Thanda tackles malnutrition and uplifts farmers

Organic nutrition is at the heart of Thanda’s work. The organisation works to ensure food security through creating organic food gardens and farms. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Thanda has been able to bring together the young and old to improve their lives through agriculture, working hand in hand with the Mtwalume community. The community-based group has developed and implemented creative ideas for long-term growth through its Organic Farming Programme.
The programme was motivated by a desire to change the system and give everyone opportunities to have a better life.
Thanda is a non-governmental organisation that focuses on childcare and farming skills training and has a big membership in the KwaZulu-Natal area.
They provide one-of-a-kind long-term development solutions and work to make communities safer and stronger by providing educational and skill-building opportunities. Their purpose is to inspire people to make positive changes in their own lives, their communities, and, eventually, on a global scale.
Thanda was formed in 2008 by Angela Larkan, executive director, and Tyler Howard, programme director, to provide support to children through after-school activities in rural KwaZulu-Natal. This followed two years of on-the-ground research.
The initiative made use of community resources that were already available: They hired and trained unemployed youths to work as child–minders for the after-school programme.
What sets this group apart, is its agricultural-based approach to solving socio-economic needs.
In an exclusive interview with Food For Mzansi, Thanda’s head of programmes, Sibusiso Msimango – also known as ‘Raah’ – offers us an insight into how their agriculture program has helped them make a difference in their community.
“Food is a right, and yes, people can buy it in stores. But what about those in rural regions who can’t afford it and don’t have any money? We therefore decided to do research into ways to reduce hunger, particularly among youngsters,” he says.
Thanda decided to impart farming knowledge that has been lost in South Africa over decades. This includes the practical side of organic farming, such as knowledge of soil and planting skills (composting, mulching, watering, spacing, seedlings) and how to effectively use organic fertiliser.
They also offer a training model on self-development, global perspective and confidence building, as well as how to track production from soil preparation to consumption or sale.
Msimango explains that when they first started, they only had half a hectare of land supplied from the local community and cow manure for their organic fertilising. Since then, the  has expanded by offering aid to local and prospective farmers to get land or use their own land to plant crops. Thanda also supplies seeds.
In 2020, the programme produced R3.6 million worth of organic fresh farm produce. This trend has since continued, Msimango says, with farmers able to make an income for themselves and their families.
“They are now able to afford essentials like school uniforms for their children and provide all necessities, unlike before.”
The project is aiding small-scale farmers because they are at a disadvantage when it comes to money, land and other resources. “We buy seeds and support the farmer to find land for their project. Once he or she finds land, we give a mentor who specialises in agriculture, to guide the individual from the beginning to the end of the project,” he said.
According to him, this type of approach has resulted in an unshakable bond with the locals. “We mentor the farmers as family members, not as protégés. This is accomplished by encouraging children to participate in the training alongside their guardians.”
Msimango further recognises the positive impact the programme has had in dealing with malnutrition. “People in a low-income community like Mtwalume can go a day without eating. As a result, one meal can make all the difference.”
Other obstacles they have had to deal with, are market-related issues, natural disasters such as flooding and getting the local population on board in terms of appreciating the necessity of farming.
“When it comes to challenges, we normally have a hard time convincing our people of the value of farming. They did not recognise the significance, making it difficult to modify their beliefs,” Msimango points out.
According to him, most of the people in the rural area have long forgotten farming or see it as something impossible.
Thanda has made it their mission to show people in Mtwalume how  both small-scale and subsistence farming can make their lives easier in terms of food security and saving on store-bought food.
Market access for the surplus vegetables their farmers produce, remains a challenge. “We can produce in enormous quantities, but the system prevents our farmers from selling their products in mainstream markets,” Msimango says.

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