1999 Winner
Northern Province, South Africa
Impumelelo Innovations Award Trust
Impumelelo Innovations Award Trust
South Africa
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This project involves the development of a high-technology hydroponics plant in the dry, arid and poverty stricken rural Northern Province. The objective of this hydroponics farming co-operative is not only to provide for food for the community, but also to be a profitable grower and exporter of produce. The initial funding was used to build five state of the art greenhouse tunnels which now are in full production, providing for the basic and essential needs of the community by creating employment, training and community development.

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

Innovation: The use of hydroponic farming technology is appropriate and fitting in a community where water scarcity is a major issue. Although the farming approach is technical, extensive training is not required for employees, and the project makes use of local labour in its labour intensive methodology.
Poverty impact: The project operates in an extremely poverty-stricken community. Employment on the project provides 23 staff members with a monthly income, which is often the only income in their families. Profits from the enterprise are put back into community development programmes, which include the development of a creche, the upgrading of the primary school, and the building and maintenance of surrounding roads.
Replication: The project is well-suited to the dry and water-scarce areas of South Africa where agricultural projects such as this one are jeopardized by a limited water supply.