By: Lungani Gumede

UMLAZI TOWNSHIP, SOUTH AFRICA: Growing up in a rural village has many advantages and some of society’s favorite stories involve a dusty footed hero making it big in the city.

One of the biggest advantages of living in a rural setting is being thrust into the natural environment early on in ones life.

The surrounding forests, fields and rivers are a playground for children and, like other children, Dumisani Msweli quickly became infatuated with this environment.

He used to live with his grandmother in rural Umbumbulu, thirty minutes away from where Kwa-Zulu Natal’s coast meets the Indian Ocean.

However, Dumisani moved to be with his mother and stepfather in Umlazi township, the third largest township in South Africa, just outside of Durban.

Umlazi was one of them.

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A view of Umlazi. Photo Credit: Lungani Gumede

With a population of close to 405,000 in an area that is 47.46km squared (8,500 people per square kilometre) the township is compacted and land that is supposed to fit one family, has had to accommodate four or five houses on one plot.

So any arable land would have been converted into space for dwellings.

However, Dumisani always felt love for plants and trees and never forgot his passion.

After high school, Dumisani went to University and graduated with a degree in Nutrition, but that was not his passion.

“One of my mentors advised me to follow my passion,” Dumisani said in an interview with RISE NEWS

Which is what he did by going back to school. He received a National Diploma in Horticulture from the Durban University of Technology.

Dumisani then says he “saw a need and an opportunity in the township,” a need for work, cheap products and a cleaner environment.

This is how Ibala Organics was born.

Ibala means “backyard” or “garden” in isiZulu and Dumisani quickly realized that other amabala or “openspace” that belonged to the people in the community were the key to creating a sustainable, consistently fruitful business for the township of Umlazi.

Dumisani’s idea was to rent and buy land from inside the community, such as gardens, backyards and schoolyards and plant tropical and subtropical fruits and then sell those fruits to supermarkets and fruit processors.

By shortening and localizing his supply chain, Dumisani says there will be no need for expensive refrigeration or transportation.

The initiative will sell its fruits (pun intended) to fruit processors and supermarkets, which means that the gardens will need to provide its wares regularly and on time and the more “amabala” they have, the better.

Ibala already has a square kilometre of household backyard space that it has acquired and processed and a further 1.5 kilometre squared space from schoolyards that are being cultivated for the planting of vegetables in April.

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Space is at a premium in Umlazi. Photo Credit: Lungani Gumede

However, Dumisani says he is always on the lookout and constantly negotiating for more spaces.

Ibala Organics aims to provide communities with a very valuable second income, without actually having to toil the land.

Dumisani hires people from the community to work with him and is adamant that he wants to give opportunities to people who just left school with the right qualifications, over eight million people are unemployed in South Africa and university-leaving degree-bearing young people are not being hired.

Besides the good that Ibala Organics will do for the economies of the communities it operates in, Dumisani says “it is our vision to plant the value of tree’s in people’s lives.”

Dumisani wants to ensure that the people who will be participating in Ibala Organics gain a love for the plants and trees that he will be planting.

Getting buy-in from the community was not a problem for Dumisani, because he started close to home – on his own street.

Once he had proven his model to those close to home, it was easier to get support from neighboring communities.

The drought that has hit South Africa has not severely impacted on Ibala’s crop of tropical and subtropical fruit, such as Mangoes,paw paw, avocado, banana, granadilla, citrus fruit and litchi and in April they hope to add vegetables to the offering.

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Dumisani Msweli. Photo Credit: Lungani Gumede

Ibala Organics will soon be completely operational and the gardens of Umlazi will be home to trees and plants with heavy-hanging branches bearing fruit and vegetables.

Perhaps Ibala Organics and Dumisani will create a wave across the 400,000 people strong township that encourages local products and unity in the community.

A hand-in-hand initiative for the people, by the people.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us!

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Cover Photo Credit: Red Bull/ Screengrab

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