Visually impaired farmers feed society, create jobs

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

By More Matshediso

Pretoria – Visually impaired elderly citizens in Ga-Rankuwa, Pretoria North, have dedicated their time to planting vegetables to alleviate poverty and create jobs.

Joyce Sibeko, 68, is the founder and chairperson of Ikemiseng Association for the Blind in the area. Her farming association specialises in planting and growing vegetables such as spinach, carrots, beetroot and onion.

Sibeko told SAnews on Tuesday that her agricultural project dates back to 1995, when she joined forces with her fellow visually impaired neighbours.

“I started this project because I had realised that many blind people did not have sufficient food in their homes here in Zone 2 [Ga-Rankuwa]. Houses in this area were built for blind people,” said Sibeko.

Sibeko then went on a door-to-door visit, asking her neighbours to join her in planting vegetables in their backyards so that they can put food on the table.

In 2002, Sibeko and her counterparts successfully applied to get land for farming, and they haven’t looked back.

“We also ventured into a bakery and detergents [business] but we had to stop due to lack of funds,” she said.

Sibeko said their efforts received a great boost from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform in 2013. She said the two-hectare gardening space they are currently using serves as proof of the department’s assistance.

Sibeko said Ikemiseng Association for the Blind still has a few challenges, including insufficient resources that are needed to grow the project.

“We have trees and stems that need to be rooted out of our garden. We are only using two hectares out of 18 hectors of our land. We also had to retrench some of our workers because we could not afford to pay them,” said Sibeko.

The farmers use a generator to draw water from a nearby river to water their vegetables.

A chance to grow

Sibeko’s grandson, Phumelele Zimbaye, 23, said Ikemiseng is promising to grow bigger and create more jobs for the benefit of visually impaired people and the sighted.

“When looking at the business side of the association, I see a lot of growth. Imagine once we start using the entire 18 hectors and get introduced in the market, we will be able to supply our vegetables everywhere,” Zimbaye said.

Currently, Ikemiseng only supplies vegetables to customers in Ga-Rankuwa and Mabopane, also in Pretoria.

Zimbaye said at the moment, a total of 12 visually impaired people, who started the project (including his grandmother), are still part of it and they receive a lot of support from the community.

“Some people volunteer to work in the project. We have about six community members who are not visually impaired, who are hands-on at the project,” he said.

Rachael Kgatjepe and Dorris Ngwako, Ikemiseng members who are not visually impaired, were sitting outside the vegetable garden with bunches of spinach on sale. They told SAnews that business was good locally. At times, the association donates vegetables where needed and also supplies to pre-schools and at funerals.

Zimbaye said about 25 people, including volunteers, are involved in the project. Furthermore, Ikemiseng has youth members on the waiting list, who want to be part of the project.

“We want to start a programme where we will provide [young people] with skills development in terms of agriculture. We want to partner with the school for the blind [located near Ikemiseng’s garden],” he said.

Private sector encouraged to lend support

The Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Bheki Cele, visited Ikemiseng Association for the Blind on Tuesday. He was amazed by the work done at the project.

Deputy Minister Cele said he learned of the farming project about two months ago, and today he came to get a first-hand account of how it works.

“The Department of Agriculture is mandated to create… jobs and bring on young people and people with disabilities. This is a start. Several government departments should come on board with regards to this project. It is an initiative that will have to be supported,” said the Deputy Minister.

He also called on the private sector and community members to show their support.

“With 18 hectares, they can be self-sufficient and sustainable. They can even be rich from this, if they [maximise land use],” he said.

He said he will also ask the Department of Social Development to support Ikemiseng by buying vegetables from the association when packaging food parcels for the needy.

The Deputy Minister said out of 12 colleges and six universities that provide agriculture-related studies in the country, government should liaise with institutions to ensure that they devise special programmes to accommodate more visually and hearing impaired students who are interested in farming.

He said government will continue to support such initiatives, where community members make the effort to fight poverty and unemployment. -