An old tyre, a few discarded plastic shopping bags, a two-liter plastic cooldrink bottle and enough soil to fill the tyre to create a little vegetable garden – this is what you need to create what Steven Barnard from NuNet calls the “Garden of Life”, because with these micro-gardens, communities are tackling the hunger crisis in South Africa head-on.

Meet the formidable team of community members who braved a mountain slope and a very hot day to install the tyre garden in Kanyamazane township, Nelspruit.

South Africa is experiencing a hunger crisis that is even bigger than the COVID-19 pandemic. The statistics of hunger tell the story of suffering and the huge effort that will be needed to overcome this “pandemic”.

Hunger affects close to 7 million people every day. The same people who suffer from hunger are also those who more often than not go through most days with an empty stomach. Nearly 7,500 children under the age of five die every year in South Africa as a direct result of hunger. Although South Africa experienced food insecurity even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the lockdown period not only deepened the hunger crisis, but also managed to focus our attention on a serious food insecurity crisis facing millions of South Africans.

In November 2020, Ranyaka and Garden of Life started training sessions to help under-resourced communities to tackle the problems of hunger and unemployment in their midst. Funded by the Nedbank Proud of my Town programme and employing the expertise of the Garden of Life team, Ranyaka worked with local community members to launch micro-garden projects in the townships of Mamelodi near Pretoria, Boitekong north of Rustenburg, and Kanyamazane just outside Nelspruit.

The overall objective of the micro-garden project is to show people that you do not need a farm to grow vegetables or to earn a living. “Community members have been showing great enthusiasm and taking care of their gardens,” says Ranyaka Executive Director and northern nodes lead, Maggie Tsotetsi. Ranyaka’s lead co-ordinator from Magaliesburg, Ryan Marsden, also truly went the extra mile to ensure that systems were in place for the gardens to be maintained after the excellent training provided by Steven Barnard.

Training by Steven Barnard from NuNet/Garden of Life.

Time to become self-sustainable

“In our training, we explain the concept of self-sustainable living through vegetable farming on a small scale,” explains Steven. We demonstrate how the issue of food security can be tackled despite severely limited resources by growing vegetables in the centre of used tyres.

“Tyres can be used to grow food at the back of the house, on the roof of a shack, in school yards and on the sidewalks. Micro-farming does not need a big farming area, just a small plot that is literally measured with a person’s feet (2×2),” points out Steven.

Each tyre is lined with old plastic bags on the inside, and a two-liter cooldrink bottle that is filled with water on a regular basis is added in the center of the tyre garden to create a sort of hydroponic system. In this way, the community grows spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and carrots, amongst others.

Community members celebrate the installation of the tyre garden in Mamelodi, Gauteng.

From consumers to producers

Steven Barnard (below) initiated the Garden of Life project 13 years ago as a means to help ease the suffering and hunger in under-resourced communities in South Africa. Since 2007, Garden of Life has promoted self-sufficiency by holding workshops that teach micro-farming skills. Thousands of people have been reached, even as far as Uganda, Malawi and Botswana.

Steven says it is important to change the thinking of people from being consumers to becoming producers. “Our approach is very practical. For example, we take a tomato and explain to the trainees that a tomato is not only a source of food, but rather a factory: every tomato produces up to 90 seeds, and every seed will in turn produce a tomato plant, and every plant will provide at least 10 tomato fruits. Calculated at R2 per tomato, the seeds of one tomato fruit can earn its owner close to R2,000”.

Above: The garden in Kanyamazane township, Nelspruit is located against the slope of a mountain!

At the Mamelodi Garden of Life installation: Left to right: Pastor Penuel Mahlangu (King of Kings Ministries, Mamelodi and director of the eBukhosini Training Centre); Sithembiso Malevu (Programme Manager & Urban Planner, Ranyaka); Rhulani Maluleka (Nedbank: Mams Mall Branch Manager); Maggie Tsotetsi (Ranyaka Executive Director & Urban Planner); Steven Barnard (Garden of Life)

It is envisaged that each trainee (Steven refers to them as “influencers”) will train family, friends and neighbours – and in this way the micro-garden idea is being spread throughout the community.

Now more than ever, we need to put innovative solutions to good use to tackle the socio-economic challenges facing our country. By looking beyond that which appears to limit us to discovering how to solve problems and unlocking opportunity with that which we have at our disposal, we can all be part of the solution.

Back row, left to right: Keith Fransch (Garden of Life), Justice Takalane (Garden of Life), Steven Barnard (Garden of Life), Basetsana Molelekeng (Ranyaka), Maggie Tsotetsi (Ranyaka). Front row, left to right: Shephard Mapelela (Garden of Life) and Ryan Marsden (Ranyaka)

Photography by Devin Lester Photography (Rustenburg and Mamelodi) and Africa Photographic Services/Kyle Lewin (Nelspruit)