Cape Town’s Women Take the Lead in Farm-Focused Social Enterprise
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Tuesday mornings are always busy for the staff of AbalimiBezekhaya, an urban agriculture project operating in the sprawling townships of Cape Town, South Africa.
Each Tuesday, peppers, eggplants, cabbages, beets, and the like are collected from dozens of community gardens to be sorted, boxed and driven to 25 pickup points around the city. On a particular Tuesday in February though, there is a problem. The list of recipes distributed with each box includes one that calls for leeks, but leeks are nowhere to be found.
“What’s the crisis today?” asks Rob Small, the co-director and founder of Abalimi Bezekhaya (“farmers of the home” in the native Xhosa language). “I think it might be this,” he says, pointing to the leek-less boxes.
Despite daily hurdles, Small and his staff are successfully running a hybrid social enterprise that provides training, financial support, and food security to small farmers. The roughly 15,000 people Abalimi reaches—3,000 farmers, with an average of five family members—all live in the historically disenfranchised Cape Flats townships, where residents have faced high crime rates, a lack of opportunity, and a 30 to 40 percent unemployment rate since the days of apartheid.
Abalimi’s profitable social business, Harvest of Hope, relies on a community-supported agriculture model that provides customers (who pay in advance) a box of fresh, organically grown produce harvested from community gardens each week.
Abalimi’s main objective is securing access to “local fresh food and nutrition security” through a combination of subsistence plots and community gardens. The organization is addressing three of South Africa’s most chronic problems—unemployment, racial disempowerment, and nutritional inequality—with a blend of entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and organic compost. “These days, to be charitable means you’re making people weak,” Small says, referring to the negative stigma attached to nonprofits. “Social businesses are conducted with the interest of the whole at heart, while the individual is honored and recognized within that.”