UJ’s food security initiative empowers single mothers

Creating sustainable jobs through food security is possible and to prove this the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Community Engagement Unit (UJCE) together with the Centre for Ecological Intelligence (CEI), invited mothers to the Centre to learn how to grow their own vegetable gardens.

The UJCE and CEI hosted over 20 mothers, to close off their Mandela Month activities, for a Single Parents Empowerment Programme on Tuesday, 25 July 2023.

“For us, creating sustainable jobs through food security is possible. We look at food systems – projects within food security that are aimed at generating food or at least contributing to generating food,” said CEI Manager Mr Godfrey Ndamane.

The CEI facilitates, supervises and mentors scholarly and applied research on urban agriculture, food systems, enterprise and entrepreneurship, water, energy, and waste technology through critical reflection and evaluation.

“We have a food garden for planting vegetables – things that people can do at home. But sometimes they forget to use those patches of land for gardens and planting.

With just a small space, it allows you to eat. You can plant spinach and bunch some of it and give to your neighbours or even sell it to buy seeds and plant again. This is one of the things we want to teach people,” added Ndamane.

UJCE Specialist Lebogang Ayobiojo said the programme was part of an ongoing initiative to empower single mothers.

Earlier in July, the mothers were invited to attend a session with the UJ Centre for Psychological Services and Career Development (PsyCaD) to address issues such as effective methods of healing from abuse, dealing with pain, understanding emotional abuse and embracing change for success.

“We have students who have done problem-based learning – identifying problems and coming up with solutions. Those students have 400 hours to be in community engagement. Under the theme Climate, Food and Solidarity we have partnered with the Centre to help the mothers focus on food security and environmental sustainability,” said Ayobiojo.

The mothers who took part come from communities that often face difficulties like unemployment, lack of food and drugs. These include Diepsloot, Vrededorp, Westbury, Soweto, Coronation, Alexandra and different parts of Ekurhuleni.

“Food insecurity means you don’t have access to food. It also means you can still eat but the food you are eating has no nutritional value or you are barely surviving, only eating what you can find. Vegetables give us dietary diversity,” said Ndamane adding that the CEI was looking to provide a certified course for the mothers.

“It is good to show them what to do but the best thing is to give them a certified course that will not only increase their chances of employment but also give them that confidence to continue in the work. There are a lot of companies that are now venturing into food security projects.”

Ayobiojo added: “With the mothers, the project is so broad- the mothers are not only informed and aware, next year we hope to take this as a pilot project and enrol the mothers for the accredited SETA course. Now that students are back from their break they are able to continue to help the mothers with their children through literacy and the soup kitchens among other things.”

Ndamane said there was also a project in the works where CEI would be teaming up with student affairs to launch food gardens at all the campus residences.

“We are open to collaborations with all departments. We want CEI to become a site for tourism and grow the space to be able to sustain itself and to be able to continually donate food to the students.”

After the mothers were shown around the garden and the different types of food production systems and how to create their own gardens for growing vegetables, UJCE and CEI donated the vegetables that were harvested to the mothers.

“We want the mothers to see that we understand their situations and we want them to know that they are important to society,” concluded Ayobiojo.

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