March 2018 brought with it rain, fellowship, and a long hike. Four LAND Project affiliates made the arduous trek from Elliot to Manzimdaka, counting potholes as they traversed the dirt road. This trip marked the sixth consecutive year that LAND Project team members from the United States and elsewhere in South Africa have visited the rural village Manzimdaka at least once or more. Michael Bell, Jules Reynolds, Valerie Stull, and Asanda Apleni were eager to reconnect with old friends, check in on LAND Project initiatives, learn more about the community, gather data on invasive species in the ares, and take local farmers on a Field Trip to Mceula.
The first objective of the trip was a community-based workshop on managed grazing (in advance of the field trip), insect agriculture for chicken feed, and black wattle management. The workshop was participatory and involved knowledge sharing in both directions.
Additionally, the team checked in on the school garden project by touring the grounds, meeting with stakeholders, and identifying needs. They held an art workshop with school children and met with community leaders.
The trip also included plenty of fellowship and an epic excursion to the top of a nearby mountain.
South Africa is the wealthiest country in sub-Saharan Africa, possessed of great mineral wealth and extensive areas of rich farmland. But it is also the most unequal country in the world, with luxurious suburbs lying directly across the road from desperate slums and rich estates amid devastating rural poverty. South Africa’s poor are some of the poorest people in the world. And the gap between the rich and the poor continues to be highly racialized, despite the end of South Africa’s infamous system of apartheid in 1994. In addition to poverty, the South African poor face numerous challenges with regards to health and ecological well-being, including food insecurity, unclean water, and high rates HIV/AIDS. However, despite these challenges, there are many opportunities for improvement. Agroecological approaches to development, combined with strong community ties and a commitment to social justice, can lead to significant improvements in nutrition, livelihood, and local infrastructure. Understanding environmental health and agroecology in South Africa has pushed University of Wisconsin-Madison students to grapple with the complexities of improving health outcomes in a development context across rural and urban lines.
The LAND Project has led three student field course and service learning trips (exchanges) to South Africa (as of 2018). On the most recent trip (2017), students learned about the history and ecology of South Africa, the agroecological basis of environmental health, and the multifactorial determinants of health for urban and rural populations in the South Africa. The course focused on both rural and urban South Africa. Students visited multiple sites, including the township of Alexandra in Johannesburg; the village of KuManzimdaka in the Eastern Cape; and Bucklands Reserve and Kaysers Beach, also in the Eastern Cape. Students will be given the opportunity to observe different farming efforts (urban and rural) and assess variations in healthcare across rural and urban settings. Students will also participate in several service learning activities including organizing a children’s “Agroecology Camp.” Later on the trip, students toured an urban hospital and spent time talking with local health professionals. The course included a home stay in a rural village, providing an intimate opportunity for cultural exchange.
Since 2012, the LAND project has been working closely with smallholder farmers in Manzimdaka. There have been many conversations about rotational grazing, and the community expressed genuine interest in learning more. Likewise, the people of Manzimdaka recognized that their pasture lands are in rough shape, with lots of erosion, black wattle invasion, poor grass quality, and disease pressure. They saw that most of the rainfall runs off rather than infiltrates, and they recognized that their soil fertility is really low. They know that their livestock don’t have the condition they could have. And many of them understand, at least intellectually, how rotational grazing can help will all of this.
In March 2015, UW-Madison undergraduate Theo Loo was awarded a Wisconsin Idea Undergraduate Fellowship for $4,500.00 to pursue a project on “Waterborne Disease Prevention” in Kumanzimdaka, South Africa. Loo, a Microbiology and Global Health major, designed this project to research and reduce the prevalence of waterborne diseases in Kumanzimdaka village in South Africa by implementing a water security system to protect the village’s water supply. During the summer of 2015, he traveled to the village to test the water source for waterborne pathogens, administer a survey among villagers, conduct water sterilization workshops, and generate a map of the area using ArcGIS. Data collected will be analyzed and a report developed and sent to Indwe Trust, the LAND Project’s South African collaborator, to implement a physical water source protection system. To learn more about Theo’s findings, see our page on Water Security.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison Wisconsin Idea Undergraduate Fellowship team was impressed how this exciting exciting project demonstrates Loo’s commitment to expand the Wisconsin Idea and serve the community around the world.
You can also view a video that Theo put together about Water Security in Mmangweni Village, Eastern Cape, below.
In September 2014, students in Professor Dave Watts‘ landscape architecture course at California Polytechnic State University traveled to the Eastern Cape to run a participatory community mapping project, improve Manzimdaka school garden, and conduct a community needs assessment survey. For the participatory photo mapping project, local village members guided students through their favorite places and their least favorite places in their home villages. Along with the LAND Project’s Liza Lightfoot and Mpumelelo Ncwadi, Cal Poly divided into divided two teams – one group conducted the needs assessment survey with Mpumi, while the other group worked with local villagers and school children in the garden.
Liza, who coordinated the garden team, describes, how, “at the end of winter, the weather was really changeable. There’d been a bad fire the day before that’d come up to the edge of the school. But still, people from community came to work with the garden to turn the soil.” Working in tandem, students visitors and villagers trekked back and forth across the street to gather up manure from a neighbor’s cattle kraal to work into the soil. The LAND Project provided seed packets and volunteers made a potting mix out of finely blended kraal manure and soil. The students planted a lot of seedlings and put them in an area protected from the wind, while the locals planted seeds directly into the garden soil
Such productive, side-by-side work with both students and villagers is at the heart of what the LAND Project is about: blending an agroecological approach while building bridges between local people and students.