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Hartebeeskraal Thusong Service Centre (Western Cape)

Hydroponics Farming Beats Sandy Soil Conditions

Christie Jacobs, mentor at the farm, determined to make it a training model for the whole community of Atlantis.

Christie Jacobs, mentor at the farm, determined to make it a training model for the whole community of Atlantis.

Local Economic Development (LED) is integral to improved livelihoods.  Communities access LED opportunities through government services. Through a consultative approach, the Thusong Service Centre Management Committee assists in identifiying those services needed in a community.

At Hartebeeskraal Thusong Service Centre, the Department of Agriculture is housed on-site because it provides advice and support to people participating in food-security projects.

Food-security manager, Tshepo Mokgotha, oversees several projects encouraging the community to take ownership of their land and produce.

Centre manager, Julie Mentor, is a witness to how agricultural and other services brought closer to communities, are improving their livelihoods.

The Hydroponics Tunnel Production Project in Hartebeeskraal is but one example of how integrated services at Thusong Service Centres empower through participation.

In hydroponic farming, essential nutrients are supplied through an irrigation system rather than the soil – ideal in Atlantis where the soil is sandy and porous. Twenty-two farmers (80% of whom are women), are part of the Hydroponics Tunnel Production Project on land bought through land reform procedures. Although the land included a packing house, much of their machinery had to be modernised. Their old wooden sorting machine would negatively affect the quality of the fruit, and so a new stainless steel machine worth R100 000 was given to the farmers by the Department of Agriculture. A new irrigation system replaces their leaking one which caused water wastage and poor irrigation. Eskom provided two water tanks to replace old, leaking dams. Underfloor heating will be in place come winter, to ensure the survival of seedlings.

The open system used on the farm is more expensive but protects the crop from the build-up and spread of disease. In a closed system, bacteria and viruses quickly spread to the entire crop through the irrigation system, while an open system limits the disease to a single plant which can be treated or replaced at low cost. 

Tshepo Mokgotha, food-security officer of the Department of Agriculture, makes daily visits to the farm, giving support to the mentor of the programme, Christie Jacobs. With 10 years of experience in organic farming, Christie is the permanent on-site mentor from Goedgedacht Agricultural Resource Centre, also responsible for training the farmers. For Christie, the challenge is to transform the farm into a training model for the whole community of Atlantis. This would also encourage ownership on other farm projects, a motivational challenge Tshepo deals with on his daily field trips. 

Skills for Africa are currently providing a 10-day refresher course on fertilizer and maintenance systems. The course leader, Louis van Rensburg, is confident that the experience of the older farmers will ensure sustainability. This means knowing that black groundcover must be used to avoid overheating in the 32 tunnels where temperatures can hit 40 degrees celsius. The farm sells fresh tomatoes to street hawkers in the nearby informal settlement but the focus will be on providing pre-packed produce which has a high profit comeback. The farm supplies fresh produce to large supermarkets as far afield as Brackenfell.

A farmer tending to potato plants
A farmer tending to potato plants
Tshepo Mokgotha and Louis van Rensburg, in front of the new tanks supplied by Eskom
Tshepo Mokgotha and Louis van Rensburg, in front of the new tanks supplied by Eskom
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