As for millions of people across the globe, the sudden Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa threw up unprecedented challenges, but interesting opportunities too. In our diverse KwaZulu-Natal Midlands region, the responses were also diverse. It soon became abundantly clear that having good networks and strong community support was the best survival tool.
In the article that follows by Nikki Brighton of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Supporters, a Slow Food Community, we capture some of the responses by our members to the current crisis. And this is hardly scratching the surfaceof all the great stories there are to share.
Julie-Ann Hamar joined the Kitchen Magicians to cook meals for distribution in Howick and contribute to reducing the hunger so many faced. “This was a blessing. With the abundance that I have in my life and extra time available, I am able to make nourishing meals weekly. I also donate my Body Balance fermented veggie drink to help immune systems stay strong. This has given me a sense of purpose, made me feel useful during the crisis.”
A positive consequence is that, while trying to ensure that the meals were as nutrient-dense as possible, Julie-Ann began making bone broth from Bramleigh Farm chicken feet. A fiddly process, which she has mastered and now she offers this product for sale at Reko and she can hardly keep up with demand!
In the first weeks of lockdown, Gregg Oosthuizen donated all the fresh produce intended for his restaurant, Sagewood, to local feeding programs. Next, he worked to supply a local retail chain with handcrafted frozen foods and was thrilled when they offered this opportunity to other artisan producers too. “This helped many of us survive those first few weeks. It also means that some retail stores have started to appeal to local foodies more than ever before, and will keep doing this.”
Then he put his energy into creating an online shop to showcase the exceptional produce he uses and assist his regular suppliers to keep selling. “I thought it could just be an extra income stream to assist us to pay our rent until we could open again, but now I realize it is an exponential platform, one that can expand without limits of location. We can move anywhere with this new business. That is terribly exciting.”
Support for Farmers
Nhlakanipho Nzimande was pleased that the Covid-19 crisis highlighted the importance of agriculture as an essential service. “This is good for us farmers, but we are not sufficiently organized to take advantage of it. I have started a farmers’ association, uniting small-scale farmers with positive attitudes to look at food security in the area. We intend to connect local producers with local spaza shops and retail stores, and to improve local food security as food prices are on the rise.”
Bryan Roberts was inspired by how the local farming community rose to the challenge to help those faced with sudden food insecurity. Bryan is part of the NGO African Spirit, which has been providing vulnerable people with food parcels. However, as useful as food parcels are, they are not a long-term solution, and Bryan is leading a project to improve food resilience in the Shiyabazali informal settlement. “We need to change the focus towards soil health, by helping design gardens for practical productivity. That includes the growing seedlings, collecting and sharing seeds, harvesting water, being creative with available resources and increasing diversity. Helping everyone understand how best to garden with nature in mind.”
Manisha Shah’s East African inspired dishes are popular sellers at Reko markets, making the most of the organic, seasonal produce from her garden. Determined to keep cooking and not allow the excess produce to go to waste, she began advertising ‘What’s for Supper’ on a WhatsApp group in the estate she lives on. “Many people around here eat out regularly at restaurants, but were now stuck at home trying to figure out what to cook and feeling a bit bored with their culinary repertoire.”
Lucky neighbors could choose from paneer and peas; amadumbe curry; and when she managed to get hold of fresh red snapper, Meen Kuzhambu curry. It was such a simple system – she sent out the menu first thing in the morning and customers fetched warm and fragrant meals from her gate at 4 pm, paying electronically. This has proved so popular that Manisha will continue to offer this to her local community twice a week.
Lekker Local Apps
Michael Goddard, a well-known innovator in the coffee industry, used the lockdown period to collaborate with Viroshen Naiker and Gavin Erasmus to create a new food sales platform based on a mycelium model. They were already working on a carbon avoidance project linked with traceable re-usable coffee cups, but, recognizing the importance of good food at this time, quickly shifted their focus to create L1NX.
L1NX (Local First, No Excess) is a platform that connects conscious consumers to passionate, local producers, empowering people to build their own food chains. The plan is to make anybody a potential producer of anything. For example, one could grow strawberries on your balcony – or make kimchi with local carrots and link into the network to sell your products. Goods are made or harvested to order, minimizing waste.
Aligning Actions with Values
Now is the opportunity to firm up our values and align our actions with those values. It is important to focus attention on improving backyard gardens, strengthening small-scale producer communities in townships, informal settlements, and peri-urban areas as well as shortening the supply chain. By doing this we support communities to feed themselves and become more resilient. We will probably make mistakes but that is no reason not to try. This is ongoing work, forever.
“For Africa to handle the emerging and post COVID-19 food security crisis, we need to strategically focus on giving the necessary support and facilities to communities of producers, fishers, pastoralists, indigenous people and other key grassroots players in the food system. This is our visionary approach as Slow Food which has facilitated the growth and strengthening of grassroots food communities across the globe and more so on the African continent through the Terra Madre Network,” says Edward Mukiibi, Vice President of Slow Food International.
Note: this is an edited version of a longer article posted on Midlands Mosaic.