In January 2017 we visited a new project in South Africa supported by the Lemonaid & ChariTea Foundation.
After a full day of driving, three hours on dirt roads and a flat tire we finally arrived at our final destination. The organization Bulungula Incubator, which we visited, is located in the Wild Coast in the Transkaai. This area is highly shaped historically, because it is a former “homeland”. This means that during the apartheid the formerly as “coloured” classified and discriminated population groups were sent into this area and it was formally regarded as state-independent. After the end of the apartheid and after the re-integration of the Transkaai, it was still obvious that the infrastructure was insufficient in comparison to the rest of South Africa. Until a few years ago, for example, there were only a few roads, no schools and no access to water. Up until now, there is only access to electricity in few urban parts, access to water is often only possible through a collection point with a tap or a well.
The other side of the coin is a complete untouched paradise of nature with graceful green hills and many valleys in between. In addition, we discovered the traditionally round, mostly turquoise-painted houses of the Xhosa culture living there, which immediately excited us listening to the click sounds in their language.
Long before the organization was established, the initiator Dave Martin traveled around the world. He traveled off the track from the normal tourist paths, lived in remote communities and learned a lot about other cultures and traditions. After the trip, he realized that he wanted to build sustainable and holistic ecotourism projects to promote rural development.
With this goal, he returned to his home country South Africa and devoted himself to the area, which was neglected by apartheid. He hiked the entire Wild Coast from Port Elizabeth to Durban and found an old, no longer used house on a hill – with a picturesque view at the coast where the sea and the river meet in kind of a lagoon (see photo above).
There he founded the Bulungula Eco.Lodge in 2002 and opened it in 2004. Later it became the first Fairtrade certified lodge in the world. The electricity comes from solar cells, there are composting toilets and the possible things to do are offered by the community of the surrounding villages. A canoe ride up the Xhora River, a long walk along the beach, a cooking course with women in their huts, fishing with local fishermen, collecting firewood or brewing traditional beer … the list of possibilities is quite long.
Dave, formerly working in the IT industry in London, built the lodge with his savings. The most important part for him was not only the participation of the local community from the Nqileni village. But more importantly the co-ownership (40%) and therefore also the sharing of responsibilities amongst each other. In addition, he always planned with a “bus crash” scenario – because he wanted to make sure that the project would live on without him. Thus he travelled abroad every five years for a year.
Nowadays Dave speaks the local Xhosa language and lives with his wife Rejane Woodroffe, an economist, within the local community. He could not live from it, since he paid everyone salaries at Bulungula Lodge, except of himself. It is his wife financing their travels together, because of consulting from time to time.
In 2014, he handed over his shares (60%) to the community and thus was able to devote himself to his next vision: the Bulungula Incubator. Although the Bulungula Lodge managed to bring first independent income structures into the community. However, there were other challenges he had encountered over the years: when he started his work there, eight of nine mothers lost their child – mainly caused by diarrhoea, as there were no sanitation facilities or other hygienic measures. Also the child mortality rate was very high. Until 2007, still a third of the babies died from contaminated water. For this reason, Dave and his wife started a crowdfunding campaign for clean drinking water, to deal with the pollution directly at the spring. Another achievement was an ambulance, which they got after a four-year struggle with the local government. It is now in use and connects the larger community to the nearest clinic. Since 2010, there is also a road, although the last three hours to Bulungula consist of gravel roads and earthy trails. The only work opportunities for the local population so far were to work outside in the mining industry in South Africa and send money home. There are rarely other jobs in the area. The only cash reaching the people in the area have are public social- or pension grants. These are paid in South Africa once a month in cash.
With the Bulungula Incubator, Dave and his wife wanted to tackle the challenges of the community even more holistically. It is a rural development organisation that strives to be a catalyst in the creation of vibrant and sustainable rural communities. Their projects form three focus areas: Education, Sustainable Livelihoods and Health & Nutrition. They work to achieve their vision by partnering with the community, government, NGO’s and other innovative thinkers to find synergies between the traditional rural African culture, and external technologies and innovations.
The Lemonaid & ChariTea Foundation supports a project of the Bulungula Incubator, which assists the people to become successful farmers on their own land thus improving their nutrition and income. The goal is to produce food for their own consumption, plus to be able to sell it locally to create their own sustainable income. Census figures show that the unemployment rate in our region is 93% with 33% of households living on less than R800/€52 per month. Incredibly, the main vegetables consumed in the area are “imported” by trucks from East London, a city five hours way. There are many reasons why this unusual situation has developed in the region but primarily it has to do with South Africa’s Apartheid history and the fact that food production in South Africa is dominated by a small number of giant commercial farms supplying the large supermarket chains.
The main reasons are:
- lack of access to agricultural supplies (seeds, fertilizers, farming tools, tractors, etc.),
- lack of funds to pay for fencing and ploughing,
- lack of irrigation systems forcing women to transport all their water needs on their heads,
- lack of entrepreneurial skills needed to run a sustainable small farm,
- lack of access to external markets to sell produce due to high transport costs,
- lack of knowledge as to which crops can be most profitably grown and sold.
The aim for the farmers is to supply the local market so that they no longer “import” vegetables and thereby to develop their own food sovereignty. Fortunately, there is considerable interest in supporting small-scale farmers and many buyers locally and further afield are looking to buy products from the community if they can be produced at a competitive price. After supplying the nearby markets with vegetables, the plan is to gradually expand outwards as production increases and costs will then become more competitive.
In order to do this, they will create the Bulungula Centre for Excellent Small- Scale Agriculture. This Centre will make use of the best knowledge available locally and internationally to develop a tool-kit of technologies and practices that local farmers can adopt to become successful small-scale farmers. The Centre will also provide a number of services that individual farmers cannot afford themselves, for example: transport once per month to the next nearby vegetable markets and food processing facilities that will enable value- adding.
We started our visit there with a tour from Funke Jaja in the kindergarten and school from the Bulungula Incubator. Funke originally comes from the town Port St. Johns up East the Wild Coast line and works now for the Bulungula Incubator school. After that we visited different households, projects and finally also some small-scale agricultural gardens. So far, they plan to grow cabbage, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, onion.
In the end we visited the location, where they will open the Bulungula Centre for Excellent Small-Scale Agriculture. We could feel the motivation and enthusiasm by the people to finally start this project. The Lemonaid & ChariTea Foundation supports the project for three years – and we are looking forward to our next visit.