Nonhlanhla Joye, a woman fighting hunger on the ground

Nonhlanhla Joye is South African. She lives in Durban in a township, a disadvantaged neighborhood left over from the apartheid era. The 51-year old mother of two created a vegetable gardening system for everyone so that residents can grow their own vegetables (which are organic, to boot) – even in a concrete-covered urban environment where space is at a premium. She now runs her own business, Umgibe Farming Organics and Training Institute.
On March 30, 2017, Nonhlanhla Joye received the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award at the Social Impact2 Entrepreneurship International Forum. The award, which was created by Inco with support from Fondation CHANEL, recognizes women who start businesses to liberate themselves and to address the social and environmental challenges facing their communities.

What path led this women to receive such a distinction from the hands of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus?

In 2015, Nonhlanhla Joye found out she had cancer. She could no longer work and had to find a way to feed her family. As a farmer’s daughter, she had learned to grow vegetables at a tender age, so she decided to grow her own food. Unfortunately, her harvest was decimated by her neighbor’s chickens. This prompted her to devise a solution to grow plants in the air, out of the reach of animals. She invented a system that uses re-purposed plastic bags hung from a wooden structure and filled with soil and compost. Just water the plants three to four times a week and the rest takes care of itself. Her invention proved effective at protecting the plants, but was also especially well suited to the township setting, where households lack arable land or space.

A personal challenge becomes a collective goal

That is how Umgibe was born. Nonhlanhla Joye quickly recruited her neighbors and families organized themselves into cooperatives. Their goal was to ensure their own food security by growing for themselves. Umgibe trained them in the new technique and provided the equipment. It also gives them access to a marketing platform – via restaurant chains and government services – that allows them to earn income from their output if they wish. Umgibe even includes a bartering mechanism so that families can enjoy a varied diet by trading the varieties they raise.
For Nonhlanhla Joye, this experience should serve as an example to women: “There is no better person to rely on than yourself. I learned that the hard way. So be sure to do a job that you love and success will follow.”* That success is something she shares with her community: with Umgibe, she maintains food security for nearly 400 families organized into cooperatives and hopes to reach 3,000 families by mid-2018. One day she would also like to create a nursery to distribute plants free of charge to the cooperatives and families that want to grow their vegetables. All these actions are driven by a simple principle: “No one should have to go to bed with an empty stomach.”

Camille C.
reporter for Fondation CHANEL


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