KWA-ZULU-NATAL – When Nonhlanhla Joye was diagnosed with cancer, she ended up founding the Umgibe Institute.
“I invented the system,” said Joye, a Mayville-based development facilitator and farmer who founded the Umgibe Farming Organics and Training Institute. Umgibe uses ordinary plastic bags to create suspended vegetable gardens that hang from custom-made structures. It’s a home grown solution for food production in a changing environmental landscape. And the stroke of genius came from a dark time in Joye’s life.
“In 2014 I got very sick,” said Joye, recalling how she was diagnosed with cancer. “I couldn’t work, but I had to put food on the table, so I started growing my own vegetables in my back yard,” said Joye. Initially the make-shift veggie patch flourished, but soon the chickens started pecking away at Joye’s precious produce. “I was devastated,” said Joye, “it was my only means of providing, as the breadwinner.”
What followed was what Joye calls a “trial and error” process. Using plastic bags, Joye tried to elevate her vegetable plants above the ground and out of reach for unwelcome chickens. She tired using a rope but this failed and that’s when Joye saw the ladder, like a light-bulb-idea. “This is how Umgibe was born,” said Joye, “it was originally intended to keep the chickens out.”
Now an award winning initiative, the farming technique has proven to be a frugal, environmentally friendly, water saving, space saving method that has uplifted the community. Having received recognition at the Durban Business Fair in November, 2016, Umgibe custom makes the structures for clients and partners with cooperatives to give them a marketing platform for selling organic, top class produce. Lower class produce is used to create sauerkraut, fermented vegetables and juices that are bottled and sold. “She taught us how to plant organic vegetables and to make sauerkraut,” said Thokozani Nxasane, from a cooperative in Umgababa. At 62, Nxasane said that the technique is a big help to elderly planters with aches and pains.
And the method is suitable for the disabled as well, because it doesn’t require any labour. “There’s no weeding to be done,and since the packet holds in moisture, you don’t have to water the plants every day,” said Joye. Another happy Umgibe farmer is Sibongile Mdluli who is one of five members in a group that forms part of a cooperatve in Mkhumbane. “It makes our lives easier,” said Mdluli.
Umgibe tells a story of resilience as one small seed plants a big idea.