Local KwaZulu-Natal woman's innovative veggie grower defines meaning of 'Ubuntu' in her community.
In 2014 Nonhlanhla Joye started Umgibe when she found herself unemployed and unable to put food on the table for her family. This was due to Ma’ Joye being unable to work after being diagnosed with cancer prior, having no one to turn to for help.
This was when she decided, “No, let me grow vegetables in my backyard”, and that is what she did. Ma’ Joye further elaborated, “And by backyard, I mean an RDP house yard which is almost nothing, about 3 meters max”.
Still determined she grew her vegetables in these confines to near picking status, but then something unforeseen happened-
“They were looking nice and good. I was getting excited, and that is when the chickens from the neighbours came and ate EVERYTHING”.
Ma’ Joye was left devastated by the sight of her ruined garden that was a means to end the hunger in her household…
She knew that she needed to find a way to regrow her crop without the chickens eating them.
“That was when I innovated a system that enabled me to grow vegetables using recycled plastic bags and a wooden framework”.
It allowed the vegetables to be out of the chickens pecking order and allowed Ma’ Joye to utilise the small confinements of RDP houses to their fullest potential. “Before I knew it, I had vegetables! In a very small space and without any hard work”.
“It was something that was amazing for me, it allowed me to provide for my family, and I could do it from sitting in a wheelchair”.
The first harvest of this innovative way of growing provided Ma’ Joye with enough vegetables that allowed her to start selling to her community and gave her the means to make a living out of it.
Once Ma’ Joye recovered from her cancer, she continued her work in the community by sharing her unique growing system and helping families fight their battle against hunger.
Today, Ma’ Joye is helping 1289 households grow vegetables, and together they collectively sell or even barter these vegetables. “It enabled everyone in our network to sell quality and nutritious vegetables”.
“I just started this out of necessity and not for profit. I realised three critical components of this growing system. Firstly, it saved water. It expanded the space. And lastly, it could be used as a social enterprise”.
Ma’ Joye has now moved away from the plastic packets and substituted with fibre bags for her growing system. These fibre bags are partially made with PET- a thermoplastic polymer resin and can last up to three years. They are locally produced by women in her community, providing jobs and a much-needed avenue of income for those households.
How has lockdown effected Umgibe?
“The lockdown has actually created a lot of problems for our organisation because we supply some of our produce to those in the restaurant industry and within three weeks of lockdown a lot of our vegetables became rotten. We couldn’t blame them for breaking the contract as they too were suffering because of lockdown and understand that they couldn’t have bought produce that they could not use. Fortunately, I connected with Food Flow, they have helped us with supplying our vegetables to those who desperately needed them in our community”.
What is your super power?
“Finding my purpose, that is what is driving me. To know that my purpose in life is to stop hunger and to restore human dignity. Sometimes we spend years looking for what it is that we need to do and we don’t know what that is. It can take things like what has happened to me to make you ask yourself ‘what is it that I am passionate about?’. And passion for food security, passion for stopping hunger, passion for stopping generational poverty and creating self-sustainability is what drives me personally”.
What do you love about Africa?
“What do I NOT love about Africa! I love the warmth, I’m not talking about the temperature, but the warmth of our people. It is one of the best places to be, where people practise ubuntu as a lifestyle. I left Africa for some years, and when I was away, I realised how much I missed being away from Africa. I missed the people; we are one of the only places where people smile at each other even if they do not know one another. Our people will actually welcome you even if they do not know why you are there and in other countries, they are not like that. The people will look at you like you are crazy if you smile at them and they do not know you...
...I love the laughter of our children, and I love seeing people no matter how poor they are, giving up their last item to others that need it. I love that, and I love Africa. No matter what race it is, when people are in Africa, there’s this feeling of being free and caring towards each other”
What made you take the step into the unknown to become an entrepreneur?
“I think I was always an entrepreneur even if I didn’t know it at the time. My father also taught me that if I wanted to get things done, I needed to do it myself and find a way that works for me. That is what entrepreneurs do, they find a gap, and then they find a way to make it work for them. They innovate around the problems...
...for me being a social entrepreneur means that I see things that people do not see, and I look for solutions to problems before I think about the money. My father instilled in me to first find the solution, then sort out the problem and the rest will follow”.
Ma’ Joye’s father, who is currently 98 years young and still planting his own vegetables - proving that you should be eating your veggies!
Something to leave our readers with?
“We need to be supporting local!”