Farmers undeterred by disabilities

A KZN vegetable co-op has given its disabled members a sense of purpose, while making a valuable contribution to the nutritional needs of their families.

Farmers undeterred by disabilities
Photo: Robyn Joubert

Nobuhle Mthembu was 10 when she lost her sight. In 1989, she started a vegetable garden with her sister Bukani Latha, who is paralysed in one leg. By 2009, they gained permission from the local council to farm a plot of land at Inchanga, near Cato Ridge in KwaZulu-Natal. In due course, Bukani founded the 18-member Bukani Sibonelo Disabled Women’s Co-operative, a diverse group made up of 13 men and women with physical and mental disabilities.

“There’s a need for a disabled co-op like this because it helps our members support their families and earn some money. It gives us dignity,” explains Nobuhle. The local municipality provided R1 500 to buy overalls and seed, while the KZN department of agriculture has provided vegetable production training and an ongoing supply of seed. The co-op grows crops such as potatoes, spinach, cabbage, carrots and beetroots. Water is pumped into tanks from a stream running along the bottom of the plot, and a bucket system is used to irrigate the crops. Shipping containers act as the co-op’s storage facility and office, with brick blocks for chairs.

Earlier this year, Nobuhle won the department of agriculture’s Female Entrepreneur Award in the disabled category.
“This is a major motivation for me,” she says. “I’m now challenging other disabled people not to sit back and become beggars. Instead, they must also become active in agriculture and achieve more than I’ve done.” The co-op is eager to expand and supply major retailers and create more job opportunities. “We want to buy a tractor and trucks for delivery,” says Nobuhle.

“We want to improve the irrigation system and open a chicken farm. “For me personally, I would love to learn how to read Braille.” The co-op sells its crops to the local community and has started to make a small profit. This is distributed to members at the end of the year.

“Even though it’s a small amount, our members are happy to receive this,” says Nobuhle. “We don’t earn a salary. We live off our government disability grants. We also offer the clinic vegetables to pay for health care.” Members take vegetables home for their families, which saves money and ensures a supply of healthy food. “People used to look down on us, but now they come closer to see how we are doing things. Farming is my passion and I trust in God,” says Nobuhle.

Phone Nobuhle Mthembu at 071 045 5634.