EduPlant has done remarkable work with its school gardening and nutrition programme. since it first started in 1994. “We are not only coming with information. We are encouraging self-worth and self-reliance,” says permaculturalist and founder Bharathi Tugh.
Looking back, Tugh believes it was her upbringing in Umhlatuzana on the south of Durban which sparked her mission to help kids understand the importance of growing their own food.
Tugh is the KwaZulu-Natal branch manager for Food & Trees Africa. She recalls having a backyard garden in her childhood home that also reinforced her belief permaculture.
Permaculture uses organic food growing practices and, according to Tugh, it is a secret weapon in the fight against food insecurity.
“The environment that I was in needed attention, so myself and others began revamping it through permaculture. We planted trees and established gardens. The results were amazing and you could tell that the people appreciated and loved how the spaces had been changed by planting.”
In 1995, she began delving deeper into permaculture after volunteering at many organisations. It was in the early 2000s that she discovered Food & Trees for Africa, which has already reached thousands of learners and teachers across the country.
What is permaculture?
According to Tugh, EduPlant is based on permaculture principles, but it does much more than just grow food and enhance nutrition. It encourages sustainable behaviours, environmental ethics, and whole-systems thinking.
This is achieved through a series of workshops that not only equip children, but give teachers the necessary resources and skills. “These workshops enable them to put the farming skills into practices in their schools,” adds Tugh.
There has been many programme highlights, but she will always treasure how different minds and people from all walks of life come together through EduPlant.
EduPlant, she adds, builds learners’ self-esteem.“We are not only coming with information. We are encouraging self-worth and self-reliance. We have kids that come to school and have meals [from] their garden. There were school that had no water. The children had to bring in grey water to water the plants.”
Among the thousands of learners reached, one continues to stand out for Tugh. “Jeffry Keshwa, the child who had difficulty reading, is an EduPlant product,” she says proudly.
This “differently abled” former learner has since improved the lives of many others through practising permaculture.
“He built a garden for people who were experiencing similar challenges. When he finished high school, he found a job as a groundsman and used his permaculture knowledge to flourish in the business. He has been there for eight years,” says Tugh.
This garden encouraged experiential learning, “since the students could now feel, touch, and experience while studying.”
Growing food sustainably
Tugh is most grateful for EduPlant’s funders who continue to recognise the programme’s value. As with many other organisations, the last two years were particularly tough as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the work continued despite schools being closed. “I am very grateful that to the guards and principals of the schools who [also] sowed the produce,” she notes, adding that they were inspired by the many people who started planting vegetables in their own backyards during the pandemic.
Tugh hopes that EduPlant will continue to educate children about sustainable *agroecology and demonstrate that there are opportunities and long-term jobs in farming.
And while they have reached thousands, there is still much more work to do. EduPlant, she says, will continue to provide a “hand-up” rather than a “hand-out”. “My aim is for every single household to set aside a modest two square meter area in their home to construct small garden patches of gardens.”
Health For Mzansi’s word of the day:
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), food, livelihoods and the management of resources are connected. Agroecology is a holistic and integrated approach that applies ecological and social concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agriculture and food systems.