waste harvesting system as a means to edify the people and teach them “the art of living in South African Townships” . There is no reason the people in townships cannot build these townships into a wonderful place. It is in creating these “institutions” amongst ourselves that we learn about and create a new way of living. Training for agriculture is planting a seed in the community! This can edify a person and a community holistically and create a culture of popular education for food in the townships. Wer need “things” this new knowledge can form around…

We emphasised how this is different than rural farming. In the city a farmer will have available the food wastes and immediate community members to institute things like seed libraries, food waste harvesting technology and patterns, recycling and training systems. Of course these can be done in the rural areas but urban townships do create unique opportunities for the development of alternative agricultural and social systems. At the retail level, farmers have a unique advantage.

The farmers from African Women in agriculture related their journeys to becoming farmers. Both of them had a background in the corporate space before deciding that agriculture is the path they want to take. The AWiA programme integrates branding, financing, farm management and also agro-ecological cycles into the training programme.

AWiA is expecting their first harvest and have secured trading opportunities with Gary Jackson’s Real Food Market and others. AWiA and Janice Scheckter behind it pioneered – with Norman Hoeltz – the system which many farmers still use. It is very insightful and significant that AWiA is serious about engaging with this space. We wish them the best of luck!

Please note our next Farmers’ Lab will take place on the 20th of July, after the UJ returns from our mid-year break.


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