“We are very happy that we can now harvest water using the amadanyana (farm dams); we can now water vegetables in our garden with less effort” remarked the elderly leader of a cooperative garden with mostly women farmers in Alice in the Nkonkobe Local Municipality of the Eastern Cape. How did they get to this position? The journey has not been an easy one, and in fact they do not consider themselves to have arrived, but to be still going. What makes them happy in the interim can be summed up by two pieces of wisdom; the first of which is “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go with others” (African proverb); and the second “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (Lao Tzu). These community building pillars have been taken to great heights by the Imvotho Bubomi Learning Network in less than two years with support from the Water Research Commission. As one Mrs Mgijima of Lloyd village exclaimed about their farm dams “we are very happy that we did this”.

The learning network members are indeed walking together, after taking that first step of willingness to collaborate, share ideas and work together. Sisonke! The thousand miles are bound to have obstacles, and the biggest one in the 2015 / 2016 agricultural season has been the terrible drought! This has resulted in crop and vegetable losses compromising household nutrition, and in livestock suffering. Those people who had rainwater harvesting structures pushed much longer with water than those who did not. A case in point is the farm pond at Fort Cox College which retained water with no inflow from beginning of December to mid-January, and the small farm ponds at Lloyd village, which worked for some critical weeks in December and were later backed up by the village dam when lack of rains in December and January could not recharge them. It is that extra mile that is critical for these farmers, and makes a difference between success and failure. In December 2015 and January 2016, Lloyd village garden farmers, University of Fort Hare, Fort Cox College and other farmers in Amathole basin, Gwali and Khayalethu villages started deepening their existing relationships and connecting where relationships were not there, through the Nkonkobe Farmers Association and the Imvotho Bubomi learning network. This has helped them to respond collectively to the worsening drought. This collective work is continuing with vigour.

By Tichaona Pesanayi