Johannesburg – Vulnerable and hungry people living in Johannesburg’s inner city are enjoying the fruits of the successful Siyakhana Food Garden in Bezuidenhout Park.

Phase two of a food garden located in what was once a dumping ground has answered the cries of many people in the inner city who are unemployed and often go to bed on an empty stomach.

The second stage of the Siyakhana Food Garden in Bezuidenhout Park, in the east of the city, was unveiled on 31 January, the city reports on its official site.

The food garden project was started in 2005 by the health promotion unit at the University of the Witwatersrand, in collaboration with several non-governmental organisations such as BHP Billiton Development Trust, Cape Gate, Food and Trees for Africa, and Party Design, which cares for people living with AIDS.

Guests gathered in a hot marquee, providing some relief from the scorching sun, erected next to the food garden.

A party atmosphere greeted them, with the Marimba Band playing their African instruments and dancing to their own music.

Among the guests was Khabisi Mosunkutu, the Gauteng MEC for agriculture, conservation and environment; and Wits Professor Michael Rudolph, the director of the Siyakhana project.

Access to sufficient food was the constitutional right of all South Africans, the professor said.

A considerable segment of the population was vulnerable to food insecurities, with women and children, the elderly and people living with HIV and AIDS the most vulnerable.

“Poverty is the leading cause of food insecurity and food insecurity is a major contributor to the persistence of poverty,” Prof Rudolph said.

“The aim of the Siyakhana Food Garden project is to establish a model permaculture food garden system for food production, education, research and empowerment of the community [particularly women] through training, employment and income-generation opportunities.

“I’ve seen, since I started working in the city more than 20 years ago, that more and more people don’t have sufficient food intake.

“Through the Siyakhana project we are trying to improve the health of vulnerable people by giving them the nutrients needed to sustain their health. We are also teaching them how to eat properly.”

Thembeka Mwale, the chairperson of the project said the project was a blessing to those who benefited from it.

“This garden is from God. It all started as an empty piece of land, hardly fertile. Me and a number of women started digging with our own hands and we never thought it would eventually look like this. God sent Prof Rudolph, who has helped us to make the garden what it is today.”

MEC Mosunkutu complimented all those who have contributed to the project.

“What a good way to start this year. We are starting a year by addressing issues that are close to the community – food and the environment.”

He was proud of the project, saying that his department was always willing to partner with originations that enhanced agricultural activities. “What I’ve learned since I took this portfolio, is that women are incredibly focused when it comes to food gardening and providing food for the family,” he said.

A pond to harvest, conserve and purify water was also established and a range of organic foods, which have the best nutritional value, were planted.

About 15 people from the inner city were employed at the project, and a further 25 were formally trained.

Some funding had been obtained for phase two, but there was a lot of potential for the project to expand through the support of the private sector, civil society, volunteers, students, the public and other key stakeholders.

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