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EduPlant Programme demonstrates that you can inspire youth towards food security and a profession in agriculture

The EduPlant Programme is South Africa’s longest-running and most impactful school gardening and nutrition programme. Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) has run the programme since 1994, bringing food gardens to thousands of South African schools and mentoring school greening, environmental education, and social development.

To commemorate Youth Day on June 16, Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) spoke to secondary school learners from two EduPlant hubs in KwaZulu-Natal about their views on South African agriculture and food security. The EduPlant Programme has inspired these learners to pursue Agricultural Studies at tertiary level. In the interviews, it emerged that part of this inspiration includes being receptive to indigenous knowledge systems, as well as new ideas and technologies.

What was particularly interesting in interviews was the interplay of traditional agriculture and modern agricultural technologies, where both were acknowledged by the learners as being part of the solution. “With today’s population growth we need advanced technology to increase productivity,” says Yolanda Mkungo. But they also see subsistence farming as an important part of agriculture. Zolani Ntombela states, “Once you plant a seed in the soil, you are already doing agriculture.”

Students also believe there should be more emphasis on traditional farming methods, like using cow manure as organic fertiliser. “These old ways of planting have sustained us and given inspiration to modern technology,” says Elihle Langa. “It is our grannies who first taught us how to look after plants and the land,” notes Olwethu Xaba.

Traditional permaculture knowledge is an important component of South African agriculture and should be supported. Amahle Dlamini, for example, grew up seeing intercropping in action: “My mother and father planted pumpkins and maize together. When I was learning, I found out that planting crops together has a science behind it. Beans climb on the maize stalk and provide crucial nitrogen to the soil for the maize, while pumpkins provide shade and ground cover”.

However, some learners highlighted perceived shortfalls in the current education system. Luyanda Mkhize points out, “Our agricultural science curriculum is outdated and there are no opportunities to study new farming methods,” while Akhona Mkhasibe notes, “We only get help and support from NGOs”.

The majority of learners from Shea O’Connor and King’s Harvest Academy environmental club also believe that the Department of Agriculture could be more supportive. Ayanda Shabalala says, “We lack support, training, and skills for practising agriculture. Government announces it has the budget to support subsistence and commercial farmers, but money never reaches the appropriate people”. Aphiwe Mthethwa agrees: “One of the contributors to unemployment is the lack of skills development. Skills development starts in school”.

FTFA understands that education, sensitivity, and support form the basis of sustainable food garden projects. This is why all food gardening programmes start small and grow big. This year a new two-year cycle has begun, supported by the continuation of a five-year Corporate Social Investment (CSI) partnership between FTFA and Tiger Brands. The partnership has already touched the lives of thousands of schoolchildren and hundreds of communities. Over the course of 2022 and 2023, the EduPlant Programme will create fully-fledged, flourishing permaculture school food gardens in a further 300 schools nationwide.

“The EduPlant programme is an instrument of critical importance, in motivating the youth to pursue careers in the agricultural industry and understand the importance of Agriculture addressing unemployment and food insecurity”, says Bharathi Tugh, EduPlant Manager.

The EduPlant school gardens support the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) feeding scheme and thereby improves the health of learners and their ability to study and develop. The additional nutrition from fresh herbs and vegetables significantly improves the students’ ability to concentrate and invest in their education.

“We are so proud to partner with the EduPlant programme, enabling young people to grow their own food at scale. Through school gardens, we can all help to feed our families and communities. Well done to these schools nourishing and nurturing young minds!” said Preeya Naidu, Social Transformation Manager, Tiger Brands.

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