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Putting land To Good Use: Food Security In Our Backyards

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Small, resilient agricultural solutions that will save the environment and feed generations to come. 

The effective use of land remains one of the foremost solutions to poverty, and the methods used to fully benefit from farming are easily accessible and implementable. 

Thankfully,  there are proven ecologically-sound farming methods that contribute to household food security even in harsh landscapes, and even through droughts, as this group of women in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province have shown

Strong El Niño events worldwide perpetually cause severe crop failures across the agricultural spectrum. Yet, in Igwavuma inKwaZulu-Natal, while her neighbor’s fields lay barren, Rhoda Mvubu was still harvesting cowpeas, sorghum, sesame, peanuts and a variety of beans at the end of the 2016 summer; and sweet potatoes and pumpkins in the winter.

In the dry, rocky hills of Tshaneni, Doris Myeni was still harvesting vegetables and greens from her home garden late into a drought, enabling her to provide adequately for her extended family of 15 throughout the summer holidays. And Corinne Mngomezulu still had a good stock of seed saved from her own crops, stored well to protect them from insects and decay, ensuring that she would be able to plant again when the rains came.

All three women are part of a network of smallholder farmers in the north-eastern province of South Africa who are supported by a non-profit organization, Biowatch South Africa, to develop and implement agroecology practices on their plots. Along with about 250 other farmers, mainly women,they have improved the nutrition levels in their homes and produced enough for sale to neighbors and at markets, while increasing and maintaining the productivity and ecological sustainability of their farms.

“Biowatch is looking at an agriculture that is resilient,and which doesn’t require expensive inputs or a lot of irrigation,” explains Biowatch director, Rose Williams.

“The methods we use of working with the soil and retaining water has meant that there can be produce during the drought – whereas if you were in a situation where you were planting a monocrop which needed irrigation, you would have nothing.”

Mavis Nhleko, a smallholder 
agroecology farmer, at Emagengeni in Pongola. Picture: Biowatch South Africa

With a large proportion of Africa’s food produced by smallholder farmers who operate with marginal resources, crop failure can be devastating. As climate stresses increase, it becomes especially astute to invest in knowledge and methods that ensure smallholder farms continue to be viable.

The 2018 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reveals that undernourishment and severe food insecurity are on the rise in nearly all regions of the world. About one in nine people in the world is considered to be undernourished, with a fifth (21%) of Africa’s population affected.

Although a number of complex factors influence food security, the report shows a correlation between the rise in the prevalence of undernourishment in the last three years and the rise in climate shocks such as droughts, floods, cyclones, and heat waves. It points to the 2015-2016 El Niño event as a key factor.

Countries with high exposure to climate shocks have more than double the number of undernourished people than those without high exposure. Drought is an especially significant factor in increased undernourishment, with stunting shown to have higher prevalence in areas where declining food availability is linked to warmer and drier conditions.

Other factors than climate are also at play. For example,middle-income countries experience less food insecurity than low-income countries that experience the same climate shocks.

Countries that experience both climate shocks and conflict fare considerably worse than those without conflict. However, it’s worth pointing out that most countries experiencing climate-related food insecurity are not experiencing conflict. Predictably, the part of the world where climate shocks and stressors have the biggest impact on food security and malnutrition is Africa.

“With climate change in this sub-region, droughts are more intense and they are longer, flash floods are more common, and one is seeing impacts that are really devastating,” says Williams, “And we are in a province which has very high rates of malnutrition – with elevated levels of stunting and high rates of diabetes.”

Stats SA reports that in 2016, about 22% of South African households had “inadequate or severely inadequate” access to food, and about 12% of households experienced hunger.

Williams says, “In many ways, synthetic fertilisers and irrigation and hybrid crops can seem like a silver bullet – and you may get returns that are high for a few years – but it’s not resilient and it’s not sustainable. Fertilizers impact on soil fertility, and hybrid crops need a lot of water –and water is scarce in this region which means it has to be diverted from somewhere else. So if you’re looking at an earth that needs to be sustainable, this is not an option for the long-term.”


Biowatch director, Rose Williams. Picture: Biowatch South Africa

“Within agroecology, there is a strong support for natural systems, and the ecology, water system, and soils are maintained,” she explains, “It’s something that is supportive of biodiversity, and it also has a low carbon footprint if you tie it with local markets.”

As described in Biowatch’s recent report, Agroecology is best practice, agroecology is about applying a set of principles rather than specific farming methods. Biowatch partner farmers are required to compost,mulch, dig fertility beds, use grey water, and save traditional seed. There can be no use of commercial hybrids or synthetic fertilizers, pesticides,insecticides or herbicides.

Farming methods vary based on terrain and depending on the individual objectives of different farmers. For example, what made Myeni’s farm successful in a moisture-deprived area was a combination of hip-deep trench gardens filled with material such as tin, bones, grass and compost that improved the fertility and water-retention of the soils, along with water-harvesting practices and solicitous use of grey water.

For Mvubu in a higher-rainfall area, it was planting in shallow basins and intense inter-cropping that gave her good yields.In a single field, she interplants maize, beans, cowpeas, peanuts, mung beans, jugo beans, sesame, and sorghum – and in fact, she has three different varieties of traditional sorghum.

Williams emphasizes crop diversity as an important aspect of agroecology  – both for protecting the soil and for proper nutrition. “There’s a difference between having sufficient food and having sufficient nutritious food. You can have enough food to fill your stomach but it’s not going to be enough for the human body. One needs a diversity in diet. Part of our work in agroecology is in providing proper food.”

Partner farmers strengthen agroecology practices with their own tried and tested traditional practices. “There is a strong innovation element to agroecology,” explains Williams, “and that’s where we can really support farmers because we are part of initiatives where we are learning from other countries in southern Africa and what we learn from our partner farmer scan also be shared with others.”

Saving traditional seed varieties for replanting is one of the most important aspects of maintaining agricultural diversity, resilience in crops, and good levels of household nutrition.

Says Williams, “In agroecology, the farmers have control over their seeds. They grow sufficient crops for food and also for planting the next season.” With hybrid seed, the next generation often lacks vigour, and some seeds are patented, which means farmers have to buy new seed for each crop. Williams explains, “This is very different to traditional farmer varieties of seed where the vigour is maintained and the diversity is maintained and it’s a self-sustaining system.”

Some farmers, like Mngomezulu, plant fields that are only for seed saving. As quoted in the recent Biowatch report, Mngomezulu says,“These seeds are very precious to me. I need this field to save them so that they don’t get lost. I inherited these seeds from older generations and I want people to see them and use them – they are for my grandchildren, for coming generations,and for other farmers.”

As governments the world over strive to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, it might be worth taking a page from these smallholder farmers in remote rural areas who are able to feed their families nutritious food throughout the year. 

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Economy

What’s Brewing In Tokyo?

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Japan, a tea-drinking nation, is one of South Africa’s biggest importers of rooibos tea. In 2018, a record high of 2,000 tonnes of the homegrown blend was shipped off to the land of the rising sun.


A tea room filled with reverence for the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

But first, the facts. To understand tea-drinking in Japan, it is important to go through the following motions, starting with the communal practice known as chadō (the way of tea) that is older than 800 years, in which, in a hand-decorated cast iron bowl, green powder, known as matcha, is whisked to make a dark green tea to be offered to guests.

Tea was first brought to Japan from China in the seventh century for medicinal purposes, and was regarded as a commodity that was exclusively accessible to the noble and elite.

According to Japanese historical beliefs, Myōan Eisai, a Buddhist priest who introduced the school of Zen Buddhism to Japan, was one of the first to inculcate the culture of tea in Japan.

He wrote a book on the health benefits of drinking tea, as well as the cultivation and preparation of green tea.

By the thirteenth century, the tea drinking culture grew in popularity among warriors and the elite, and by the sixteenth century, tea had become a favorite for all social classes.

Tea schools opened and the art of making tea gradually evolved to more than just being a spiritual practice in Japan.

It became one of respect with shared peace and friendship.

The tea room is traditionally surrounded by a garden with a tranquil atmosphere, emphasized by dull flowers without strong scents, to avoid distraction.

A low entrance into the tea room suggests that guests are to bow as a gesture of respect for the ceremony.

Every movement, gesture and aesthetic, from the preparation to the enjoyment of the tea, is designed to express friendship and harmony.  Guests watch on as the host shares the moment and finally presents it to them, kneeling on cushions.

Once the bowl has circulated among the guests, it is handed back to the host.The tools are cleaned and the ceremony is closed.

The Red Bush

Over 14,000kms away, across the Indian Ocean, a South African enjoys a hot cup of ‘red tea.’

Its preparation may not be as dramatic as it is in Japan, but it evokes the same sense of calm and serenity. It’s simply made by adding tealeaves or a tea bag into a cup of boiling water, a few teaspoons of sugar and having “a date with time”, as Swaady Martin, the founder of Yswara, an African tea and teatime company, puts it.

Martin, who has been in the tea industry for seven years, with a focus on gourmet African teas, has tasted and sourced blends from Malawi, Kenya and Rwanda but the South African rooibos is her favorite.

“Rooibos is not a tea, it is a plant. I find it a miraculous and wonderous plant. The fact that it only grows in one region of South Africa, and that it has all these incredible properties, makes it a plant I love dearly. I drink rooibos almost every day,” she says. 

Located in the heart of Johannesburg’s central business district (CBD), Martin’s tea room, which is currently being refurbished, embodies what she calls a meditative appeal that coincides with the tranquil properties of tea.

Tea lovers step into a room filled with silence and walls done up in light pink hues representing a sunset in the desert. 

This is to encourage focus on the tea, as it represents the removal of  barriers between the different social classes.

“We have suffered in South Africa and also around the world, with so much exclusion, the one thing that was important for Yswara was to give inclusive luxury. For me, inclusiveness means being in a place where everyone could have access.

“Being in town (CBD) was just that expression of being in the midst of everything and everyone; and at the junction of what represents the new South Africa,” Martin says.

A South African Rooibos Council (SARC) industry fact sheet published in 2018 states that the country’s geographical areas provide the perfect environmental conditions for rooibos cultivation.

The plant can be found in the Cederberg and Sandveld regions of the Western Cape and the Bokkeveld area of the Northern Cape.

“The vital characteristics of this environment are the Mediterranean climate with a winter rainfall between 200mm and 450mm per year; deep, coarse and acidic sandy soils; and temperatures that can range from zero degrees Celsius in winter months, to up to forty-five degrees Celsius in summer,” the report says.

Due to the indigenous properties of the Rooibos bush, industry regulations stipulate that the term ‘rooibos’ be used responsibly.

“The terms ‘Rooibos’, ‘red bush’, ‘Rooibostee’, ‘Rooibos tea’, ‘rooitee’ and ‘Rooibosch’ may only be used when the dry product, infusion or extract is 100% pure rooibos. Furthermore, the notice stipulates that the above terms (referring to rooibos) can only be used when the product was grown in the geographic area as described in the application, i.e., the winter rainfall area of South Africa,” the SARC report states.

This uniquely-grown product is becoming  a big deal across the globe, and the tea-drinking nation, Japan, has fallen in love with the health benefits that the South African tea provides.

In 2016, rooibos exports increased to over 30 countries across the globe; with Germany, Netherlands, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States (US) being the biggest importers.

In 2018, one of the largest tea-drinking nations recorded over 2,000 tonnes that were shipped into the Japanese shores, making it the largest export since rooibos was first introduced to the Japanese 39 years ago.

For Martin Bergh, the Managing Director of Rooibos Limited and the Chairperson of the SARC, the tea has been up against competition in the Japanese tea market, which has over 26 different types of teas to consume, ranging from the traditional green tea varieties to Jasmine and Barley, or the sacred Mugicha.

“The general trend toward natural health and wellness products continue to exert a growing influence on purchasing patterns in the region and as more of Rooibos’ health benefits become known in the East, we anticipate the demand for the product to grow,” says Bergh.

Bergh points out that the Japanese are purists and therefore prefer to drink rooibos tea unflavored, without milk or sugar.

“In the past, rooibos was consumed more in summer for hydration, but has now become an all-year-round tea product consumed by all age groups. A market as big as Japan’s 126 million-strong tea-loving population, is always eager to experiment with new products.

“Local retailers like Peacock Coffee & Tea Traders have adapted to the experimental flavors to quench the insatiable thirst of the local and international market.”

Kelebogile Monyaysi, the manager at Peacock Coffee & Tea Traders in Rosebank, Johannesburg, attentively prepares a cup of tea when we visit.

The loose tea leaves are cautiously stirred in a tea pot and served at a small coffee table.  

One half of the store is dedicated to coffee and the other for tea.

The smell of freshly-brewed coffee overpowers the aromatic smell of tea.

Tea sets range from vintage English style ceramics to Japanese cast iron teapots.

A selection of rooibos tea blends with various flavored options, ranging from organic rooibos to creamy caramel, as well as herbal blends.

This includes a Nelson Mandela range.

The caffeine-free tea, according to Monyaysi, is popular in the Japanese markets because of its natural healing qualities.

Despite coffee being a popular beverage for sit-in customers, rooibos tea is the most sought after locally too.

“It (rooibos) is the center of attraction. This is a word that they (tourists) can grab and not forget, so when they walk in here, it is all they ask for,” she says.

It took some time for Monyaysi to be stirred by tea. 

“I was not much of a tea-drinker. I only started to enjoy tea when I began working here. Now, the first thing in the morning, I have to drink a cup of tea and in the evening, before I go to bed. It is a habit – if I don’t drink tea, I get a headache,” Monyaysi says, preferring the original rooibos blend.

Jessica Bonin, the founder of Lady Bonin’s Tea, a Cape Town-based company that sources, blends, packages and distributes full leaf teas, either loose or in biodegradable tea bags, offers more on the world’s fetish for rooibos.

Lady Bonins’ teas and herbals are sourced locally and internationally from farms that are organic without adding additives or products that harm the environment.

The rooibos is sourced by using a method known as “wild pickings” – the process of collecting the rooibos that grows naturally in the mountains. Due to the increase in demand for rooibos and rooibos products globally, commercial farmers have scaled production unsustainably, leaving environmental and societal damage in their wake.

Bonin says that in countries like Japan and Thailand, black tea is preferred, and it is predominantly used for the health benefits – making it a herbal infusion.

“They are buying it solely on the principle that it is a caffeine-free, non-tea beverage. People are buying it as an alternative and they are transfixed by its health properties.

“It is enabling people who naturally use plants as medicine for many years. In any Western country, you will need to justify the health benefits, but in the Asian countries, it is the medicine they are interested in. People are very healthy in Japan,” she says.

 Although Bonin is facing difficulties  entering the export market in Japan due to the high number of monopolies and conglomerates in the industry, small amounts of exports also go to Germany and the US.

Rooibos is a unique product that has infused the signature South African taste and its ambience with the rest of the world.

The Japanese may have their unique tea-drinking ceremonies and traditions but in Germany and the other countries that import the plant in millions, rooibos offers a cupful of experience that is incomparable and uniquely South African. 

Gypseenia Lion

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Sanlam & NASASA Launch NASASA Financial Services For Stokvels

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Sanlam and the National Stokvel Association of South Africa (NASASA) have launched NASASA Financial Services (Pty) Ltd; a brokerage catering to the financial services needs of the South African stokvel market. NASASA is a self-regulatory organisation with a database of 125 000 stokvel groups, reaching about 2.5 million individuals. The new entity will foster greater financial inclusion for all members.


Jacqui Rickson, Chief Executive: Group Benefits at Sanlam Developing Markets Limited and Board member of NASASA Financial Services says, “For South African stokvels this is an opportunity to formalise their existence without having to forego their traditions. The peace-of-mind that each member of a stokvel will be protected in their time of need is invaluable.”

“Stokvels are powerful financial services providers in their own right,” says NASASA Financial Services CEO, Mizi Mtshali “and have the potential to help grow South Africa’s economy once they enter the more formalised sector through appropriate product offerings”. Currently, there are over 800 000 stokvels in the country, aggregating an estimated R50-billion pa. They are, however, quite exposed, especially to liquidity issues that may render them unable to discharge benefits to their members, as well as scams that promise to resolve such issues. This results from a lack of accessible, relevant products that meet the needs of a more informal savings sector. 

As a result, some burial stokvels may not pay enough to cover funeral expenses in their entirety. By offering broad-based financial services to members, NASASA Financial Services will empower stokvels through greater socio-economic inclusion and security.

Jacqui Rickson says, “This venture supports our client-centric focus by allowing financial inclusion to be extended to South Africans who are on the edge of the formalised insurance structures.  Through this, we can help families recover financially following difficult, unexpected events.”

NASASA Financial Services is currently licensed as a Juristic Representative of Sanlam Developing Markets, with a long-term plan to become a Financial Services Provider (FSP).  NASASA Financial Services will distribute tailor-made products nationally via its distribution force. Sanlam as underwriter, through NASASA Financial Services, will initially offer group-based funeral benefits, tailored to each individual type of stokvel.

Products are competitively priced and start at R15 per person. Once the stokvel has selected its option, the stokvel will pay one premium for the whole group. For burial stokvels, Sanlam has designed a full product, covering up to nine family members and all products have been created in partnership with NASASA.

Currently, the product offering includes:

  • A Principal Member Only Funeral Benefit
  • An Immediate Family Funeral Benefit
  • A Principal Member Plus Up To 9 Dependents Funeral Benefit
  • Grocery and Airtime Cash Benefits

NASASA is about educating their members about wealth and more appropriately, financial health, which includes saving on the expense of premiums through aggregation and paying group rates rather than more expensive individualised rates. We’ve designed products as an extension of this; as a tangible, affordable, non-intrusive offering that seamlessly blends the required formal structures with community-based traditional structures.

Mizi Mtshali, NASASA CEO, adds, “The research conducted during the build-up of our product launch saw the solution being entirely built by participating stovels. As a result, we deliver unmatched value by buiding a solution briefed in by our constituency. Amongst the majority of South Africans, funeral insurance fulfils an unmistakable need. While many are excluded from the formal financial system, those who do interface with the sector largely feel inadequately serviced. Burial Societies are formed as providers of such services and have developed systems around the real needs of their members. There are roughly 200 000 active Burial Societies in South Africa, with the majority being self-underwritten.

Because such groups rely on their collective savings to discharge their benefit to members, they often face liquidity problems that may lead to their disbandment. This brings about the need for an underwriter who will take on the risk on behalf of the group, as well as offer a set of products and services built around the group’s needs. NASASA is tasked by its members to solve this problem, and we have identified Sanlam as the most suitable partner in this regard.”

Mtshali says this venture will also facilitate job creation, which is key to socioeconomic inclusion, “For South Africans, this opportunity provides meaningful employment particularly in the township economy. Not only is this a step towards financial inclusion, but a giant leap towards societal transformation”

Down the line, NASASA Financial Services is aiming to extend its offering to include life cover as well as short-term products like household insurance and is investigating the potential of integrating other banking products.

Content provided by Sanlam

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Why The High Number Of Employees Quitting Reveals A Strong Job Market

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While recession fears may be looming in the minds of some, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the economy and job market may actually be strengthening.

The quits rate—or the percentage of all employees who quit during a given month—rose to 2.4% in July, according to the BLS’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover report, released Tuesday. That translates to 3.6 million people who voluntarily left their jobs in July.

This is the highest the quits rate has been since April 2001, just five months after the Labor Department began tracking it. According to Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, the quits rate tends to be a reflection of the state of the economy.

READ MORE | 5 Things You Should Do The Night Before A Job Interview

“The level of the quits rate really is a sign of how strong the labor market is,” he says. “If you look at the quits rate over time, it really drops quite a bit when the labor market gets weak. During the recession it was quite low, and now it’s picked up.”

The monthly jobs report, released last week, revealed that the economy gained 130,000 jobs in August, which is 20,000 less than expected, and just a few weeks earlier, the BLS issued a correction stating that it had overestimated by 501,000 how many jobs had been added to the market in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Yet despite all that, employees still seem to have confidence in the job market.Today In: Leadership

The quits level, according to the BLS, increased in the private sector by 127,000 for July but was little changed in government. Healthcare and social assistance saw an uptick in departures to the tune of 54,000 workers, while the federal government saw a rise of 3,000.

READ MORE | 5 Questions You Should Never Ask During A Job Interview

The July quits rate in construction was 2.4%, while the number in trade, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality were 2.6%, 3.1% and 4.8%, respectively. Bunker of Indeed says that the industries that tend to see the highest rate of departuresare those where pay is relatively low, such as leisure and hospitality. An unknown is whether employees are quitting these jobs to go to a new industry or whether they’re leaving for another job in the same industry. Either could be the case, says Bunker.

In a recently published article on the industries seeing the most worker departures, Bunker attributes the uptick to two factors—the strong labor market and faster wage growth in the industries concerned: “A stronger labor market means employers must fill more openings from the ranks of the already employed, who have to quit their jobs, instead of hiring jobless workers. Similarly, faster wage growth in an industry signals workers that opportunities abound and they might get higher pay by taking a new job.”

Even so, recession fears still dominate headlines. According to Bunker, the data shows that when a recession hits, employers pull back on hiring and workers don’t have the opportunity to find new jobs. Thus, workers feel less confident and are less likely to quit.

READ MORE | South Africa’s Informal Sector: Why People Get Stuck In Precarious Jobs

“As the labor market gets stronger, there’s more opportunities for workers who already have jobs. So they quit to go to new jobs or they quit in the hopes of getting new jobs again,” Bunker says. He also notes that recession fears may have little to do with the job market, instead stemming from what is happening in the financial markets, international relations or Washington, D.C.

So what does the BLS report say about the job market? “Taking this report as a whole, it’s indicating that the labor market is still quite strong, but then we lost momentum,” Bunker says. While workers are quitting their jobs, he says that employers are pulling back on the pace at which they’re adding jobs. “While things are quite good right now and workers are taking advantage of that,” he notes, “those opportunities moving forward might be fewer and fewer if the trend keeps up.”

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

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