Capacity Building: Urban Farming and Gardening

Dec 19, 2012

"If You Can Grow Your Own Food, You Can Be Free."

Founder of Abalimi, Rob Smalls (Right)
Founder of Abalimi, Rob Smalls (Right)

Abalimi isn't just about growing vegetables; it's not just a project, but a movement to foster freedom for all through community farming.

Nearly every aspect of their programming reflects local township leadership: farming, harvesting, food education, and more are all speer-headed by the black South Africans who live in the townships (Khayelitsha, Nyanga, and the and rural settlements by the Cape Flats where many of the farming plots are based).

Founder Rob Small's bottom-up leadership philosophy really shines through via the workflow of the Abalimi movement. For instance, during my visit -- which was conducted as an official Abalimi Tour -- we first visited a plot that was currently harvesting spring onions (the largest I'd ever seen in my life!) and other vegetables; there, Rob mentioned that the women working that plot had told him about a week ago that the watering system had stopped working. When he asked them whether it had been fixed, they told him no, and he proceeded to explain to them what they needed to do to get to it. Later, he let us know that it would take a phone call from him to fix the faulty equipment, but that it was important that the women learned to be resourceful and advocate for themselves.

Abalimi takes pride on nurturing community leadership. At the core of their programming is education, supported by a referral system that links people to resources (not just related to urban agriculture, but civic engagement and local municipal government services). This is all part of Abalimi's push to empower farmers to stand on their own two feet.

As with agriculture across the board, farmers are not able to make a profit (or even make net) without government subsidies. So, the funds from GlobalGiving go towards that subsidy, reducing the cost of farming and harvesting so make it worthwhile for the community. Rob's goal is to empower enough farmers to want to produce more food so that they can take more advanced orders and sell more, which will further lower the cost of farming and increase profits for the farmers. It's certain that the funds from GG are used very thoughtfully, and strategically.

The most inspiring part of the visit was meeting the woman who runs the Abalami training center (where they sell seeds to new farmers and offer training so that they can get started). She started out as a farmer, and is now such an expert that she trains other people to train farmers. From her work as a farmer, she has been able to purchase a car, send her children to school, and live a very comfortable life. Rob insists this is attainable for anyone who desires it, even in urban farming. And is constantly working to drive that message home to young people.

"If you can grow your own food, you can be free. You can earn money, drive a decent care, provide for your family. You won't have to ask the government for anything. That is real freedom."

Marking Your Plot!
Marking Your Plot!
Packaging the Vegetables for Delivery
Packaging the Vegetables for Delivery
Young Horticulturist Volunteers at Abalimi
Young Horticulturist Volunteers at Abalimi

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Project Leader

Rob Small

Resource Mobilisation Leader and Board Secretary
Cape Town, Western Cape South Africa

Where is this project located?

Map of Capacity Building: Urban Farming and Gardening