An estimated 60ha of 180 000 cuttings of spekboom have been planted on an Eastern Cape farm over a three-week period.

Ncedisa Agriculture Solutions has embarked on a partnership with Dr Anthony Mills, the CEO of C4 EcoSolutions (Pty) Ltd and AfriCarbon (Pty) Ltd – companies focussed on the environment and biodiversity – to plant 1 million ha of spekboom across the Eastern Cape. The collaboration, geared towards combatting climate change through the rehabilitation of ecosystems, will simultaneously address restoring the dignity and hope of farmworkers.

At the beginning of February on an Eastern Cape farm just outside Port Elizabeth, the pilot project has seen a specially trained team of 19 farmworkers plant 5,5ha of 45 831 cuttings of spekboom in the first ten days.

As production systems improved, the next five days yielded an increase to planting around 12 000 cuttings across 4,5ha per day. To date, 105 831 spekboom cuttings have been planted in the first 15 days. Improved systems now capacitate a team to cover around 4 to 6ha of rough, dry, and mountainous terrain to hand-plant around 12 000 stems of spekboom per day.

Indigenous succulent captures carbon

Spekboom, or Portulacaria afra, is a succulent with small leaves indigenous to the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Because of its fast-growing and drought-resistant capabilities, research has highlighted that spekboom is the best option available for restoring degraded land and has high efficacy for sequestering carbon dioxide. Essentially the humble spekboom is the earth’s fantastic natural solution to restore degraded thicket, create jobs, and capture carbon.

Chief operating director of Ncedisa Agriculture Solutions, Mkonto Mntwini, said: “By being at the forefront of a pilot project that provides worldwide benefits and garners global recognition with the support of the United Nations, it is important to value and recognise the farmworkers on the ground who make it all possible, and that is where Ncedisa Agriculture Solutions plays a vital role.”

Spekboom is a succulent with small leaves indigenous to the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Mntwini adds: “Ncedisa is dedicated to providing solutions to the agricultural sector that optimise sustainable income for farmers while creating rewarding experiences for the workforce. Therefore it is imperative not to forget the people behind the restoration process, fair treatment, and the capacity-building potential to restore livelihoods.”

Since the initiative commenced, productivity has increased by implementing an effective team structure comprising 19 members with designated tasks. The process starts with two cutters who harvest spekboom cuttings from bushes where there is already vigorous growth, then three groups of five members implement piecework that includes striking holes and planting. These workers are supported by a runner, driver, and supervisor.

Sustainable in several ways

In addition to improving cost-effective production systems for the project, the organisation strongly advocates for social sustainability in terms of fair wages, working conditions, as well as training and upskilling opportunities for all farmworkers. As a pilot project, there are plenty of learning opportunities and adjustments to implement as discovered with the improved team structure and payment systems.

Cutters harvest spekboom cuttings from bushes where there is already vigorous growth.

During the first ten days, data collected alongside discussions with farmworkers revealed that the challenging environmental conditions to work in required an alternative remuneration structure for workers. The change in team structure and amending a daily rate per farmworker to paying on a per piecework concept was more dignified and rewarding. The farmworkers are now compensated per piece of spekboom cutting planted, and this has not only had a financial reward per worker but has motivated planting from 4 000 to 12 000 cuttings per day.

The initial phase created 19 new direct jobs, and as the project expands to plant 1 million ha of spekboom across the Eastern Cape progresses, more teams will be employed. Spekboom planting further generates hope for future employment opportunities in the agricultural sector by restoring land degraded by inappropriate farming methods, drought, and overgrazing.

Ncedisa farmworkers aim to plant 1 million ha of spekboom across the Eastern Cape’s rugged terrain.

An increase in opportunities for farmworkers can potentially decrease economic inequality related to unemployment, poverty, and helplessness within the industry. Within the struggling agricultural communities, social ills include the rise in alcoholism, drug abuse, violence, and theft by demoralised residents.

Spekboom initiatives have a powerful potential to address climate change. Furthermore here in South Africa and the Eastern Cape it capacitates workers to reclaim their dignity with access to resources and employment that offer fair and proper compensation. – Press release, Ncedisa Agriculture Solutions