Life in Pella, Northern Cape is hard. With high unemployment and few options for employment, combined with a prolonged drought, there’s not much hope to go around—unless you know the Pella Food Garden Cooperative. This all-female farming cooperative is the beneficiary of an aquaponics system, adaptive agriculture modifications and business training by INMED South Africa. Only two years ago, the co-op’s members had to rely on government assistance to survive, because they could not produce enough crops to feed their families, let alone earn a sustainable livelihood.
Within a year of working with INMED South Africa, the Pella Food Garden not only increased its income 60-fold, but was named Best Subsistence Producer by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries at the 2018 Female Entrepreneur Awards. The group also was named the Overall Winner of the provincial Female Entrepreneur Awards by the Department of Agriculture in the Northern Cape. It is the first time a contestant from the Northern Cape has won a top national prize.
“We feel like proud parents,” said Unathi Sihlahla, Programme Director of INMED South Africa, which helped the co-op implement measures to help the group increase its production capacity to survive the prolonged drought.
In partnership with Old Mutual Foundation, INMED South Africa installed a commercial-sized aquaponics system for the Pella Food Garden cooperative as well as agricultural shade cloth for the group’s adaptive agriculture vegetable garden. The INMED team also installed a drip irrigation system and facilitated regular training. With additional funding from the Old Mutual Foundation, the group has added a cold storage unit, a production facility and more shade cloth to expand capacity.
In addition to receiving technical training in adaptive agriculture, the Pella co-op members learned computer skills, accounting, business planning, marketing and sales via training from INMED South Africa and Old Mutual Foundation. “Our Adaptive Agriculture programme is unique in that involves the entire value chain—from technical assistance and business training to access to financing and links to ready markets for high-quality produce and fish,” explained Sihlahla.
The Pella group’s reputation has spread quickly, becoming a preferred supplier to the public, local retailers, community soup kitchens and schools. Local guesthouses, are negotiating with the Pella Food Garden to provide vegetables and herbs for their guests’ meals. The co-op’s high-quality produce and fish are so much in demand that they are now hiring members of the community to help them keep up.
In accepting the group’s recent awards, co-op leader Ester Nell said she was thankful for the help of INMED South Africa and the Old Mutual Foundation and the diligence of her fellow farmers. “We had the persistence to carry on for many years, which were not very successful,” she said. “But through INMED and Old Mutual, aquaponics has made a significant difference in our lives and brought interest in our project that we’ve never had before. We will continue to grow our business and help our community.”