The EduPlant school food gardening programme run by Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) is one of Southern Africa’s oldest, largest, and most impactful food security programmes.
The programme encourages an all-encompassing systems thinking approach incorporating sustainable practices, environmental ethics, and skills transfer to foster sustainable, localised food security networks.
Sifundzekhaya: a stellar example
The EduPlant Finals celebrate South Africa’s best food-growing schools. Sifundzekhaya Primary School in Mpumalanga is an EduPlant finalist, thanks to its dedication and enthusiasm.
“The educator responsible for the school, Thabo Conrad Lusibi, never missed a workshop – one of many signs of his commitment. He worked very hard with his team, involving school learners and staff. They adopted key permaculture practices from the workshop. From there they shared evidence and results on the cluster WhatsApp group to motivate other schools,” says FTFA facilitator Lawrence Tshuma.
Lusibi says being an Eduplant finalist made him want to achieve even more. “Programmes like this give people like me purpose! We have learnt a lot and the way we view food gardening has changed. It used to be money-consuming. Now it saves us money because we can depend on EduPlant training and the crops we grow.”
The EduPlant programme encourages schools to develop their food gardens and pass on knowledge to the community. “Involving the community had a huge impact: a group of parents joined the programme and are applying permaculture methods at home. Their children also came to help and they now see that this approach can put food on the table. This strengthened relations between the school and the community,” says Lusibi.
The focus on traditional farming techniques also impressed him. “We have learnt farming methods similar to those the community used historically. It feels good to farm following the old methods,” he explains. “Our facilitators also reminded us that most traditional medicine comes from plants… I was very glad to be introduced to these topics and to be able to impart this knowledge to my colleagues and the learners.”
Aiming for year-round food security
Sifundzekhaya’s lush green garden has raised beds with 12 different crop varieties. “They grow the vegetables commonly grown in the community, including cabbage, tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, onion, beetroot, some maize and beans, as well as unusual ones like brinjal,” says Tshuma. “They have started to observe crop rotation, companion planting, and intercropping, as they were taught at the workshops.”
The school’s garden has grown from around 10 x 20m to about 30 x 40m, and it could have grown even more if not for severe water challenges. “There was certainly enough energy to take it to another level. Mr. Lusibi clearly sacrificed a lot of his spare time to develop the garden gradually with learners – preparing the soil, making new beds, planting new crops, and maintaining the garden,” Tshuma says.
“We would like to expand the size of the garden to increase food supply since we have many learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. The school would also like to plant throughout all seasons. This would ensure food security throughout the year,” Lusibi notes. “We are in a very remote rural area and most children depend on the school feeding scheme, while our neediest learners are given garden food to take home. So, ensuring we have enough vegetables year-round is important.”
Holistic benefits of the EduPlant gardening programme
Sifundzekhaya’s garden has primarily focused on supplementing the school’s feeding scheme. “While the aim was not necessarily income generation, any money raised has been ploughed back into the garden,” says Tshuma. “Some learners have volunteered to work with Mr. Lusibi during their school holidays. With additional resources, the garden could grow into a reliable resource for the local community,” he elaborates.
Lusibi also highlights the EduPlant programme’s holistic importance, as it has harnessed learners’ potential. “The garden has helped channel the energy of rebellious students: many of them have fallen deeply in love with the programme, and they are the ones excelling in our garden,” he says.
“They are hard workers and have become far less rebellious since we introduced the programme. Bullying has decreased, and problem students are now practising permaculture knowledge at home. Parents have even come to school to acknowledge their changed behaviour.”
Sifundzekhaya continues to serve as a bright example of the benefits to be gained from FTFA’s EduPlant gardening programme, experimenting in aspects of container gardening, plant propagation, and pest and disease management. “By sharing their findings in the cluster WhatsApp group and at EduPlant workshops, Sifundzekhaya continues to challenge and motivate other schools – it is one of the schools keeping the WhatsApp group alive,” Tshuma emphasises.