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Umgibe Farming Organics-Bringing change in refugees lives, women, disabled & displaced communities; alleviating poverty & saving environment

Umgibe Farming Organics; a carbon-ecological saving, food and income generating vegetable-growing system

Photo of Baluku Isaya
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Umgibe is a carbon-saving, ecological-organic, self-help job creation  vegetable box scheme which currently provides weekly boxes filled with vegetables grown by grassroots farmers from the sub-economic townships of KZN. Boxes of ‘picked-and-packed-that-day’ vegetables are delivered weekly to schools, institutions and businesses in the greater KZN area, where they are collected by the clients from a distribution point within each organization. The vegetables are bought from local micro-farmers who have been contracted to grow for Umgibe.

Umgibe  has moved “growing vegetables” to true social uplift-ment in enterprise development and supplier development, effectively dragging people out from the base of the pyramid to empowered entrepreneurs. This ingenious system even solves the issues of herbicides and pesticides and uses a fraction of the water needed for conventional agriculture.

Umgibe's main focus is on promote agriculture through organics and includes vegetable and plant propagation that aims to ensure food security in KZN. All the  members of the co-operative are 100% involved in the day to day operations of the venture.

The cooperative was established after it had identified the following problems:

Prevalence of poverty and food insecurity in Africa and especially in townships and rural areas a dire need to stimulate the local economy and encourage women and youth entrepreneurship. 

Climate change is bringing many challenges to local farmers and nutritional problems.

High unemployment and malnutrition. Umgibe  is therefore  informed by the above socio-economic challenges in all its economic activities. Besides being managed on sound business and profit oriented principles as part of its social responsibility activities it will contribute to increased agricultural production and poverty reduction among smallholder and women farmers.

Umgibe Farming Organics position in the Development Chain (continuum) Umgibe aims to support approximately 150 micro-farmers (home gardeners and community allotment gardeners) each year. Most micro-farmers are at survival level (new farmers) and at subsistence level (more experienced farmers). These survival and subsistence farmers are the driving force behind the urban farming movement in KZN. 2500 of these micro-farmers run home-based gardens, while 500 run community allotment gardens.

Umgibe is the instrument launched  to “pull” survival and subsistence farmers along the Development Chain, from Survival level, into Subsistence level and then into Livelihood level. Livelihood level is the ‘semi-commercial’ level ie: 50% cash crops and 50% of their produce for own home and local community consumption. Livelihood level is the level at which  Umgibe  aim to establish most of the 500 micro-farmers (allotment gardeners) they support each year. Umgibe also “pushes” (supports) the farmers, through its ongoing training, bulk supply and extension support programme. Livelihood level retains all the health and social benefits of small community-level farming systems while also allowing for self- help job creation, where farmers can earn up to R1500/month per farmer off 2x 7 structure per farmer.

Umgibe  thus also has the potential in future to assist some Livelihood level farmers to transit into Commercial level, where farmers can sell 100% of their crops for cash. The downside of ‘pure commercial’ is that social and even direct health benefits (from consumption of own fresh produce) tend to go out the window in the scramble for personal profit and do not normally re-appear as a factor in the development chain until people have become wealthy.

UMGIBE is involved in the following activities:

  1. Commercial Vegetable production: The produce includes spinach, beet root, tomatoes, cabbage, brinjal, potatoes, butternut and carrots. The produce is pre-packed and marketed to commercial customers .
  2.  Mobilisation and capacitating of other agricultural co-operatives and facilitate their access to sustainable markets that have been developed by Umgibe. Active participation in new agricultural technologies. Currently Umgibe has introduced and rolling out a technology which enables individuals without adequate land space and soil quality to grow vegetables using ordinary grocery bags. This technology has been named Umgibe Climate SMART Programme.
  3. Conducting experiential commercial agriculture and food security workshops.
  4. Building and sustaining synergistic and mutual beneficial relationships with other partners. At the moment 34  cooperatives (vegetable production and they own 84 hectares of land).

Umgibe Model:-

Umgibe  is using two different approaches

  1. Cooperative approach; - 34  Cooperatives have been formed each with a minimum of  2ha have joined hands with Umgibe network in various areas of KZN. This was setup to ensure adequate supply for our clients while also creating financial benefits for the members of the involved Cooperatives.
  2. Umgibe farming organic Network approach;- This was born out of dire need from  individuals who wanted to be a part of Umgibe Network  but who could not meet the criteria because they had no land, or no space at all. Umgibe through this innovative method has been able to reach out to people who would normally be unable to participate in produce supply. Through Umgibe we can create  a sustainable community where each individual is able to lead a healthy lifestyle with access to food, water, shelter, education, information, health services and a means to earn a sustainable living using their talents, experience and natural resources.

Full assistance– For a new Umgibe owner, the process of achieving full production and profitability is enhanced by the high back up levels which Umgibe offers its customers.   The Umgibe system is almost a franchise, but without the costs associated with franchising; this support includes on site assembly and all produce grown will be guaranteed market and the grower will be able to earn a living in his or her backyard.

Horizontal Boundaries;-Horizontal boundaries identify the quantities and varieties of products and services that our Cooperatives  may offer given the right equipment; Vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, butternut etc. In terms of “horizontal” potential, there exists scope for generating more revenue by offering drying, cleaning, bulk handling and packaging services.

Vertical Boundaries;-Vertical boundaries have to do with how far “upstream” or “downstream” a firm’s activities are defined along the value chain. 

The premises provide for conducting all the activities between the farm gate and the final consumer of the said products and by-products.

This entails the purchase of physical stock from the farmers and other small-scale assemblers and traders, value-adding it, processing, pre-packing and selling same to end users. Value adding:

It was also intended that as much value will be added as possible, through innovative systems such as home delivery of organic produce; food processing (drying, packing, sauces, etc.); as well as increasing the range of produce, should be looked at to create differentiation so as to reduce competition for certain produce, that resulting in higher prices.

A key and on-going input cost identified was packaging for product presentation, transport and sale. A concern existed that the sale of organic produce in toxic and unsustainable packaging was going to be counter-productive, and as such, the idea of locally produced sustainable packaging, such as that from paper pulp was expected to form part of the process.

The issue of safely re-usable packaging, such as glass bottles were recommended as the key component of the area.

We will implement a number of these initiatives based on the proven Umgibe food production systems and food processing initiatives as per the products we shall be able to produce.

Umgibe organics, value added products (Nutrious famented and pawder vegetables) made by the Umgibe youth network

Umgibe current and future plans;

Currently we are building a community based Eco–Agritourism Centre, a factory  that will process all vegetables grown by our members. HACCP compliance, Accreditation by Agriseta.  Employment of 30 people by  the end of 2017. And also we plan to build the first Umkhumbane Green Restaurent.

Explain your idea

Umgibe Farming Organics is a carbon-saving, ecological, organic, income generating vegetable-growing system which provides a platform to market vegetables grown by grassroots based women and youth farmers in South Africa both the elderly, disabled and even the displaced. Umgibe involves using recycled and affordable materials to create and expand space for vegetable growing for both home as food and also commercial purposes for increased income. UMGIBE is a frugal, climate smart, portable, space and water efficient innovation. Its promotes farmer-owned, well-governed, well-managed, profitable & equitable cooperatives. Umgibe works with 34 cooperatives to produce, process and supply their own products. Umgibe is also involved in community projects working with Department of Social Development and other community organizations and churches to improve the quality of life in the under saved community. Umgibe, is more than just a scalable business. Its a means to empower and do away with dependency. It is a climate Smart system to grow organic vegetables that is raised approximately 80 cm off the ground. Using recycled plastic bags attached to a recycled structure, the system requires less water & space. Our aim is create an affordable and exemplary enabling environment to refugees, disable, women and youth to be a premier business cooperative committed to providing and promoting leadership in sustainable agriculture, and advanced crop on the African continent and to be the emerging African farmers of choice, promoting environmentally friendly mechanisms of producing good quality agricultural products effectively for the growing demand, with our own set markets. Umgibe has developed programs on crop diversification, promoting backyard vegetable and horticulture gardens, school gardens and grain banks to achieve food and nutritional security for the small holder growers in Africa. Enhancing productivity and Reducing costs of cultivation: Holistic approach and ecologically aligned technical interventions; internalized inputs for production; collective marketing. We also identify and clean up illegal dumping sites together with the affected local communities. We convert those sites to communal vegetable gardens for their self sustenance and facilitate a market for the off take of their fresh produce that cannot be consumed. Waste collected from these sites is sorted, put in bags and sold to recycling buy back centres for cash, providing another income stream for the beneficiaries We clean up after events and forge partnerships with corporate clients for buy back. Our commitment to superior business ethics with the social and environmental impact. Our business has been built on a number of pillars of Food security to refugees and displaced communities, Urban farming, Environmental impact and Social-economic Impact. We believe in delivering products that are organically grown, provide balanced nutrition and does not harm environment.

Who Benefits?

This idea aims at assisting and bringing change in the lives of refugees, women, disabled, youth and also displaced communities in Africa to produce healthy affordable food, leading towards enduring food security, to create jobs, to alleviate poverty, to transfer skills through training, provide specialist advice on how best to invest scarce resources in order to make a real difference to their lives and help them participate in the main stream economy. One of the benefits of using Umgibe is that it is not labour intensive, there is no need for physical labour even children , disabled people and someone who has never done gardening can use Umgibe method. It does not matter how small the space is umgibe can be used for subsistence or small scale commercial farming. Creation of rural employment opportunities and skills transfer to up to 250 people per year. And Idea will promote increased vegetable production and foster competitive marketing of the local products.

How is your idea unique?

Umgibe farming method uses recycled plastic bags as a medium of growing vegetables using traditional gardening. Umgibe system is organic in every respect. Local seedling production, local crops grown in home-made compost with additional nutrients through vermiculture and organic pesticides through vermiculture. With its unique door to door weekly box delivery of organic vegetables and fair trade added value products considered as the viable marketing strategy for the local community. The supply of the bulk market is agreed to be considered when enough supply has been established. Umgibe also uses biddin material just appropriate as an alternative to using recycled plastic bags, Fabric pots are so widely used is not to create a stronger pot, but to create a better pot, they provides a breathable healthy growing environment. With ever-increasing demand for affordable, better quality food products, Umgibe model could not have come at a better time to penetrate the market.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about you

Baluku Isaya is a passionate farmer grown up from a farming background, a founder of Young Agro-green Africa Network (YAGANET) a social enterprise that stimulate agribusiness development, health promotion and create a green economy of young green Agripreneurs who values nature in Uganda & Africa, and founder of Health Village Drive (HEVID) a social business enterprise that works to improve the well being of pregnant women, mothers and girls in the rural Rwenzori areas of Uganda through creating an enabling environment for timely access to quality health care whenever needed. Am writing this idea in partnership with Nanhlanhla Eunephacia Joye the founder of Umgibe farming orginics and institute who lives in South Africa. UMGIBE is a frugal ,climate smart ,portable ,space and water efficient innovation. Umgibe is 100% black owned Level 1 B-BBEE. Its promotes farmer-owned, well-governed, well-managed, profitable & equitable cooperatives. Umgibe works with 34 cooperatives to produce, process and supply their own products. Umgibe is also involved in community projects working with Department of Social Development and other community organizations and churches to improve the quality of life in the community especially in urban townships. Umgibe Farming Organics and Training Institute, was Position 3 2015 DARD Female Entrepreneur (Provincial Level) Processing Sector, Top Ten 2015 New Economy Accelerator Entrepreneur ( National Innovators for Green Economy), 2016 Lifeco Enterprizer, 1st Runner up 2016 DARD Female Entrepreneur (Provincial Level) Processing Sector, Featured on Farmers Weekly November 5 2015 Women feed the African continent, Recognized as the organization that develops cooperatives for the 2016 International Cooperative Day. Chosen as the Nominee for 2016 Durban Chamber of Business Ultimate Challenge and Nominee for the 2016 Ethekwini Mayoral Awards of Excellence Umgibe was a winner of the Impact2 Award semi-finals in Johannesburg in November last year for which ELLE formed part of the judging panel. The Impact2 Award is a global initiative that celebrates female social entrepreneurship.The first round of the competition, is usually held in 10-15 countries around the world, including the USA, Hong Kong, France, Spain and Chile. One local start-up is chosen as the winner in each region, and goes on to represent each participating country in the global finale at the Impact2 World Forum in Paris. Amazingly, out of nine participating countries at the Impact2 World Forum, Umgibe farming organics won this Global Award.

Expertise in sector

  • 1-2 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered social enterprise.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Baluku!

Thank you for submitting, Umgibe! I can see how you bridge planet and prosperity. What are your plans for the next 1,2 and 3 years?

How long have you been in operation?

Is this you?

Are there alternatives to the use of plastic bags in case South Africa follows Kenya and bans the sale of new bags?

Photo of Baluku Isaya

Dear Kate!
Due to the available market potential, the eThekwini Metro Area is racially and culturally diverse with an estimated population of just over 3.5 million and population projections indicate that the 2020 figure will be 4.07 million. African, Indian and European influences create a vibrant cosmopolitan society. Due to the established offset agreements with PCK, Shoprite there is an already developed market that this project has entry to. The development of an informal distribution wing to service the normally inaccessible far flung rural areas creates novel market opportunities. And the department of Education's feeding schemes, Department of Social Development and the Health Department that we are already indirectly servicing. Based on this, these are our three year plan;
Year 1:
Establish and commission the project. Re – identification and empowerment of both women and youth around agriculture in vulnerable communities, Provision of agricultural technical skills development programme; Ensure that infrastructure and equipment needed are in place; Provide business training. logistics and market linkages
Forge partnerships between public and private sectors for sustainable support
Year 2:
Bed down operational efficiencies and develop informal distribution arm. Plan expansion of best of eThekwini model to South and North KZN. Thereafter, to expand the concept to other countries in Africa, like Uganda.
Year 3:
Roll out of two similar models in Uganda's refugee camps and slum areas, working in partnership with Young Agro-green Africa Network-YAGANET

UMGIBE Farming organics was formed in 2014, and its currently in its third year of operation.
Is this you?
Yes, this us presenting this idea (Baluku Isaya and Nonhlanhla Joye)
Umugibe idea was formed from south African by Nonhlanhla Joye, who has piloted it and wishes to scale it also to Uganda fully in 2-3 years to come in partnership with Young Agro-green Africa Network-YAGANET founded by Baluku Isaya in Uganda which is also testing the Umgibe model and wishes to scale it up soon.
Are there alternatives to the use of plastic bags in case South Africa follows Kenya and bans the sale of new bags?
Yes at Umgibe, we are very much conscious about the next pro-nature movement, first of all we have started cleaning up dumping places and recycling waste into decomposable plastic bags that we are now yet to start using at our various Umgibe sites. And we are hopefully that by the time we fully scale up the project to Uganda and any other country in Africa, there will be enough capacity to produce and supply re-useable plastic bags in our Umgibe networks.

Photo of Nonhlanhla Joye

Hi Kate , we have been working very hard to find an alternative to plastic and at the end we found a material called biddin which is just appropriate as an alternative to using recycled plastic bags,the main reason Fabric pots are so widely used is not to create a stronger pot, but to create a better pot, they provides a breathable healthy growing environment. Fabric pots, unlike traditional black plastic pots, allow water and air to flow through its structure nourishing the root of the plant. It also does not allow the plants roots to circle once they meet the resistance of the wall of the pot. Instead, through a couple of different means, the fabric causes the plant to send out new fibrous roots rather than circle and harm the plant. Thank you

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