Mhani Gingi Social Entrepreneurial Network’s initiatives in urban agriculture and agri-processing with vulnerable communities in the Western Cape came under the spotlight when Lillian Masebenza, Founding Director of Mhani Gingi, addressed the 12th Annual Rural Development Conference in South Africa on 8-11 November 2021. The virtual conference taking place during Rural Development Week showcased successful projects and case studies to provide the sector with critical, practical knowledge to increase the success of initiatives.

The theme of the 2021 Rural Development Conference was Unlocking Developmental Potential Within Rural Areas, with a view to promoting environmentally sustainable development resulting in a profitable rural economy. Masebenza was a keynote speaker and addressed delegates on the Mhani Gingi Flagship Programme as it relates to agri-processing and market access.

The Mhani Gingi Flagship Programme is focused on the environment and manages 10 community food gardens in the greater Cape Town area.  Included in the Flagship Programme are the Mhani Gingi Organic Herb and Vegetable Seedling Nursery in Athlone, a Satellite Community Food Station supplied by harvest from the gardens, and the newly launched Mhani Gingi Agri-Processing Hub.

Lesego Ranchu of the National Development Agency (NDA) told Mhani Gingi after the conference:  “Rural development initiatives are better understood through tangible practical case studies. The presentation by Lillian was one such which was very insightful to all those in attendance and it added value to the overall theme of Unlocking Rural Development Potential. The NDA also believes that it is viable to provide such platforms for funded projects for networking, linkage and profiling purposes.”

A platform for unlocking potential

The conference was important in that it brought developmental funders and the communities together on one platform, Ranchu added.

According to conference organisers, the phenomenon of the COVID 19 viral pandemic has provided an occasion to reflect on severely under-resourced rural communities. A conference document said that aid resources were insufficient and that investment in rural communities is critically required for citizens to be empowered to create “thriving, sustainable, dignified and rewarding livelihoods.”

Other keynote speakers at the conference included Mrs Thamo Mzobe, a social and community development activist and the Chief Executive Officer of the NDA;  Manoj Seonath, Head of Small Business Finance and Regions at the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC); Simpiwe Somdyala, Chief Executive Officer of AmadleloAgri; Roux Wildenboer, Sector Head Agriculture at ABSA Bank; and David Nefdt, Chief Officer: Projects at Casidra, a state-owned enterprise supporting rural development through agricultural, rural infrastructure and business development.

Extending support to vulnerable communities

 The NDA funded two growing tunnels at the Mhani Gingi Social Entrepreneurial Centre of Excellence in Athlone, Cape Town. The NDA also sponsored 20 African Grower compact food systems, developed by Fresh Life Produce for growing vegetables and herbs in confined spaces. These were distributed among Mhani Gingi’s projects at Blouvlei School for Learners with Special Needs in Retreat; at a sustainable community garden project with LEAP Science and Maths Schools in Langa; and at other food gardening projects at shelters for youth, women and children.

Mhani Gingi’s mission is to help vulnerable communities to overcome chronic poverty and achieve sustainable livelihoods. This is achieved through agricultural and environmental activities and social enterprise projects, which provide beneficiaries with technical skills and knowledge, food security and nutrition, as well as income-generation.

The support received from the NDA and other funders has enabled Mhani Gingi to extend its activities to more beneficiaries and to reach more survivors of gender-based violence at shelters, Masebenza said.  The African Grower systems provide a means for the women to grow food for consumption and to earn an income once they leave the shelters. In addition to gardening skills that beneficiaries acquire from Mhani Gingi Nursery, the women will now be able to receive training in safety and food processing in the new Agri-Processing Hub.

The new Mhani Gingi Agri-Processing Hub will enable the organisation to add further value to produce from community food gardens and agricultural activities through processing and packaging. Mhani Gingi beneficiaries will benefit from training in new income-generating skills that can be used in the hub.