Byron brings agriculture to the community of Atlantis

In Atlantis, a community just 20 km from Cape Town, residents have placed their faith in agriculture as a means of escaping unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Since the start of the year, 21 hand-picked community members have learned the ins and outs of what it takes to establish a sustainable vegetable garden through the Atlantis Special Economic Zone Food Security Program.

With the goal of helping locals move away from backyard farming and into growing food on a much larger scale, the project is slowly making a big difference in this community where investment seems to have dwindled.

Speaking to Food For Mzansi during a recent site visit, Byron Booysen, Technical Manager of the project, stressed that farming has the potential to change the lives of participants and the community as a whole.

“We need to include people in the system so that we can create our own ecosystem for our employees to be economically empowered,” Booysen says.

“[An ecosystem] where we can buy from each other, supply products to each other. An ecosystem that will last not just a few years but into the future, where people can succeed and create jobs for themselves,” he adds.

Booysen is the founder of Booysen’s Tunnel Farm, a small farm in Kraaifontein. He operates 1.7 hectares of land at Avondrust Farm, which specializes in growing high quality fresh produce using hydroponic growing methods.

His passion for farming was sparked by his parents and grandparents growing mixed crops on a small plot of land in the Eastern Cape.

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Higher level!

Project participants attend bi-weekly training sessions held in the computer lab at Grosvenor Primary School.

Maria Uazukuani participates in the program and also grows vegetables in her garden. Photo:Provided/Food for Mzansi

Here they learn anything and everything about different soil types, water requirements, nutrition, plant physiology, and the chemical reactions that occur during the growing process. The program also helps locals understand why their community has food security issues and what they can do about it.

On the school grounds, Booysen and the participants erected a tunnel garden which they proudly dubbed the “Tunnel of the People”. Here, participants have the opportunity to implement what they learn in theory.

According to Joe Ruiters, CEO of Business Associate and Project Manager of the ASEZ Food Security Project, they want to see producers become entrepreneurs who run sustainable agricultural businesses.

“The biggest plan of this project is to make sure that we create an enabling environment. We want to bring the participants of the production [food] to agro-industry.

“We want to create a local Atlantis market so that the community can buy their products from their own people. Our vision is to create the first agricultural incubator in Atlantis,” he explains.

Ruiters says it was important for them to have the right team. The appointment of Booysen as technical manager was the success factor of the program, he adds.

“If you mean who the X factor is, it would be Byron. [He] is an emerging farmer and understands the challenges that come with it. He has a wealth of experience running a successful farm in Kraaifontein.

According to Ruiters, finding the right role model to inspire and lead participants was very important to them.

“In a community like Atlantis, you have to be able to understand the challenges. People do not have the capacity, resources and access to land. So you have to leverage someone who was in exactly that situation,” he says.

Western Cape Minister for Finance and Economic Opportunities Mireille Wenger and hydroponic farmer Byron Booysen at Grosvenor Primary School in Atlantis. Photo: Supplied/Food for Mzansi

“See the fruits of their labor”

Ellen Fischat, Integrated Ecosystems Manager at Atlantis Special Economic Zone, says they encourage collaboration on different projects between different people, communities and governments.

Fischat adds that she was particularly excited about their food safety program. “A community has come together, they are seeing the fruits of their labor and also how they can grow food. It’s great to see that they are actually reaping what they have sown. The next step is of course for them to sell their products,” she said.

Booysen echoes Fischat’s sentiments, adding that he hopes that at the end of the program participants will walk away with confidence to approach any terrain and start a community food project.

“I can’t wait for them to build their own projects and production plans,” he says.

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