AAVF / Ebenezer WESC - Project Scope
A community pillar
Sitting in a valley between the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve and Kruger National Park, the Municipality of Bushbuckridge is home to just over 540,000 people spread across the rolling hills in small villages and informal settlements. In one of these villages, called Shatale, you will find Ebenezer Welfare Supporting & Caring Organization, in operation since 2001.
The Ebenezer campus is gorgeous- a collection of six modest buildings on roughly 2ha of secure land enclosed by fence. From this base, Ebenezer serves 11 villages around Bushbuckridge; they currently have 541 clients in the community who are visited by care workers every weekday. At the Shatale campus, they also provide a live-in child care centre, a centre for older persons, and a drop-in centre for youth education during the week.
Like much of rural South Africa, Bushbuckridge suffers from chronically high unemployment. As of the latest census, 52.1% of the economically active population is unemployed, climbing to 64.6% for economically active youth. Education and income statistics for most officially-reported households reflect a high level of poverty.
While accessibility to government services within the municipality is better than in other regions, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Infrastructure, for example, is lagging behind- consistent water and electricity supplies are not guaranteed for most households. Because water supply is an issue, sanitation problems inevitably ensue; more than 70% of the population lack access to sufficient waste disposal services. This leaves Bushbuckridge’s communities vulnerable to illness and disease.
The purpose of this introduction is to illustrate that the services Ebenezer provides are essential. But it relies heavily on government grants for daily operations and these have recently been curtailed; for the first time in over 15 years, Ebenezer was forced to close its doors to its live-in pensioners. These elderly citizens, some bedridden, were forced to return to the same households that had abused and abandoned them in the first place.
2. Problem Statement
Small is beautiful
In order to continue receiving government funding, Ebenezer has been asked to prove an element of financial sustainability to their operations. We have identified the 2ha of land as a primary opportunity for them to do this.
Agriculture in Bushbuckridge has a strong competitive advantage over other economic activities thanks to a favourable climate and high soil quality. However, resource scarcity and antiquated agricultural practices mean that much of this potential is lost; Ebenezer is a case in point.
As of right now, only about 5% of Ebenezer’s land is being cultivated using traditional agricultural methods; this includes rows of crops that need to be watered by hand every day. These crops have a low priority within the organization’s bigger picture, meaning that the watering is often neglected. The quantity of crops grown and the length of time it takes means that their contribution to the organization’s finances is nearly negligible.
2ha does not appear to be significant in terms of crop production. After all, there are many commercial farms and plantations surrounding Bushbuckridge that are using thousands of hectares per entity. However, by bringing low-grade agricultural technologies such as drip irrigation, ebb-and-flow hydroponics, vertical growing bags and A-frame Nutrient Film Technique growing systems, 2 hectares can produce enough food to make a significant financial impact, especially for a small enterprise like Ebenezer. This mixed-technology model has been proven in a 2000m2space by a company we are proposing to work with on this project called HyHarvest (see more here).
These technologies vastly improve resource efficiency, growing times and quality of produce, with less reliability on human labour like hand watering. However, this doesn’t mean that there is no net job growth; instead, new, more dynamic jobs are created in the agtech sector. Learning how to build, operate and harvest from hydroponic and vertical production systems is a more marketable skillset and a better investment of time for an interested potential farmer. Who will benefit from this job creation? Who better than the live-in and drop-in youth, many of whom are female, who are already looking to develop employable skills.
It will allow Ebenezer to produce value out of an underutilized asset (the land), while contributing to food security for itself and its surrounding communities. This controlled environment approach will use no pesticides and focus on freshness, taste and nutrition. While there will be an initial financial input, Ebenezer will, from that point forward, be able to grow consistent high-value produce and prove an element of financial sustainability that will allow them access to continued government grants (unless it becomes possible to become fully self-sustaining through food production).