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Nonhanhla Joye: How organic food saves lives

Published: Feb 23, 2022 10:10:00 AM South Africa Standard Time

We all know the best diet is one that includes fruits and vegetables. However, do you also know that the more organic they are, the better? Unfortunately, even the healthiest fruits and vegetables sometimes undergo processing that makes them just a little less healthy.

This is why it’s important that we eat the ‘right’ fruits and vegetables. But how do we start looking for the best of the best? This is why Longevity LIVE has created Wellness Wednesdays. It’s a weekly Instagram interview at 19h00 SAST hosted by the founder of the World of Longevity, Gisèle Wertheim Aymés that will help you on your health and wellness journey. Joined by a different expert each week on @longevity_live. Gisèle and her guests will help you take baby steps with facts and points.

Nonhlanhla Joye: Organic Food Saves Lives

Nonhlanhla ‘Ma’Joye’ Joye is the founder of Umgibe Farming Organics and Training Institute. Ma’Joye’s journey with Umgibe started in 2014 when she was diagnosed with cancer, “I found myself unable to provide for my family, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t know what to do,” says Ma’Joye. Thankfully, a memory from her youth would not only give her something to do, but it would also propel her into the business world.

“I remembered, growing up, that my parents used to farm. I’ll admit that I hated it at the time because the amount of work meant that I couldn’t play with other kids,” explains Ma’Joye, “because I hated it so much, I made a vow that I would never go back or involve myself in anything to do with farming.” In fact, Ma’Joye’s disdain for farming even led her to avoid eating vegetables.

However, all of this changed when she fell sick.

Cancer and organic eating

“When I got sick, I was left with little to no choice but to be where the situation put me. I then started growing vegetables and knew that the vegetables that I was growing had to be organic, so my immune system would be strong enough to fight my diagnosis, and that is what I did,” explains Ma’Joye.

There are plenty of ways to properly support your immune health, and one of the best ways is through your diet. A study published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health stated the following: “Through experimental research and studies of people with deficiencies, a number of vitamins (A, B6, B12, folate, C, D, and E) and trace elements (zinc, copper, selenium, iron) have been demonstrated to have key roles in supporting the human immune system and reducing risk of infections.”

The chicken dilemma

Now, while Ma’Joye took the proper initiative to improve her health, she was faced with a unique obstacle,

“After a few days, my plants were growing rapidly and beautifully, which made me so excited. One day, when I went out to check on how things were going, I realized that the chickens had eaten everything – there was nothing left,” she says. Now while she wanted to avenge her vegetables and deal with the chickens, she couldn’t because the chickens weren’t hers to kill. However, she also couldn’t afford to fence her yard, so she had to come up with a solution that protected her vegetables and kept her free of any potential problems.

Innovative farming

To address any future chicken problems, Ma’Joye created a growing system that involved planks, ropes, and plastic bags. These tools enabled her to grow vegetables using diversified plastic bags from going to the landfills as growing bags. If that’s not enough, it saved water, and it also helped her start her business,

“Within a few weeks, I had so much food that I started selling it to my neighbors…All those bags were sold and to this day, I remember that I made R13 500 and I realized that there is life here. From that point on, my neighbors shared an interest in doing the same, and that was the beginning of my journey.”

Soon enough, Ma’Joye created a platform whereby poor communities began growing vegetables to feed themselves and collectively sell their surplus produce.

“Although I was physically weak, I could still instruct an 8-year-old to help me grow my vegetables… It also became a platform where other people in situations like mine were able to grow healthy and organic vegetables without spending a fortune.”

The growth of small-scale farming

“From subsistence farming, we’ve actually been able to break down the barriers that usually stop small-scale farming from breaking into the industry.” shares Ma’Joye, who adds that this is one of the hardest things markets to break into, especially the organic market. “Thankfully, the training that we do really pay off because farmers understand how to grow vegetables and follow certain client specifications. We’ve also made it a point to have the growers eat 20% and sell 80%. There is no use in growing all these wonderful things and going and buying junk.”

As of now, most of the farms are situated in Kwazulu-Natal. Additionally, the business recently bought 100 hectares of land, but they’re only utilizing 30 hectares. They’re employing farmers who only have one objective, which is to grow organic vegetables and be a consistent supplier.

Additionally, Umgibe is also processing some surplus vegetables so that they can add value to them. They do this by fermenting and preserving them so that they’re kept fresher and purer for longer.

The fight for free-range

Yes, Ma’Joye initially had issues with chickens in the past, but she still enjoyed eating eggs. In the early days of her diagnosis, her sister would bring her eggs from a well-known food retailer. Now, while the eggs were a bit pricey, they definitely helped her a lot. As such, her father soon began bringing her free-range eggs and the high protein value of the eggs helped her health.

This eventually led her to focus on free-range eggs and chickens, especially because a lot of people are unknowingly eating food injected with growth hormones.

“You go to a restaurant, you order a salad. You think this is great for you but in actual fact, you don’t know what was sprayed on that lettuce for it to be preserved. Unfortunately, ordering healthy may mean that you’re about to ingest all sorts of chemicals”

Climate change woes

If there’s one challenge that’s affecting farmers from all areas, then it’s definitely climate change.

Ma’Joye reveals that about two weeks ago, they discovered snow frost on almost all their produce,

“The 100-hectare land had all the green beans covered in snow and frost. As you know, once you put green beans in the freezer, they become soggy once you take them out. This almost made me give up because no one is interested in buying soggy green beans. We also don’t have the resources to process all 6 hectares of green beans. As such, I had no choice but to give the green beans to NGOs and food schemes.“

Ma’Joye also adds that there were 7-hectares of mielies destroyed, and these incidences remind her that we truly are at the mercy of climate change.

Good food is a basic human right

“Last year, the Elimbe district in KZN was declared as the organic farming district,” says Ma’Joye. She shares that this fact makes her hopeful that organic farming can help to improve food security in the country,

When communities are food secure, there are fewer diseases and one of Africa’s problems is malnutrition.

Some of the richest people are malnourished. If we can raise awareness and tools about which foods to eat and how to grow these foods, it is sure to help reduce levels of crime in the area. If we develop communites that can sustain themselves, the dependency syndrome will stop.

Good food is a basic human right.


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