The Kei Region of South Africa is a predominantly rural area, consisting of many small villages which dot the landscape. For the past few years, the churches of the United Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) have been attempting to help their communities grow their own vegetables through the use of 'tunnel' farming.
The tunnels systems have been great for a number of reasons. First, one can grow more vegetables per square meter in a tunnel than in a conventional garden. Second, by growing the veggies within a tunnel, the issue of insects is greatly reduced. Also, the tunnel keeps most of the dirt and dust off the plants so that produce can be sold directly from the tunnel and does not need to be cleaned or washed first. Finally the application of water directly to each plant, as opposed to broadcast irrigation in which water is sprayed over a large area, helps in conservation. Because of evaporation and runoff, it takes much larger quantities of water to irrigate a conventional garden than it does with the tunnels.
However, one of the drawbacks of the tunnels is that, in the past, communities had to rely on water soluble chemical fertilizers to grow their vegetables. This has been problematic for a number of reasons. First, because of recent increases in the price of petroleum based products, chemical fertilizers have become very expensive. In addition, the runoff from the chemical fertilizers can be a hazardous to communities, especially the tunnels that are near rivers or streams.
Recently, however, 'worm farming' has been introduced at one of the tunnel projects. This is a process that produces both organic fertilizers and pesticides using materials freely available and abundant in rural communities. However, the worms used in the farms are not your ordinary earth worm. These farms use worms known as "red wigglers" (eisenia fetida) and they are especially used for composting. Worm farming involves building a large bin in which to house the worms, which is then filled with dried animal manure, straw and grass, paper and cardboard, and most kinds of kitchen waste. The worms eat the waste, creating both rich compost and a liquid, sometimes referred to as 'tea'. The compost is added to the soil, greatly increasing the soils fertility. And most importantly, the 'tea' can be mixed with water and used daily to give the plants all the nutrients they need, or can be used undiluted to keep insects away.
By using worms, communities are able to grow vegetables organically, using materials that are readily available and at the same time caring for their environment. The first worm farm has been placed at Peelton Congregational Church which currently has three veggie tunnels. Using this project as an example, the Kei Region is hoping to expand worm farming to other churches and communities which they serve.
Revs. Jon and Dawn Barnes
Jonathan and Dawn Barnes are missionaries with the Kei Regional Council of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, South Africa. They serve as development officers in the Kei region of the Eastern Cape of South Africa.