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Growing Sustainable Farmers

Community-supported, sustainable agricultural enterprises constructed around satisfying local consumption and enriching dignified living.

Photo of Thaven Naidoo
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Growing Sustainable Farmers (Pty) Ltd

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

A broad consortium of role-players, currently being led by Jay Naidoo (co-lead), Louisa Zondo (co-lead, legal, governance), Dr Gavin Andersson - AnderssonAfrika (OW, operations), Reginald Pillay (finance), Sarah Motha (gender, indigenous knowledge systems and agriculture) and Thaven Naidoo (agriculture, climate finance and adaptation). Under the aegis of the Nelson Mandela Foundation the consortium has engaged AgriSa, (representing commercial agriculture in South Africa), and has been in discussions with large commercial farmer cooperatives, exploring mechanisms for collaboration between small-scale emerging farmers and established industry players. Other partners with whom we have agreed to collaborate or have already been engaged with include Ntaba ka Ndota in the Eastern Cape Province, the South African Organic Sector Organisation, Earthrise Trust and ...

Website of Legally Registered Entity


How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

South Africa

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Multiple rural communities with between 2000 to 30 thousand inhabitants

What country is your selected Place located in?

Multiple sites in South Africa: Douglas/Taung, uThukela district, Keiskammahoek, Steynsdorp (all with existing GSF initiatives)

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Our team is committed to eradicating the inequalities and injustices that have been inherited from our recent historical past, but have been perpetuated by the lack of viable alternatives which can decisively deal with these challenges. The communities that we are engaged with are part of the mosaic of our lives and are impossible for us to ignore – they evoke a deep-seated drive to activate a more equitable and dignified life.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Rural and peri-urban communities are the most severely affected by poverty in South Africa. They suffer higher levels of mortality, lack access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation, struggle through weak food security and chronic micronutrient hunger, and have greater energy poverty than their urban counterparts.Access to information and communication technologies is significantly lower and more expensive than in urban areas. Rural and peri-urban communities tend to have much lower asset bases, with the consequence that they have a much smaller safety net to fall back on in times of distress.

South Africa is experiencing the first blows of the predicted increase in frequency and intensity of droughts and fires in the south and west of the country, as well as flooding in the north and east, and these communities are the most deeply vulnerable to exogenous shocks introduced by climate change, and this vulnerability is exacerbated by a critical dependence on ecosystems services for livelihoods including for non-market needs, including drinking water, grazing lands, and fields for cultivation.

Around 8.5-million people (16% of the population) are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture, notwithstanding the steady decline in agricultural production since 1994, which has compounded the erosion of smallholder farming over several decades. The destruction of the African peasantry that was a feature of South Africa’s modernisation process, marked by expropriation of land and the creation of a rural labour reserve, has not been reversed in the period of democracy. The number of active small farmers is at odds with the potential to earn a living from the land. The Labour Force Survey of 2013 Q2 showed that less than 50% of rural households participated in agriculture to any degree, that  less than 4% of the labour force are employed in agriculture. This speaks to a key need for success of the Green Economy initiative: to help greater numbers of the rural community engage in agriculture. This involves nothing less than recreating a ‘culture of the land’, and restoring an agro-ecology; recalling practices of arable farming and animal husbandry that have been eroded or eradicated by colonialism, Apartheid dispossession and the growth of the agro-food industry, and crucially, embracing new technologies and methods, and innovating at a social scale to meet the challenges of the new epoch.

We therefore see small farmers as all those who engage in a continuum of farming activity ranging from household food production for own consumption (gardens as well as small stock), through institutional gardens (clinics, schools) to cooperative agricultural enterprises in the mainstream economy and involved in arable agriculture as well as livestock, forestry and fisheries.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

South Africa’s hunger challenge is not unique: like the global food system our food systems have significant problems. In a country of less than 60 million people, 14 million go to bed hungry each night. Rapid population growth and climate change pose new challenges to an already over-stretched food system. The food system can be fixed, but only by a collective effort and political will from all stakeholders. A successful effort would have a compound effect in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources, protecting the environment, and achieving sustainable development, particularly in rural areas. An improved system must support smallholder farmers so that they are able to grow, sell and eat more nutritious foods. This includes empowering women in rural communities to control their income and encouraging farmers to form collectives that enhance their bargaining power. We need to support farmers’ collectivisation, so they can increase their bargaining power to support greater access to nutritious products amongst local communities, and in the process, creating a sustainable (and price-stable) market for local farmers growing nutritious foods. The farmers themselves need to be empowered to make decisions on what to produce and in what quantities, supported with access to high quality inputs and access to commercially viable markets. The land-reform debate is one of several issues that places South Africa at an inflection point – a position of great opportunity and of great danger – for the country in general, and for sustainable agriculture in particular.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

GSF brings several core innovations that are integral to its approach.

The first key aspect of the approach is the Organisation Workshop (OW): a proven method to capacitate large groups to work collectively in economic and social development. It is a hands-on, practical process to facilitate the development of organisational consciousness and enterprise management skills in groups that need to act in an organised manner. There are numerous examples of successful implementation of the OW over a period of 30 years, from remote rural areas to peri-urban areas. The OW is inherently gender balanced with significant youth participation and ensures the approach is not just community-informed, but community-led.

Rooted in local culture, conditions and resources, and proposing ecologically-integrated agricultural systems, the second distinguishing feature of our approach is the use of a “food audit” as the foundation for identifying potential agricultural enterprises. Out of a monthly shopping list of household purchases, commodities are identified which can be produced locally. The emergence of these agricultural enterprises is supported through finance and planning in collaboration with professional teams and specialists, localizing the production and the market. The technical education is designed for individuals with varying literacy levels, and draws on the capacity of technology platforms such as mobile phone apps for extension and enterprise support. We are developing a community-of-practice approach to enhance our collaboration with partners and ensure that support is localized at each community.

Communities are encouraged to participate in larger commercial opportunities for upstream or downstream industries which have already been identified with existing sectoral role-players.

The financial support is the 3rd key difference, and the offering has two components: (1) Technical Assistance (TA) consisting of the OW and enterprise specialist advisory services, paid for through public funds and grants, (2) Enterprise incubation and operation, financed on a commercial basis, with ownership residing within the community. A key focus area of activity of the team is consolidation of the financial services offering to secure on-going public finances and develop the investment vehicle/s for the various investment options for private sector participation in a blended finance package. Investment could be through an institution (such as a participating bank), a fund (such as an equity/debt partner) or for a sector (direct investment into enterprises). We will engage an existing financial institution to front-end some of the financial services.

A significant enabler of the external financing is that the enterprises are de-risked through the TA engagement which is funded through grants and public funds, the markets are identified and localized, the enterprises are capacitated organizationally and the community is integrated into the entire approach.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

The crowing of chickens and extended mooing of milk cows greet our community every morning. In rural Steynsdorp, the population has more than doubled over the last five years, with many community members returning from the cities. In that period, there has been the development of two local chicken farms producing eggs and broilers, and we even have our own abbattoir. We also have a pig farm and our own dairy which sells milk, amasi, and butter. Last year we built a community kitchen (next to the creche which is three years old already), and we now have our own bakery.

The hillsides around the village which were ravaged by dongas, are now covered with various trees, including many varieties of fruit trees and the water channels on the mountains guide the water into our reservoirs, some of which are full of fish.

Every family has a decent house, running water and sanitation and there is now virtually no unemployment in the village, as those who do not have full-time jobs can at least get part-time work in the village which is brimming with activity, much of it around agriculture. We have even begun cultivating morogo (amaranthus) again and it is a village favourite, with our own local sweet potato. There are also many small businesses such as the recently begun traditional ceramic pot business which sells to tourists in the Kruger Park.

This evening the community will be meeting with the local municipal councilor to discuss the government supporting the expansion of our solar system and the community participation in Heritage Day celebrations. The community has raised half the finance for the solar system and would like to government to support us with a loan for the rest. We need to build additional cold storage capacity for the new rabbit abattoir and the fruit juice processing, and the youth computer club who manage the energy service will lead this discussion for the first time. The senior citizens association will lead the Heritage Day celebrations discussion.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Across multiple communities in Southern Africa there could be the emergence of a palpable sense of dignity. Communities would have taken their future into their own hands and would rebuild robust cultural frameworks that underpin the day to day functioning of their communities - while building diversity-rich ecological environments, creating jobs and ensuring that every member of the community is adequately provided for, from the youngest to the oldest.

GSF brings three core innovations that differentiate it from other worthy agro-ecological approaches. First it uses a methodology that brings organisational literacy, enabling groups of people to manage complex enterprises. Second, it uses the approach of the Food Audit which engages whole communities in enterprise development towards establishing a local food system, while linking with broader agricultural value chains. Thirdly, it provides a unique blended finance approach to facilitate lower risk investment opportunities for the private sector. Our approach recognises that we have a limited timespan within which to implement the proposed solutions and we envisage the rapid expansion of the GSF financing and technical capability enabling the consortium to implement a pipeline of projects that will bring several thousand farmers into productive activity in the shortest possible time and allow us to expand into other regions and other countries.

We believe that this project will provide a proactive approach to addressing climate change risks to rural and peri-urban communities. In addition, with the application of innovative agroecological solutions, there are opportunities to create new and sustainable revenue streams for these communities. We have chosen to work in different climactic zones of the country, creating resource nodes comprised of actors from all social ‘sectors’. 

We foresee that this project will be the pioneer for community adaptation to climate change and envisage rapid replication of successful initiatives across South Africa as well as the African continent. Initial scoping convinces us that there are green economy opportunities within the areas of:

•         Arable agriculture and animal husbandry

•         Water management and storage

•         Renewable energy

•         Housing – and specifically alternative building techniques

•         Biodiversity and ecosystem enhancement

•         Waste management

•         Land management

b) We have identified social ventures at each node that will have a realistic socio-economic impact on rural and peri-urban communities’ ability to adapt to climate change. While it is not possible to calculate the rate of return on investment for all aspects of the initiative, we do have reliable figures relating to agricultural enterprises. Here, subject to choice of growing systems and access to markets, we can predict a rate of return on capital of between 12% and 15%.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Facebook
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Attachments (2)

Originating and financing local food systems.jpg

Key elements of the localised food systems and how they link with the external financing mechanism.

Engaging communities.jpg

Processes in engaging communities and the key activities in each of the stages.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Trupti Jain

hi Naidoo: Good afternoon from India. Nice submission. GSF is quite an inspiring idea. Will love to learn if your farmers are facing water shortage in summer and winter? Are they having their rainy period crops disturbed due to water logging or flood in monsoon period? If yes then we will love to help you. For last 30 years we are working in this subject. we are helping our smallholders with our World Bank, UNFCCC, Securing Water for Food (USAID) and Millennium Alliance (DFID) awarded innovation BHUNGROO which saves farmers from drought and flood, doubles farmers income and improves soil fertility. Will love to give you our innovation BHUNGROO. It will be our poor farmers' gift for your farmers. We can guarantee the result within 1 year. we are currently helping more than 100000 farming families across India, SEAsia, EAsia & Africa. We have also designed Youth Climate Leaders and Women Climate leaders. I am sure both will add strength to your program. pl feel free to contact us. our detail is as follow , ph: +919825506900, wa: +919825506900, T: @BHUNGROO fb: BHUNGROO , e:

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