The Essential Oils (EO) project is one of several Sustainable Livelihoods projects run by the Bulungula Incubator, with generous support from Old Mutual South Africa. The EO project began in February this year, with the establishment of one project plot of lemongrass (about 50mx50m). This plot enabled us to grow sufficient lemongrass to supply root stock to our first 5 community farmers. It also allowed us to test various land preparation techniques to ensure maximum yield.

We have been anxiously watching the horizon for the arrival of the first summer rains so that we could plant our first five community farmers. The rains have arrived very late this year, but some good downpours meant that we were finally able to get the first of our volunteer farmers crops planted in late October.

Out initial aim was to start with 3 farmers but we had such a positive response from community members to participate in the program that we have had to limit our first batch of farmers to eight volunteers. The first five farmers are planting now, with an additional three scheduled to plant in January after the Christmas and New Years break.

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Planning meeting to work out practicalities of planting

Each farmer is responsible for farming their own private plot of land. The size of each of these plots may vary, and are referred to as either family of homestead plots, but are generally around a quarter of a hectare in size.

The project farmers are responsible for ploughing and preparing their own land, as well as ensuring that their plot is fenced in such a way that the crops are protected from sheep, goats, donkeys and cattle.
They are not paid in any way for these efforts, their only financial reward will come when their crops are sold, at which stage they will earn all money raised through the sale of their crops.

During discussions about planting, the initial eight volunteer farmers decided independently to work as a collective. This was a heart-warming decision to observe. They all arrived at one homestead and planted that one plot before moving onto the next site the following day. This has made the planting process very fast and has its own intrinsic checks.

Because the majority of the farmers are volunteering their time helping the owner of the plot, they work in a very efficient way and the speed with which each plot is planted has been quite astounding. We have then carefully shown the owner of the plot how to ensure that a good job is being done, so he, or she, generally moves behind the others to ensure that the group is doing a good job, and not sacrificing quality for speed.

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Working as a team has proven very effective

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Many hands make light work

Other benefits to this team approach include the advantages of establishing a collective skill set and knowledge base.

By acting as a collective, and electing a committee, the group has also taken the first steps to establishing a functioning co-operative. This will be important for the growth and sustainability of the project.

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A team photo to mark the occassion

The project is very closely linked to food security and each of the project farmers has been supplied with a good amount of vegetable seeds.

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Discussing the distribution of vegetable seeds

One of the conditions of participating is that they plant the vegetables as well as the essential oil crop to compliment their family diet. We have actively discouraged planting essential oil crops at the expense of subsistence crops, and it is pleasing to note that the essential oil crops are being planted alongside mielies (corn).A few of the project farmers have divided their fields and are planting half with mielies (corn) and half with essential oil crops.

In addition to the vegetable seeds, each project farmer has also been supplied with half a dozen fruit trees and a variety of herbs. The project farmers have been shown haw to plant these to achieve their maximum potential.

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There was much interest in the tree-planting lesson!

Between now and February 2011, the project will grow to include at least 20 families from Nqileni and surrounding villages.