A unique approach gives Amanzi for Food the edge. Unlike many programmes that use “Research-Develop-Disseminate-Adopt” strategies to produce knowledge without continual in-the-field integration, Amanzi for Food involves farmers, extension officers, agricultural educators and trainers. There are also local economic development facilitators, agricultural nongovernmental organisations and researchers from the Rhodes University Environmental Learning Research Centre involved.

Using materials from the Water Research Commission, the centre and its partners learned how to design and implement the various ways of harvesting, storing and using rainwater. This knowledge is then shared with communities, and put into practice. Where skills training is needed, groups are taught how to use water sustainably for home gardens and larger cropland food production.

Initiated in 2014 with funding from the Water Research Commission, the first phase has seen work done in Amathole District in the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and North West province. The second phase has just received funding for another four years.

A key focus of the programme has been the creation of demonstration sites in communities and agricultural colleges. This allows people to see for themselves that the ideas work.

Four different sites were set up using a collaborative model: one in a college, one on a communal plot involving 20 elderly women farmers in Lloyd Village, Alice, and two on individual farmers’ plots.

The first of the latter plots is in Keiskammahoek, Eastern Cape. It is led by an elderly woman farmer who works with her grandchildren. The Fort Cox College of Agriculture sends students for training with the old woman.

The second plot is in Matole basin, near Middledrift in the Eastern Cape. Starting with rainwater harvesting ponds and mulching, it has since expanded. Now, it is the basis of a registered co-operative, led by a woman.

Amanzi has increased the reach of these demonstration projects by getting people to talk about them on local radio. The partnership with Fort Cox has been expanded to include students from Lovedale College. All of this ensures that word-of-mouth and experiential learning dramatically increase the footprint of what would otherwise be a localised project.

“Change-Based Workshops” have also been started, bringing together people from across the region to talk about the water problems faced by farmers. Key to this is finding communal solutions to problems that will only get worse as the climate changes.

For communities that cannot get to these workshops or to the demonstration sites, Amanzi creates user-friendly manuals and guides that contain the basic steps of growing food. Some are also aimed at trainers, who can then use them to teach people in their own community. Put together, all of this is going to be included in a Massive Open Online Course, so any community with access to the internet, anywhere in the world, can learn from Amanzi.

This local and global approach is critical for addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in terms of ending hunger and increasing food security. For rural South Africa, it is the difference between hungry and resilient communities.

Caption: Demonstration sites allow communities to see for themselves that Amanzi’s ideas work

The article was first published in the Mail&Guardian on 12 October 2017.