Mhani Gingi Social Entrepreneurial Network was honoured when its new state-of-the-art Agri-Processing Hub was handed over by Mr. Ronald Mukanya, Director: Sustainability Management in the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning in the Western Cape and officially opened during Women’s Month 2021 by Ms. Bongiswa Matoti, Director: Agricultural Economic Services, Western Cape Department of Agriculture. The launch event on 31 August, which was also a celebration of the achievements of women in agriculture to mark Women’s Month, was attended by dignitaries from both the public and private sector as well as by grassroots NGO representatives.
Other guests included Ms. Veronica Mukasa, Directorate: Sustainability, Sub-Directorate: Green Jobs & Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) in the Department of Environmental Affairs and Developmental Planning, Western Cape; Ms. Londiwe Thabethe, Manager: Marketing and Agribusiness, Programme: Agricultural Economic Services, Western Cape; Ms. Robyn Carstens, Communication Officer, Department of Agriculture, Western Cape; Ms. Karen Nieuwoudt, Community Based Programmes, Department of Health Western Cape, and Mr. Ardiel Soeker, Director, and Ms. Babalwa Magida, of the National Development Agency, Western Cape.
Reverend Douglas Bower of the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Meadowridge, Western Cape, opened the launch event with scripture reading and a blessing of the Hub and all Mhani Gingi’s work. “Life begins and ends in the garden,” Rev. Bower said. “The food producing initiatives to alleviate poverty and hunger amongst the vulnerable and marginalised in the Cape Flats communities undertaken by Mhani Gingi, are crucial in improving and sustaining their livelihoods,” Rev. Bower added.
Dr. Earl Starr, a Mhani Gingi Trustee, welcomed the guests and reminded them to adhere to Covid-19 protocols at all times. “Welcome! Here you are at the Mhani Gingi Centre of Social Entrepreneurial Excellence, showcasing innovative urban agricultural ways of producing food in a very small urban confined space,” Starr said. Guests were later taken on a tour of Mhani Gingi’s operations and the new facilities to see for themselves.
The Mhani Gingi Agri-Processing Hub is created out of a recycled steel shipping container. The National Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), through the EPWP being implemented by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Western Cape (DEA&DP), funded the acquisition of the 3m x 12m second-hand steel container and its refurbishment. It was refurbished and re-fitted in stainless steel by Hope Africa Collective of Phillipi, Cape Town. The Agri-Processing unit is uniquely designed to allow wheel-chair access so that persons with physical disabilities can work in the space.
We are extremely thankful to the department and the officials who facilitated the whole process,” said Ms. Lillian Masebenza, Founding Director of Mhani Gingi Social Entrepreneurial Network. Masebenza also expressed her gratitude for the additional support from the Department of Agriculture which will enable Mhani Gingi to extend agri-processing skills to the network of the women farmers and social entrepreneurs whom the non-profit organisation assists to make sustainable livelihoods.
A successful People-Public-Private-Partnership
Mukanya, in handing over the state-of-the-art Agri-Processing Hub, described the public-private partnership with Mhani Gingi in the refurbishment of the container for the Agri-Processing Hub as a perfect fit with his department’s objectives. Mukanya admired how much Mhani Gingi, through its programmes, is achieving with very limited financial resources, operating in a very confined space, and effectively responding to the demand at a time when there was a lot COVID-related hunger in communities.
Mukanya added that the recycling of the container as well as the organic composting that was evident at the Mhani Gingi Centre of Social Entrepreneurial Excellence in Athlone fitted well with the protection of the natural environment.
He said that even more needed to be done to support women in the challenges that they faced in this country.
Taking agri-processing to the people
Matoti said in her address that 45% of agricultural produce from South Africa was exported. Meanwhile, hunger and poverty exist in the country. A lot could be achieved through urban gardening and she hoped for the increased participation of women in gardening to feed their communities and in entrepreneurship.
The Department of Agriculture is planning to take agri-processing activities “to the people” in communities all over the Western Cape, through mobile units, to promote small businesses and “to show them how to get to the next level,’’ Matoti said.
“We are hoping from this that every woman that Mhani Gingi can identify will be trained,” she said. “We want to see people start their own enterprises.‘’ She looked forward to the continued partnering with Mhani Gingi and the development of the Mhani Gingi Agri-processing Hub into a fully-fledged unit undertaking the juicing, baking, drying, packaging and other processing activities it is designed for.
The Western Cape Department of Agriculture has already delivered training to Mhani Gingi staff in the packaging and processing of foodstuffs and in hygiene and food safety practices. “Thanks for your words of encouragement, it motivates us as we continue with our innovative and inclusive work amongst the vulnerable and marginalised groups in our communities,” Masebenza said.
Unique, innovative and inclusive
The Mhani Gingi Agri-Processing Hub is unique in two ways. “It is innovative in that it is an adapted recycled container, and it is also inclusive as it makes provision for accommodating people in wheelchairs,’’ Masebenza said in a media statement. The unit is fitted with a ramp to allow wheelchair access and with work surfaces accessible to people in wheelchairs.
“Hope Africa Collective has given the container new life. Everything inside is stainless steel. It is equipped with compliant fire protection devices. It is environmentally friendly, and it is attractive to the eye. The design includes an energy-efficient cold store, hot water on-demand unit and simple yet effective water recycling capability. As a repurposed transporter of goods, our Hub is also portable as we can take our activities with us anywhere,” she said.
“The value of the Agri-Processing Hub is that we will be providing a better service to our customers, the restaurant chefs, who will save time chopping and preparing vegetables by receiving better quality, pre-cut, shredded, and packaged produce from Mhani Gingi’s gardens. This will also benefit our other targeted retail customers and those who buy our produce at markets. Moreover, it will assist the soup kitchens of the Mhani Gingi Satellite Community Food Station, where we prepare meals for the hungry every week. We are thankful to Ladles of Love, for providing food twice weekly for our soup kitchens,’’ Masebenza said.
“Another benefit is that we will be providing further employment and skills to the women and persons with physical disabilities whom we support. They will be able to make additional income from processing and packaging the harvests from their community and domestic gardens,” she said.
“The Hub also allows us to provide jams, juices, chutneys, preserves and dried herbs from our vegetables and herbs. They can be packaged to give them added value and extended shelf life in dried and powdered forms.” She added: “Mhani Gingi is excited to add more value to our activities in urban agriculture and providing food for the hungry, especially after COVID increased the demand.”
Collaboration with social enterprises
Mr. Ravi Naidu, owner of Simply Asia in Heritage Square, Cape Town CBD, which sponsored catering for the launch event, said that social enterprises were very much in demand. In order to be meaningful, collaborations with social enterprises needed to provide good quality products, sufficient quantities, and constant and continuous supply, he said. Naidu was accompanied at the event by Ms. Khuthala Xametshata, head chef at Simply Asia, Heritage Square. She joined the business ten years ago without chef’s training and had succeeded in that short time to the demanding position of top chef, Naidu said.
He added that South Africa needed change and that women had the potential to fix the many challenges facing the country. ‘’The power will be in women to make the difference,’’ he said.
Mhani Gingi manages ten community food gardens in greater Cape Town area. These provide the beneficiary communities with an income and food security. Produce harvested from these activities and Mhani Gingi’s gardens at the Centre of Social Entrepreneurial Excellence in Athlone also supply soup kitchens which are linked to the gardens, while excess produce is sold at markets and directly to restaurants.
“We wish there could be more urban agricultural activities in our communities,” Masebenza said.