The importance of agriculture as a regional source of income and for maintaining food sovereigntiy has grown considerably in recent years. The ongoing global pandemic has further strengthened this effect. After three years of project support full of ups and downs, we are looking forward to supporting our partner the Bulungula Incubator as  another three years. Their new project “Masilime Sonke – Let’s farm together” aims to establish agriculture as a profitable source of income in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. In this way, the Bulungula Incubator team wants to continue their good work of the past years and thus further strengthen the socio-economic situation of the region in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, which has been strongly affected by the climate crisis.

The Bulungula Incubator is located in a rural part of the Mbhashe District, one of the poorest areas of South Africa. This is closely linked to the fact that during apartheid the region belonged to the ethnically segregated, heavily neglected homeland “Transkei”. As a consequence, the area is still poorly connected to the rest of the country and thus to nationwide markets. Many (infra-)structural problems such as insufficient access to food, clean drinking water, education and agricultural goods such as seeds and fertiliser continue to characterise the region. For some years now, the population of the entire Eastern Cape has also been suffering greatly from the devastating consequences of climate crisis. Weather extremes is the keyword here: initially, the absence of the usual rainfall for several years, starting in 2015, led to one of the worst droughts in generations. At the end of 2019, rain finally came, but in such unusually large quantities that even this rainfall – similar to the drought before – destroyed a large part of the harvests. This is (unfortunately) a classic example of global inequality in the distribution of causes and effects of the climate crisis: people in the Global South contributed or still contribute comparatively very little to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, but are already suffering very severely from its consequences.

The Team of the Bulungula Incubator © Bulungula

Good relations with the local community as the key to success

The non-profit organisation of the Bulungula Incubator has been active in the Wild Coast region since 2004. With the aim of strengthening the positive development of traditional rural life, they have since then pursued a very inclusive, broad-based approach. Their work includes, for example, education programmes on health and nutrition, promotion of socio-culture and comprehensive educational measures for children of different ages. Their work is very well received by the local population. Crucial to this is that the Bulungula Incubator team plans and implements all their projects in close cooperation with the local community from the very beginning. During a project trip in 2017 we visited the Bulungula Incubator and reported in a detailed article about the founding history, approaches and projects of the institution.

Since 2017 the institution has successfully established the “Bulungula Centre for Excellent Small-Scale Agriculture” the centre, named “Masimilie Ngqo!” (Let us Farm Well! in Xhosa) with financial support from the Lemonaid & ChariTea Foundation. In the last three years the centre has become a valuable contact point for farmers in the region. In addition to agricultural education programmes, the centre offered vegetable seedlings, seeds, fertiliser and cultivation and irrigation systems for sale at fair prices. The Bulungula Incubator team also developed a method for the large-scale pickling of various crops supplied by local farmers, such as beetroot and peppers, and their successful distribution nationwide. The results and effects of the first three years of project funding are described in more detail in this article.

Pickled Peppers from the Bulungula Centre © Bulungula

Stipends as a motivator for professional agriculture

In the last year of project funding, the Bulungula Incubator started a new project: a stipend programme for four particularly motivated farmers from the region. The Bulungula Centre equipped the selected farmers with all the necessary know-how as well as equipment and systems to practice agriculture in a commercial way. In addition, they received financial support in the form of small stipends for half a year and were given detailed advice on how to cultivate their fields. The project has a model character: the idea is to show not only the four selected farmers, but also the rest of the population, that farming can be more than just feeding their own families. A well-running agricultural business can generate a comparatively high income for the region and at the same time contribute to food sovereignity in the region. The first test run of the stipend programme has definitely proven this successfully: despite the heavy rainfall, three of the four farmers were able to make a large profit from their first harvest, two of whom still run a self-sustaining agricultural business today.

Building on the excellent results and experiences of last year, the Bulungula Incubator team now wants to take their stipend programme to a new level: financially supported by the Lemonaid & ChariTea Foundation, a total of 36 young farmers will be accompanied in the next three years to build up their own successful agricultural business. Each year twelve selected beneficiaries are accepted into the eight-month support programme. In addition to the monthly stipends, the participants are provided with irrigation systems and seeds at the beginning of the programme. In cooperation with the Buhle Farmers Academy, the stipend holders also receive professional training in vegetable cultivation. The farmers receive a certificate for successful participation in this training programme, which lasts several months. Throughout the entire eight-month support programme, the Bulungula Centre team will be on hand to advise the young farmers with its experience and know-how.

The aim of the project is therefore to show the people along the Xhosa River the potential of intensive agriculture as a profitable source of income. This should prevent young people from moving to the cities in search of employment. The team of the Bulungula Incubator assumes that the success rate could again be around 50 percent. But even 18 new, profitable agricultural companies would be a great result, which would change the region significantly: for the first time ever there would be a larger number of commercial farmers in the region. True to the project’s name – Masilime Sonke (“Let’s farm together”) – this could inspire more locals to follow the established, successful farmers around them. Hopefully this will start a virtuous circle in which farming becomes a profession that is passed on from generation to generation and from neighbour to neighbour without the need for outside financial or technical support.

Farmers at the Bulungula Centre © Bulungula

The Bulungula Incubator uses the funds from the Lemonaid & ChariTea Foundation to pay for stipends, training, technical equipment and seeds for the project participants. In addition, the administrative costs of the Bulungula Centre as well as salary and further training for the project manager are also financed by this money. Last but not least, we also want to promote the very important direct exchange between our project partners: in mid 2021 the project team from the Bulungula Incubator plans to visit the TransFARMation project of our partner Uyisenga Ni Manzi (UNM) in Rwanda.

Solidarity in times of crisis

As with all crises, the corona pandemic is particularly hard on people living in poverty and socially disadvantaged people. The Bulungula Centre quickly recognised this and in response to the pandemic launched a comprehensive support programme. For example, in close cooperation with the local leadership, communities and infectious disease specialists, they created a safe home for over 70 particularly vulnerable community members in the Bulungula Lodge. They also produced information videos and posters about the Corona virus in various local languages. In addition, the Bulungula Incubator team provided the population with seedlings and other agricultural inputs to increase food sovereignity. The children’s education was not neglected either: in cooperation with teachers and parents, they established home learning programmes.

The Corona crisis shows that strong local organisations with a solidary and inclusive mindset are more important than ever. That is why we are happy to support the Bulungula Incubator as a partner for another three years. Professional agriculture not only creates sustainable jobs and income, but also a secure supply of healthy food. The resulting improvement in living conditions in many respects can ultimately also lead to the population in the Mbhashe district being able to react more resiliently to current and future crises.