What is the social problem they are targeting?
In March 2018, after hearing that a group of farmers lost their primary access to market Emma and Kim started volunteering to try to sell “mystery veggie bags” to friends and family. That is how they started identifying several challenges that the farmers were facing:
“One of the things that we had identified is that the farmers lacked business skills, most of them had little to know business skills, and very quickly we realized that farmers didn’t have basic equipment like they didn’t have scales, they didn’t have bunching materials. […] And they didn’t have a solid understanding of what is an appropriate bunch size and what is and appropriate size for a bunch of vegetables. And we saw a need and a gap to be filled and that’s how it all began.” (Kim, Umthunzi cofounder)."
From this lack of business skills farmers do not have sustainable livelihoods from sales and nor can they reinvest on their farms to buy the necessary inputs to production. Besides, they appeared to lack the deep understanding of production planning that is essential to have a successful and sustainable business during all year-round.
What solution do they provide?
The beginnings of Umthunzi were based on a willingness of tackling down all of the above mentioned social problems and of providing a stable market access to the farmers as well as capacity building on the business sector so the farmers would not be dependent on an intermediary. However, because of the magnitude of the systemic challenges in the food system Emma and Kim realized that this work was not going to take only a few weeks to be achieved.
Since they address similar issues to those of PEDI – even if they are not completely overlapping – the proposed solution seems rather likewise. So, the solution Umthunzi Farming Community provides to the urban small-scale farmers is a stable market access. By mainly focusing on the business they are willing to economically empower them by being equitable, transparent and maximizing their earning potential.
The empowerment of the farmers is their mission and it also includes the ownership of the systems by the farmers themselves through trainings and a long process of getting the farmers to be responsible for their availability list. It is one of the three core values alongside fair trade and community: they have done extensive research on pricing so that farmers receive a fair share of what they work for; and they work towards building a strong community network of farmers, volunteers, consumers, amongst other stakeholders.
“I think Umthunzi for us has been a live changing experience for all of us and we are so much more connected to where our food comes from, we have a very different understanding of the way that food systems operate, and we have amazing partners and connections with all this producers and people in the food system which is really incredible.” (Emma, Umthunzi co-founder)
Moreover, among the trainings they give to the farmers we can count an essential one that came with the procurement of scales at a small fee with a training of how to use it: one of the most fundamental pieces of equipment for their work.
What are their current and potential social impacts?
The Umthunzi Farming Community count currently with approximately 50 urban small-scale farmers that have seen a significant increase of their monthly income. As for PEDI, the alleviation of poverty amongst small-scale farmers is their core impact but they also have others similar to PEDI’s. One of the impacts we did not mention concerning PEDI’s initiative and that also implies Umthunzi’s is the sustainable impact: as they both provide the customers with local produced vegetables, they have a sustainable impact even if it is not their main focus.
“Kim: There is something so powerful about like going into your fridge and knowing that this bunch of carrots comes from Nupamile, and then we like know Nupamile and her garden, and we know about her life.
Emma: And we know that by eating that carrots it is actually like helping her to look after her and her husband or whatever. […] It is a very traceable, clear impact which is amazing.”