Joyce Mmbengeni showing off different local crop varieties that she grows. Pic: Mupo Foundation

Limpopo is well known for its rich indigenous culture and environment. However, due to modernization, industrialization and population growth, most of the indigenous plants and fresh waters are being lost and heavily polluted, respectively.

Vhembe District, historically known as Venda is a former Apartheid independent homeland in the Limpopo province in northern South Africa. The Soutpansberg mountain range dominates Venda and is one of the most bio-diverse areas with some of the last remaining indigenous forests in the country.

Joyce Mmbengeni, 64, divorced and a mother of 6 children, is one of the women whose lives was heavily affected by the land degradation in the area. To live a better life was a farfetched dream for her. Since she was not able to get enough yield to take them through to the next harvesting season, she used to do domestic work to complement the little harvest they found. However, this was still not giving the family enough to survive.

Economic Empowerment for women

  • UNDP, with funding from the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP), implemented a project called; Securing local food sovereignty and enhancing climate resilience through ensuring the custodianship and access of local communities to biodiversity and healthy ecosystems
  • 315 females joined and benefited from this initiative. Today, these women are bringing food to their families.
  • GEF Small Grants Programme pumped in $50,000 for the two-year project which benefited a total of 590 people including women and children.

“It was very hard for me to feed my family, there were times when we went to bed without food. As a mother this used to pain me a lot, but there was nothing I could do as we did not have any alternatives. Our motherland had been washed away, the indigenous trees were no longer there,” explained Joyce.

Mupo Foundation, with funding from the UNDP Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP), implemented a project called; Securing local food sovereignty and enhancing climate resilience through ensuring the custodianship and access of local communities to biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. The primary objective of the project was to conserve and protect biodiversity, having a specific focus on sacred natural sites, which was supported by local knowledge systems and food control.

When the project came to Venda in 2013, Joyce was one of the 315 females who joined and benefited from this initiative. Today, these women are bringing food to their families. They are able to plant and get enough food for their families due to the association and guidance they get from the project. They underwent a training which covered identification of indigenous trees, seeds, and food, methods of plant multiplication including establishment of plant nursery. The training also covered seed selection, saving and storing seeds, further on how to grow crops organically and to manage flower pollination. They also developed skills in selecting the best crop for seeds, packaging and labeling for future production.

The UNDP Country Director, Mr. Walid Badawi showed his appreciation to what GEF Small Grants Programme has contributed to the communities of Limpopo and acknowledged the role that UNDP GEF/SGP played.

“We are humbled to have played a part in the success of this remarkable project, which contributes to several sustainable development goals. Most notably in recognising how the environmental goods and services play a significant role to the livelihoods of rural communities through food and seed security; strengthening the role of indigenous knowledge systems as well as the voice of local traditional structures in environmental conservation, especially that of women,” he said.

Women who are continuing with the agro-ecological food gardens and indigenous tree nursery programme are generating enough income to assist their families.

“Today I am able to grow enough crops for food and some for sale. From the sales, I make about R1000 a month which I use to buy some household necessities.” Joyce said. “I have even managed to build a decent house for my family which has three bedrooms and iron sheets roofing!” added Joyce excitedly. 

GEF Small Grants Programme pumped in $50,000 for the two-year project which benefited a total of 434 people including women and children.

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