There are 30 family gardens scattered around the hills of Waterbus village in the Pongola region in Zululand district, 10km from the Swaziland border. Pongola is the closest city to the village and takes its name from the river that runs through it. The village is situated in a zone dedicated to the intensive production of sugar cane.
The gardens are small plots of 200 square meters. The average family in Pongola has six to eight family members, and the gardens are tended by all people living in the homestead, whether young or old. About 230 to 240 people are involved in the project.
The vegetables cultivated are spinach, mustard spinach, cabbage, carrots, beetroot, herbs, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, chillies, runner beans, mustard lettuce, lettuce, aubergine, onions, lettuce, tomato, green pepper, garlic chives, butternut and potatoes. Different field crops are also cultivated that form the staples of these communities’ diets, including maize, sweet potato, Jugo beans, pumpkins, watermelons, peanuts, beans, isambasamba (a small, white, drought-resistant bean which grows exclusively in the Pongola area), cassava and cow peas. UmGwenya (Wild Plum) and UmKhuhlu (Forest Natal Mahogony) trees are also cultivated, providing shade and attracting bees, butterflies and birds.
During the dry season, the temperatures drop and water is precious. During the raining season the women have adopted techniques to slow down the flow of and collect rainwater. Each family usually also has chickens, cows, goats, and the soil is fertilized using the manure from these animals.
Most households have granaries and maize is ground by hand on stone or by hand-operated machines. A five-litre container of ground meal will feed a family of 15 (adults and children) for three meals a day. The crops produced in the gardens are consumed in daily meals and surplus crops are sold to fund the cultivation of commodity crops such as green peppers, Jugo beans (African Groundnuts), etc.
The farming practices encouraged hinge on traditional methods that have been around for generations. The families practice organic farming, recycle natural resources and produce seeds.
The women of the community play an important role in the management of the gardens and of the surplus harvest. They work together with NGO Biowatch (www.biowatch.org.za) to produce and collect the seeds of many traditional varieties, thereby promoting biodiversity.
Waterbus Village, Pongola Town, Zululand district, KwaZulu-Natal province