COVID-19: Food distribution and health support to informal settlements

Click here to read about the Ivory Park #COVID-19 Campaign relief initiative 

The Ubuntu Project

COVID-19 SA lockdown regulations put strain on the livelihoods of vulnerable communities, and loss of income meant many people were unable to buy food. In the early stage of level 5 lockdown, families and small-scale farmers were cut off from one another, making it challenging to access food support. Tamara Reddy of the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) spoke with Dorah Marema to find out what lead her to create The Ubuntu Project.

In response, Dorah Marema and Christina Vestey of Seed Community and The Green Business College, Lorentzville, Johannesburg, set up The Ubuntu Project as a distribution and donation hub connecting local food producers to communities in need of food.

A packed box that strategically contains honey and soap, seedlings, compost, and a gardening magazine, aim to meet people’s daily nutritional needs; and educate them on growing their own food. The project reinvents ‘distribution’ by using the spirit of Ubuntu to give, teach, and heal people.

Marema explains: "The major purpose of the Ubuntu Project is for people to learn to grown their own food and to become food sovereign. We want to inspire people to learn do this. People have to participate in this learning process and cannot only depend on handouts."

Through this network, small-scale farmers were able to sell their produce, share their food growing expertise with beneficiaries, and become connected to other farmers. This mobilisation has linked small-scale farmers and foodpreneurs operating in communities across Gauteng, the smallest and most densely populated province in South Africa, which is shaping and strengthening local food service networks.

Pivotal figures in this movement in Gauteng include farmer Tim Abaa, who runs Tim Nectar Farms and social enterprise Orange Farm Honey in Orange Farm, and Mpho Sekati of Illussion xiix Farms, Tembisa.

Tim Abba of Tim Nectar Farms heading food distribution in the Vaal Area, Gauteng © The Ubuntu Project

Good food brings everyone to the table

The emergence of the Ubuntu Project – one node in a larger network that has sprung up through the joint mobilisation of community groups, localised food producers and civil society organisations such as the C19 Coalition, highlights the need for us to shift from a dependency on a food system dominated by large-scale companies. Localised systems offer a chance for communities to connect and value each other through trading their food and skills, to develop and sustain themselves.

Marema says, “It’s about social cohesion, where a lot of members of the community and small-scale food producers come together in sharing, exchanging, learning, teaching and feeding one another about food as a means to live in a better way. The project drives community mobilisation in restoring the spirit of Ubuntu."

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Ubuntu Veggie Boxes equipped with organic farm vegetables and eggs, seedlings and compost © The Ubuntu Project

I am because you are

The Ubuntu Project has grown beyond its founders and belongs to the community, where beneficiaries are encouraged to use the framework to re-envision their communities and long-term sustainability, free from dependency. It challenges people to realise their potential and thrive confidently as leaders and creators.

Marema believes, "People know how to grow food. It’s not about empowering, it’s about igniting one’s own inner potential. It’s to remind people about the wisdom that they already possess, that they already know. They have this."

The primary focus of the Ubuntu project is to train communities to grow their own food so that they can improve their livelihoods. Through training programs specific to community development, the Ubuntu Project offers an agri-business course to help its beneficiaries become conscious entrepreneurs.

To date, older community members are already harvesting the produce of the seeds donated by the project two months ago. The project inspires adults living in the communities to teach their youth about wealth generation by showing children how to grow food and sell what they harvest. Children are able to reap the financial rewards when adults buy their harvest and seedlings while learning about responsibility, self-sustainability and making money successfully.

The project is currently funded by donations that were raised nationally, on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and from South Africans living abroad. Recently, the creators of iCE Angel, an app that provides one instant access with their medical records, have come on board in sponsoring the project.

For more information and to get your community involved with the Ubuntu Project’s agri-business training course, contact Dorah Marema at dm@seedcom.orgFacebook @GreenBusinessCollege. Instagram @ubuntuprojectafrica

Order fresh organic produce here: https://www.ubuntuproject.africa/ 

The Green Business college: www.greenbusinesscollege.com

Ubuntu Project food distribution and coordination activity in Vaal Area, Gauteng © The Ubuntu Project

Ivory Park #COVID-19 Campaign relief initiative

Isolation is never a stranger to the community in Ivory Park, Gauteng. There, the community-based network Midrand Solidarity Economy Educators & Communication Cooperatives (MSEECC) uses education, awareness and grassroots initiatives to bring unity to people who have lost a sense of belonging.

In the early stages of the lockdown, Tamara Reddy of the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) spoke with the MSEECC organiser Moeketsi Monaheng to find out how they were responding to the harsh level 5 lockdown, as individuals and as an organisation.

At the beginning of lockdown, regulations disabled small-scale farmers and informal traders’ ability to provide food access and distribution to its members. Later, regulations shifted in recognition of the critical need for local food producers to keep their businesses open. However, as informal traders began selling food again, their prices were high to make up for lost time and income. This raised concern, causing the MSEECC to revaluate their food distribution strategy. Focus shifted from sourcing and working with small-scale food producers to increasing the diversity of food distribution channels accessible vulnerable communities.

In week one, the MSEECC could only support five households, which grew to covering over 40 households in Ivory Park and Vusimuzi informal settlement, in nearby Tembisa.

Monaheng says, "Community organising requires one to identify and spot different community initiatives, which need support in the fight for social equality."

Members of the Ivory Park community gather with anticipation as they are allocated food parcels lead by the MSEECC's COVID-19 campaign relief initiative. © Moeketsi Monaheng

Making connections and the lack of connection

The MSEECC also helps the community to withstand the impact of COVID-19 by circulating user-friendly information digitally about the regulations and safety and sanitation techniques.

Monaheng says,“If we had a chance to have bigger workshops, where people can have proper dialogue around the issue, they will become conscious of the issue. People are dismissive about the virus because there is a lack of connection within the community. If a member were shown cases of people, places and situations affected by the virus who they know, have met and can relate to, then they believe the realness of the pandemic. When people feel connection, they respond entirely different to an issue, they want to do things differently. Solidarity in the community is a community initiative on its own that needs strengthening. This needs a lot of support. If people don’t understand each other then they can’t work together.”

After receiving a travel permit, the organisation is able to find and connect with other community outreach organisations activating COVID-19 support and awareness initiatives on an impactful scale.

Monaheng says, "It is important to understand that the lockdown does not affect people all the same way. We want to plan our campaigns and initiatives to accommodate those differences, which is why it’s necessary to connect with other community organisers of informal settlements in the city."

A beneficiary of the MSEECC's food relief initiative assists in tracking the distribution of food and sanitary parcels © Moeketsi Monaheng

Lockdown SA

Ironically, the lockdown has unlocked some opportunities not available to the Ivory Park community before the pandemic.

Monaheng explains, “The MSEECC is now able to mobilise even in sectors we couldn’t reach before. The pandemic has reinforced the spirit of collectiveness. The response to the abuse of power by law enforcements has been united and more people have developed interest to understand how the regulations get drafted to respond to material conditions.”

During the pandemic, people’s perceptions are shifting consciously for the better in the Ivory Park community. Despite lack of funding, easing of lockdown regulations allows the MSEECC to continue instilling the spirit of self-sustainability and growth needed to reduce Ivory Park’s hunger pains ­­­– through outreach and development dialogues that keep up with the current trends impacting the Ivory Park community. This includes active awareness campaigns about issues like the Corona virus, food production and community responsibility.

Monaheng concludes, Government funds need to be allocated to support internal production and local economic development. The reliance on imports of finished goods is counter-developmental.”

Life will not be the same for the people of Ivory Park informal settlement after COVID-19. The MSEECC is strongly aware of this but will continue to evolve its work with its community on other issues affecting people.

In the long run, the MSEECC hopes that people living in the community will understand the importance of striving for food sovereignty. The aim of the community development programs is to give recognition and support to vulnerable members, so they gain the confidence to understand their human rights and have the power to grow their own wealth resources as a united community.

For more information on how to get involved with MSEECC's COVID-19 Campaign relief initiatives, contact Moeketsi Monaheng on +27 78 041 7402.

Food and sanitation parcels the MSEECC distributed to it's Ivory Park community © Moeketsi Monaheng