Tiger Brands has a deep understanding of the challenges that university students face in pursuit of their education. One such challenge is hunger on campuses. It is to this end that we have partnered with five South African universities to support 4000 students with monthly food hampers. In addition to those, we have partnered with Siyakhana Community Gardens in establishing food gardens at these universities, empowering students with life-long skills in growing their own food.
These can be found at: Wits University in Braamfontein, University of Johannesburg in Doornfontein, North West University in Mahikeng, University of Free State in Bloemfontein, as well as Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth.
This article profiles the approach that Siyakhana has taken to addressing food security, in partnership with Tiger Brands.
“We started a little vegetable patch 15 years ago as a response of a community outreach programme after identifying food insecurity at Early Childhood Development centres, abandoned youth shelters, and non-governmental organisation initiatives in HIV homes,” says University of Johannesburg‘s Professor Michael Rudolph.
“We realised that each one of these organisations was faced with huge problems in respect of the accessibility, affordability and availability of food and good nutrition.” In fact, a study carried out by Siyakhana’s team found that thirty-seven percent of the wider Johannesburg metropole community are food and nutrition insecure.
And so Siyakhana (we are building each other), a food garden, was born and has been replicated elsewhere across the country since.
During the time of the project’s inception Rudolph was working at the School of Public Health (at Wits University), which was the brain hub of the project. It transpired that after groups of students visited various communities to understand the social and non-medical determinants in the inner city, nutrition and food security came up as the main issues.
Rudolph then set to work sourcing a range of service providers to make the garden a reality.
“This brought about our first food garden as a demonstration site to show people how to grow their own food. Through this project we also teach energy and water conservation, as well as how to look after the environment. It’s about general environmental and economic health alongside good nutrition and food,” says Rudolph who is the director and principal investigator at Siyakhana.
The garden, situated in Bezuidenhout Park in the eastern suburbs of Johannesburg, started off on approximately one hectare of land. It supplies some of the surrounding community with produce but more and more of what’s grown at Siyakhana is sold to a wide range of customers at a minimal profit which is injected back to the project. Siyakhana is 60-70% funded with donations from various companies.
“In addition to the wide range of vegetables and herbs we also grow pecan nuts, walnuts, almonds, peaches, figs, and thai citrus,” says Rudolph. Siyakhana’s success led to a project operating at several of the country’s universities.
At universities, seven percent to 30% of students at universities are food insecure which is a major problem; it impacts on academic performance and needs a comprehensive, multidisciplinary and sustainable approach to address the problem which cannot be resolved in the short term but will require several years to establish a sustainable system. It’s not only a lack of nutritious food, but how to grow food in environments with limited space and taking in account water and energy conservation, food safety and other issues,” he says.
The project has set up food gardens at the Nelson Mandela, North West and Wits universities with new gardens recently established at Universities of Johannesburg and Free State. The produce from these gardens contributes to many thousands of students who benefit from the wide range of produce.
The University Project is a complete value chain offering students produce from their respective gardens directly to the kitchen for the preparation of nutritious meals. A wide range of produce is grown; mainly vegetables are harvested in their season from spinach to celery.
“Although these are much smaller gardens compared to the Siyakhana hub, we try to maximise space and productivity and promote dietary diversity. Our strategy is to ensure that these projects literally and figuratively grow but need to be well managed and hence we do not want to introduce too much too soon. A key objective is to increase the food offering at these gardens,” Rudolph says.
In 2017 Siyakhana partnered with the Tiger Brands socio-economic development (SED) division to establish these student-led food gardens. These gardens provide ongoing training, mentorship and support to students learning to grow their own food.
Rudolph says their partnership with Tiger Brands came after the company engaged him on Siyakhana’s multi-disciplinary approach to addressing food insecurity. “All our projects require a diverse and multidisciplinary professional team but also farmers, students, volunteers, and more. “In order to make projects like this sustainable we need a range of expertise and experience but also participants who are willing and passionate about learning new skills,” he says.
More than supplying food, the Siyakhana projects have proven to be an intellectual mine over the years. Various studies have been carried in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Pietermaritzburg. Students do research and assignments in agriculture, engineering, health, architecture and business using the projects as case studies.
The projects also host a number of schools, learners and teachers providing awareness around sustainable food gardens which at times schools duplicate.
“What we are trying to do is promote the whole philosophy of transformation. We transform unused land into beautiful gardens, waste to compost, unemployed youth to purpose-driven upskilled people, and we are doing this via food gardens,” says Rudolph.
We are happy to see the food gardens flourishing under the care of our partner universities.