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Kenyan born agriculturist, Tim Abaa has not only mastered the science of cultivating and harvesting nutritious food crops in Joburg’s most southern township, he has also set sights on nurturing future nutritionists, converting them from consumers to producers of organic vegetables.Abaa wants to foster a culture of food sovereignty in Orange Farm – what he describes as the right, freedom, and choice for people to become producers, consumers and retailers of home-grown vegetables. He believes this will not only resolve the challenge of hunger and food insecurity, but will create a sustainable agricultural system that guarantees food security for all.Sporting a green dustcoat and light-grey pants with black plimsolls, Abba painstakingly stirs damp soil under the sweltering Orange Farm sun, armed with a yellow spade and vegetable seedlings.He’s ploughing furrows in which to plant organic crops. The six raised beds he’s prepared for this function form long winding rows on sloping ground, which overlook two large-scale community reservoirs perched on a hillock nearby, in Orange Farm Extension 8B.The small piece of land on which Abba grows a lush community garden is marked by the verdancy of freshly grown and un-harvested baby spinach, cabbage, beetroot, carrots, and other food crops planted in spring.The land belongs to Afrika Tikkun, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the reduction of youth unemployment in South Africa and in pioneering an urban agri-preneurship initiative that trains locals in agriculture post matric.Abba’s green dustcoat is mud ridden, proof that he’s been busy all morning, tilling the land meticulously, his clothes fully murky. The chatter and chuckle of his protégés, who are hoeing the garden close-by permeate the atmosphere, creating a bustling farm ambiance. This throng of apprentices emulate Abaa’s dexterity, moving lithely and gracefully through the garden, mulching and watering the crops.Abba, who is the custodian of this vibrant Orange Farm urban agri-preneurship programme has devoted his life to helping youngsters from disadvantaged families gain the skills and knowledge of small scale farming, to create food security, his innate passion.Each morning, he encourages his charges to start small vegetable gardens in their backyards, so they depend entirely on being self-employed to survive. “My vision is to stir up a passion for agriculture as a career,” he says.Abba notes that it took a while to get this initiative off the ground. It was approved last year and kicked off in February 2021, making the current intake the first to go through training of this nature.“Most youngsters see farming as something that doesn’t pay well, but there are many career paths in agriculture; one can be a statistician, a dietician or a scientist,” he says.Abba’s agri-preneurship programme has over 30 students currently undergoing training and most of them are in their exit phase, preparing to return to the community of Orange Farm to share their knowledge and skills in food security.Portia Nengovhela from Venda, is one of the beneficiaries of the programme and has graduated to Abba’s deputy. The soft-spoken Nengovhela wears navy blue overalls and a black sunhat. She says she came to Orange Farm with limited knowledge in agriculture with the aim to return and give back to her Limpopo community of over 7 000.While removing small stones from the garden with a rake to load them into a wheelbarrow, she says: “back in Venda there is ample land waiting for me to implement the skills I’m learning here. We have a vibrant farming community back home and they are all waiting for me to return with all these skills.”“Being the only one in this programme who hails from Limpopo gives me more drive to want to acquire as much knowledge as possible to be able to help the youth at home to uplift themselves,” says Nengovhela.Her counterpart, Mpumalanga-born and bred Fuzile Hlebelo is another beneficiary of Abaa’s programme. Hlebelo studied agriculture as a theoretical subject in high school but says now that he is doing it practically, he’s starting to gain interest. He sees agriculture as a viable career option, which can help feed his family sustainably.Abba says the Orange Farm urban agri-preneurship programme was started to commemorate the life of one of Afrika Tikkun’s founding members, Sandi Jacobson, a late anti-apartheid activist who was also an advocate of backyard food gardens.Afrika Tikkun is honouring Jacobson by initiating this food security programme to teach youngsters about the value of growing their own food gardens. Abba has since implemented the programme in five Africa Tikkun centres, including Alexandra, Braamfontein, Cape Town, Diepsloot, and in Orange Farm helping uplift the lives of hundreds of underprivileged youths.He says his aim is to teach people the principles of organic food gardening and the many opportunities available in agriculture.“I want to plant a seed of Tim in each and every community, a seed of the love of agriculture and food security. The moment I train enough people who can duplicate this work, I can sleep peacefully knowing that we have achieved food sovereignty,” he enthuses.Written by Gontse ‘GeE’ Hlophe30/11/2021
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