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Water-wise farming a game changer in Imbali

Written by Hlengiwe Ngobese

The stark reality of there not being enough jobs in South Africa for all citizens means that people need to start their own initiatives to survive.

A lack of job opportunities and stark poverty, coupled with an abundance of land suitable for farming, led to the establishment in 2006 of the Ixhiba co-operative by six women in the Imbali township near Pietermaritzburg.

Today, Ixhiba grows hydroponic tomatoes; green, yellow and red peppers; cucumbers; spinach; beetroot and lettuce with great success. Hlaleleni Buthelezi shows off her hydroponically grown spinach, broccoli and cabbage.

With hydroponic farming, plants are supported by a water and nutrient mixture, rather than soil. Plants can be grown closer together and in smaller spaces and hydroponics uses less water because the water is recycled.

Ixhiba co-operative member Hlaleleni Buthelezi (64) said they opted for hydroponic farming because they wanted to save water, and with the drought challenges recently faced by the country, their choice was a wise one.

“We try to save as much water as we can while at the same time making sure that we get good crops that are of high quality,” she said.

Buthelezi said when they started, they had no budget.

Commercial banks which were approached for a start-up loan turned them down or offered them uncompetitive interest rates.

Eventually, they knocked on the doors of Ithala Development Finance Corporation.

“It was our saving grace. They gave us a loan of R60 000, which we used to buy our first tunnel and crops.

“In 2017 we entered the Ithala’s Imbokodo Iyazenzela Women in Business competition and were selected as one of the winners. This gave us an incredible opportunity to be mentored by Ithala,” said Buthelezi.

Their mentor helped the co-operative to draft a business plan for the Agribusiness Development Agency.

“We are also receiving assistance with record keeping and better understanding our profit and loss situation,” she said.

This support means that the co-operative can investigate new markets and new growing techniques.

 “We have been able to increase the number of tunnels from one to five and have provided 10 employment opportunities,” said Buthelezi.