The local villagers have been involved in the project from its conception. During construction, local women worked to slash the grass and weeds, local men ploughed, village elders advised on building and local children brought water from the nearby river. The project took about 10 months to generate an income for the villagers, but now is a completely self-financing venture that employs 23 people, most of them women. High quality vegetable produce are supplied to big retail companies, and the project has an annual turnover of R1-R1,5 million per year.
The innovation of hydroponics is well-suited to the South African context where water resources are limited. This project uses one-third of the usual amount of water. It involves crop-production in a semi-controlled environment of greenhouse tunnels where crusher stone replaces the soil and water-soluble nutrients are recycled through this stone, providing all the proper elements for successful growth and production.
Significantly, the high-tech production process was initiated and is being run by people, all locals, who have no or little prior education or training. The manager, who maintains the equipment and orders the plants, supplies, chemicals and nutrients, and the supervisor, who monitors the daily duties of the tunnel foreman and pest control foreman, employ hands-on management methods. The foremen in turn supervise the day-to-day operation of the plant and conduct daily inspections with the team of workers.
Often the employees of Mapila Hydroponics bring in the only income in the family. In addition, some of the profits are poured back into further community development and social upliftment. Indirectly the project has contributed to the entire village by using a share of its funding to build a creche - enabling the employees to go to work knowing their children were safely cared for. Part of the funding was also used to build a public road to link Mapila Village with the neighbouring settlements.
"I think the most difficult thing in this process was to convince and motivate the people of the community to take part in this project. Some had not known anything else but poverty and this idea of employment sounded too good to be true." Elson Mukwevho, Project Director