South Africa is said to be one of the countries with the world’s worst inequality. About 60% of the population is in poverty, and the unemployment rate has exceeded 50%. The HIV/AIDS crisis has not been solved, and 1 in 5 adults is infected. Children are impacted by these harsh conditions the most.
On top of the deprivation of basic human rights during Apartheid, the agriculture and livestock industries in rural areas with large populations of Black Africans suffered, and there was no work to be found. Parents had to seek work elsewhere, leaving children and the elderly behind. There is also a high number of children in rural South Africa who have been left orphaned due to AIDS, leading to malnourishment and starvation.
Japan International Volunteer Center works with two drop-in centers (child care centers for orphans and vulnerable children) in the Vhembe district of Limpopo. Through their community vegetable garden project, the NPO aims to support women and children, providing them with a sustainable means to create their own food. They implement a training course for cultivating vegetable gardens, recruiting volunteers, especially women and youths, for the program. The project requires ¥400,000 per month for maintenance/management of the vegetable gardens and meals. ByFood pledged ¥110,000 by the end of March.
In July, JVC submitted a 32-page update detailing the logistics of the project and their progress from January to June 2020. Below is a short summary.
In South Africa, October-March is the summer and rainy season during which the staple foods are corn, pumpkin, and beans. During February 2020, JVC and the sustainable garden program volunteers began planting seedlings. The lesson included how to use organic compost.
Beetroot, onion, spinach, and peppers are among the seeds that were sown. JVC also provided tomato, okra, and mustard vegetable seedlings along with chicken manure for compost. After watering, the volunteers were taught how to build a covering made of branches and dead grass to protect the soil from moisture evaporation and strong sunlight.
For lunch, they made a meal with tomato and onion sauce (ingredients harvested from the vegetable garden and stored frozen), offal meat donated by a nearby school, and cornmeal. Pictured are some of the boys receiving seconds.
In early March, JVC representatives returned to monitor the state of the vegetable garden. It was germinating vigorously and they were able to confirm that the corn had been harvested and that the seedlings in the nursery were being used. It was confirmed that the lessons learned during training were being put into practice and that the garden was properly managed.
Edible local wildflowers, which are said to be very nutritious, were also ready for harvesting, and the okra was approaching harvest season. The tomato and mustard vegetable seedlings were also growing well and would be harvested soon and included in school lunches.
Another visit to assess the project’s progress was scheduled, but in South Africa, schools closed in mid-March due to COVID-19 and the project could not be monitored.
From April, a complete travel ban started nationwide in South Africa and JVC's South African staff were also unable to leave their villages. Moreover, military and police were mobilized, not only in urban areas but also in rural villages, and movement was severely restricted, so even care volunteers living in the same village as the children attending DIC (the drop-in center) or in the neighborhood could check in.
In early May, the travel ban was slightly lifted and movement within the same state became possible. The restrictions on movement continued to be strict, and the staff of the JVC South Africa office could finally visit the village after the end of May.
Since gatherings of people were prohibited, JVC representatives first visited each care volunteer to assess the situation. They found that the seedling training helped the care volunteers to survive the difficult situation under COVID-19.
JVC’s report includes interviews with two care volunteers. One is Ms. Muthuhadini, a single mother with 5 children who started a garden with her oldest son after training with JVC last year. She now harvests Chinese mustard, cabbage, onion, tomato, beetroot, spinach and other vegetables. She has expanded the garden space, which is now essential for her family’s survival. There is no water in this area so they have to buy water for the garden, and now the price of water is rising. However, the mulching technique (covering soil with dead grass), taught during gardening training sessions, prevents evaporation of moisture from the soil, helping to conserve water.
JVC consulted with the Department of Social Government and confirmed that it is possible to visit the homes and conduct gardening training at their homes. As a result of COVID-19, many people have had their incomes cut and food prices have skyrocketed, making this sustainable garden project even more valuable for the community in Vhembe.