Countries across the globe will be observing the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ World Food Day on the 16th of October this year against the stark backdrop of almost 870 million chronically undernourished people worldwide.   The official 2013 theme, “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition”, focuses on understanding the problems and solutions to the on-going degradation of the natural environment and the increasing threats to the ecosystems and biodiversity that we need for a secure food supply today and in the future.

For almost ten years, The Woolworths Trust has been helping to address the challenges of establishing sustainable food systems for improved food security and nutrition in South Africa through its long-term support of environmentally friendly school and community food gardening projects.  EduPlant, a national schools’ permaculture food gardening programme, co-ordinated by Food & Trees for Africa, has been a flagship project of the Woolworths Trust since 2004.

In line with the social development and environmental goals of the Woolworths Good Business Journey, the Trust has donated more than R17 million to the EduPlant programme.  More than 47 000 educators from thousands of schools have been trained in permaculture techniques so that they can initiate and manage sustainable food gardens at their schools.  In 2012, more than 360 new food gardens were created, primarily at under-resourced schools.  More than 80% of the schools that maintain EduPlant food gardens use the fresh vegetables and fruits to supplement feeding schemes at their schools.

“Good food produced in sustainable ways is at the core of our business,” comments Zinzi Mgolodela, Head of BEE & Transformation at Woolworths, “That’s why we have made a long-term commitment to improving food security in South Africa by increasing communities’ access to sustainable agricultural practices and resources.   Over the years, we have seen first-hand how establishing sustainable food systems at schools not only provides children with the nutritious food they need, but also serves as a driver of local community development and the transformation to sustainable living.  Furthermore, by integrating the programme in the school curriculum, we are inculcating in the mind of the learner the vital skill of growing nutritious food sustainably in a way that will last them a lifetime.”

Permaculture food gardens at EduPlant schools frequently develop into community centres of learning where the educator’s knowledge and expertise is shared with the broader community in pursuit of greater food security.  This often leads to entrepreneurial endeavours and increased sustainability as food is grown both to achieve food security and to sell surplus produce.

 This year, the Woolworths Trust celebrates its 10th birthday, and in commemoration of World Food Day, Woolworths employees will be volunteering their time and ‘sweat equity’ for a day at ten EduPlant schools across the country.  The aim of this initiative is to help boost the productivity of these food gardens by digging beds, mending fences and planting seedlings, as well as by donating much needed tools to the schools.  The first teams of Woolworths volunteers will break ground in September at the food gardens of Toronto and Motholo Lower Primary Schools in Limpopo Province.

During early October, Woolworths employees will work at Tshwarelela Primary School in the Northern Cape and Dimakatso Primary School in Gauteng. On World Food Day, Woolworths volunteer teams will make a difference at Tekwane South Primary School in Mpumalanga and KwaBhekilanga Secondary School in Gauteng. At the end of October, Woolworths volunteer teams  will assist in the food gardens at Izweliswe Primary School in KwaZulu-Natal, Mokone Primary School in the Western Cape, Matla Primary School in the Free State and Alabama Primary School in the North West Province.

Many of the EduPlant schools who have been participating in the programme over the years have grappled with and found solutions to challenges of producing food in such a way that natural ecosystems and biodiversity are protected and enhanced.  In this way they have become repositories of vital sustainable living expertise and experience.  They will be celebrating World Food Day this year in the knowledge that they are part of the country’s food security solutions.