Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Farming Reporter
RESIDENTS from the high-density suburb of Emganwini in Bulawayo have turned a 3,5 hectare piece of land into a thriving urban market garden which has begun to transform livelihoods of a number of impoverished households.
Greenfield Garden is a horticultural project, which was started in October last year, and is home to 117 members comprising of child headed families, the elderly, pensioners, widows and people living with HIV/Aids.
The market garden chairperson Mr Peter Nyoni said residents came up with the idea of starting a horticultural project in an effort to generate income through selling a wide range of vegetables so as to improve their livelihoods.
A market garden is a business that provides a wide range and steady supply of fresh produce through the local growing season. Unlike large, industrial farms, which practice monoculture and mechanisation, many different crops and varieties are grown and more manual labour and gardening techniques are used.
The small output requires selling through such local fresh produce outlets as on-farm stands, farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture subscriptions, restaurants and independent produce stores. Market gardening and orchard farming are closely related to horticulture, which concerns the growing of fruits and vegetables.
“We initially started this project last year after our councillor assisted us to be allocated this piece of land by the Bulawayo City Council. In October we called upon all those that were interested in the project to pay a joining fee of $7, taking into cognisance that beneficiaries had to be the less privileged members in our society.
“We started by clearing the land and contributed a dollar each to hire a tractor to till the land and we started cropping in November but we were facing challenges of irrigating our vegetables as we were fetching water from another ward. We then approached the Zimbabwe Development Democracy (ZDDT) to drill a borehole for us of which they obliged,” said Mr Nyoni.
ZDDT later donated solar panels, generator, pump, pipes, taps, a perimeter fence, 5 000-litre water storage tank as well as constructing a wooden guard room and a shed, heralding the start of Bulawayo’s most flourishing community market garden.
Mr Nyoni said the concept of solar-powered irrigation was playing a big role towards members’ efforts to generate substantial income from their agricultural enterprises.
“This solar-powered irrigation concept is playing a big part in ensuring that members retain significant amounts they would have generated through selling their produce. We don’t have to pay for electricity or buy fuel to power the generator and the pump but we just harness the heat from the sun for energy. Apart from being cheap, solar energy is also environmental friendly,” he said.
The pumps used for the transportation of water are equipped with solar cells. The solar energy absorbed by the cells is then converted into electrical energy via a generator which then feeds an electric motor driving the pump. Most of the traditional pump systems mainly work with a diesel engine or with the local power grid.
However, these two modes of operations present disadvantages compared to solar pumps, mostly because farmers have to pay for usage of these forms energies.
Each member at Greenfield Garden was allocated a piece of ground to fit 11 vegetable beds and the enterprising farmers are growing an array of produce such as chomolia, rape, tomatoes, onions, carrots, potatoes, beetroot, pepper, broccoli, cauliflower among others.
“We allocated each other small plots, which accommodate 11 beds where an individual grows any vegetable of their choice. We encourage the use of organic manure instead of fertilisers as we seek to maintain our produce as organic as possible,” said Mr Nyoni.
He said ZDDT has also played a pivotal role in ensuring the scheme’s members are imparted with the requisite skills to improve their agricultural enterprises.
“ZDDT has been taking us to a number of workshops in an effort to assist us to improve our crop production and management skills. The organisation has even promised to link us to lucrative markets where we will be supplying reputable supermarkets with produce and as such we have reserved part of our land for commercial production where we will be growing vegetables that meet the standards and quality required by such markets,” said Mr Nyoni.
He said most of the members have already started realising meaningful returns from selling produce they obtain from the market garden.
“Members have already started reaping benefits from being part of this agricultural enterprise despite the fact that it’s barely a year old. We can now use the money we generate from selling our produce to pay school fees for children.
“We sell our vegetables to vendors, saving them from going to source the produce at the vegetable market in the Central Business District and we also sell to individuals. This project has also played a part in ensuring that hordes of our employed youths find themselves occupied,” said Mr Nyoni.
One of the members, Ms Theresia Jubane (58) said through selling vegetables obtained from her allotted beds, she has managed to improve her home while working in the garden has also assisted in keeping her fit and healthy.
“This garden has played a significant part in improving my livelihood. I have managed to make improvements at my home from the money I realised from selling the produce I got at the garden and apart from that it has enabled most of us to improve our household food security and nutrition. Work on the fields has also played a part in improving our fitness levels and improving our health,” said Mrs Jubane.
Greenfield Garden women have used their grouping to form cake making and bead work clubs to add to their income generating initiatives.
“We managed to use our grouping as women members to come up with other projects and as we speak we have a cake making and bead work club whereby we bake cakes and make various ornaments from beads for sale and this has further enhanced our income,” said Mrs Jubane.
ZDDT national development officer, Mr Simon Spooner said the market garden project was part of the organisation’s efforts to assist vulnerable groups in society through identifying programmes as well as sourcing resources aimed at improving their livelihoods.
He said the market garden project’s aim was to improve nutrition as well as ensure income generation through selling of produce and value addition of the same produce.
“We continue providing extension service through offering them a specialist extension services officer to assist them to improve the quality of their produce and take it to the next stage by adding value to it and later marketing it to reputable outlets such as Pick n Pay and Zonk’ Izizwe Shopping Mall,” said Mr Spooner.