In collaboration with local small business, Black Mamba Chilli Venom & World Vision, we are training two groups of women farmers in Permaculture farming practices.
The aim of our training is to share with the women soil improving & water saving techniques to enable them to produce a variety of produce, including organically grown chilli’s for Black Mamba’s red hot sauces.
Having secured the funding, Bongani & Wonderboy, from World Vision Swaziland introduced the Guba team to two groups of women farmers. The women at both sites were growing cabbages, a very heavy feeding monocrop. When they had the money they were adding fertilisers & pesticides to the soil in an effort to improve their yields. As you can see in this photo however, their soil & produce is tired & unhealthy.
The lowveld has notoriously erratic & low annual rainfall, high unemployment rates & a strong prevalence of HIV, so increasing resilience for the women & their land was top of our agenda.
To keep costs to a minimum & to improve the soil sustainably, we shared a range of organic methods to increase both soil fertility & water retention, which will positively increase their produce yields.
For these reasons, our first practical lesson was learning how to make swales along the contour of their garden plots to catch, sink & slow every drop of water. A simple method of finding the contours along any piece of land is to use an A- frame made out of 3 pieces of wood, which takes the form of a capital ‘A’. You hang a weighted piece of string from the top of the ‘A’. Then, mark the exact middle of the horizontal piece. Start from the place you want your first swale & manoeuvre the A-frame into a position where the string falls exactly over the middle of the horizontal marker. Peg both ends & swivel the A-frame around to find the next point. Keep going until you have navigated your way across your land. Now you have marked a swale along the contour of your land!
Using layers of organic materials easily found in every homestead & keeping the pile moist will produce a mound of healthy compost teaming with life & fertility. We encouraged the women to produce large quantities to regularly add to their soil. Their current soil, water & plant management has badly degraded the land, which has consequently had extensive exposure to chemicals, sun, wind & rain.
Using the marked rows along the contours, we interplanted the chilli’s with bush beans which act as great companions. The chilli’s protect the beans from pests while the beans add nitrogen to the soil, increasing soil health & produce a hardy crop adding nutritional diversity for the women.
Along the top end of the swales we also planted pest control plants & green manure plants with the women. The green manure plants are predominantly nitrogen fixing species & species that lock a rich variety of nutrients in their leaves. We encouraged the women to periodically crop the leaves of these green manure plants & throw them onto the soil around their cash crops – chop & drop.
The leaves will slowly breakdown & release nutrients into the soil improving the health of soil & plant simultaneously.
The simple practice of placing cut grass &/or leaves over every inch of the land – mulching – significantly decreases water run-off & related erosion & radically increases water retention in the soil, thereby increasing soil life & fertility. Fertile soil = fertile plants.
Both groups of women were noticeably motivated to learn from us for two main reasons:
1. The techniques they were learning were going to reduce their reliance on expensive inputs such as fertilisers & pesticides;
2. And they already had an identified market for their chilli production with Black Mamba.
Under such circumstances, working with these hard working women has been a real pleasure! We continue to enjoy supporting & offering advice over the coming year while the women practice what they’ve learnt & problem shoot using their newly acquired, flexible Permaculture skills.