Community Growth in the Desert
In the Southern corner of Namibia, where the Orange River meets the cold Atlantic Ocean, enclosed among rolling hills of desert sand, you’ll find the town of Oranjemund. On the outskirts of this town, you’ll find a story of community collaboration, solutions in an arid environment, a harvest of nutritious food, and the woman who brought it all together.
Meeting on site at the Futree Ngaye Onda Tameka project, the harsh desert conditions are evident as the icy wind blows through what was a dumpsite that is now a mirco fresh produce utopia.
Jana Jacobs is a Geologist, the Evaluation Manager at Namdeb Diamond Corporation and the brains behind this community project. She’s brought with her one of the volunteers, Esther Namupolo, who is 10 years old and who has been with the project since it’s inception.
Esther beams as she explains how the project evolved, “first this area was empty, so we started doing tests and we saw that the soil was so good and we just started make a small one [garden] in the middle to see if the plants will grow better, so then we started giving anyone a small piece so that they can also make their own food.”
Jana explains that the area was once a rubbish dump, “We had to get machines to clear the rubbish, it is a hard capped surface, so we had to dig in to get to the sand. The sand is great for growing stuff but it’s very poor so we had to get biomass in, and get the soil fertility up.”
Through collaborations, sponsorships, team effort and smart ideas, what was once a rubbish site is now a flourishing garden that supplies residents with fresh food. Jana explains one of the smart ideas that helped this project, “I came across this article, that said in Pre Columbian America, where you’ve got the high rainfall in the Amazon it’s the poorest soil in the world, and yet there were civilisations of millions of people sustained by crop growing. What they did through archaeological investigation is they found out that the likelihood is, these people had large clay jars where they kept their waste and then to get rid of the smell they added charcoal to it. The miracle about charcoal is it creates this home for microbes, then leaves and the branches fall on it and the composting process continues. So what we have here is a place where we make charcoal, we inoculate the charcoal with manure teas and then we work that into our soil, so we copying something that happened in South America hundreds of years ago.”
It’s a beautiful story of how you don’t need to be limited, “yes’ notes Jana, “there are solutions, you just have to start.” Making reference to the name of their project, which means ‘I’ve Started’.
“We started really small and we’ve expanded as people join. It’s open to absolutely anybody. You get your piece of ground and then you carry on, but the helpfulness between allotments and the knowledge sharing, I think that’s when magic happens.”
What started as Jana’s concept, has grown to one of community pride and involvement. “The concept was, we’ve got this space, lets see if we can develop it and it just developed organically. There are allotment growers and their little piece belongs to them. The project will provide the compost and water but then what they produce is theirs to use. Sometimes it’s donated to the soup kitchen where we cook together on Saturday mornings, sometimes they take it home for use or even sell it, but no money enters this side. The currency here isn’t money it’s your ability to work and generate food.” Explains Jana.
Growing food in the desert and sharing in the experience is part of the heart of this project, “We started really small and we’ve expanded as people join. It’s open to absolutely anybody. You get your piece of ground and then you carry on, but the helpfulness between allotments and the knowledge sharing, I think that’s when magic happens. I think it’s the magic of the diversity of the group. We’ve got pensioners, we’ve got jobless people, we’ve got children, we’ve got professionals, but when you here, we are just here to grow food together.”
“Nature doesn’t need us but we need nature. The humbling effect, the connecting to the soil, seeing where you fit in the bigger picture, that’s just a wonderful experience” says Jana.
Written by Kirsty Watermeyer