Zoom on : Nthakoana Maema, program manager at ORIBI in cape town
Today we have the chance to chat with Nthakoana, Program manager at ORIBI, to get to know more about her job and ORIBI’s #FoodSystemProgram.
ORIBI is an impact incubator founded in 2018 and based in Cape Town. It is part of the PULSE network (Groupe SOS) supporting impact entrepreneurship in Europe and Africa. It provides programs for skills development, training and support of entrepreneurs. Marginalized under-resourced communities residing in townships including youth and women, are particularly targeted by the incubation programs.
Discover how the #FoodSystemProgram acts towards an ecological and solidarity transition by addressing both food security and social issues !
Can you describe your work and your position at ORIBI ?
I have been working in the development sector for 17 years, I’ve focused on the youth developing and raising quality of life through social innovation and entrepreneurship as a positive lever for change. My goal is to enable the creation of sustainable enterprises that address social and ecological issues as interconnected issues in the African context, while actively fighting against high inequalities and increasing poverty.
I joined ORIBI in 2020 as the Programs Manager and I am also currently studying sustainable development. At ORIBI we recently launched the #GirlsInBusiness program for women in entrepreneurship and I am also in charge of the #FoodSystem program.
What are your personal motivations for doing this work ?
I am dedicated to the work of justice and the work of equity. I am in a position where I have had a good education compared to other girls we accompanied and thus, I have always seen it as my vocation to transfer this knowledge to people who don’t necessarily have access to quality education, resources, a good network, and social capital. I am inspired each day that I get the privilege to participate in other people’s transformation journeys.
With justice, I strongly believe in a better quality of life for all and for all life meaning people as much as our environment, and all other forms of life. It’s something that urges me to wake up every day to solve and find opportunities, explore innovative ways of being able to create that, and rewire the world in a different way.
I don’t know if it’s conditioning because my dad was an environmental scientist, my mom was an economist and my grandmother was a huge gender activist: through their experiences, I have learnt a lot, and been exposed to a different way of seeing the world, and not being part of the solution to our complex crises would not make sense.
Can you describe more precisely your Food System program in South Africa, and how ORIBI is fighting food insecurity ?
The #FoodSystem program was initiated because we realized that although South Africa is food secure at a national level, there are millions of people who still port being hungry on a regular basis, so even though there’s enough food produced to feed the country, there are individuals and households who are still food insecure. This signals that the issue is the problem of access.
We started to figure out and explore what is creating this problem of access. We know that while corporate and industrialisation have done a lot to provide physical access to food, at the same time, the way that the business model is designed excludes people and food has become a commodity. This makes it difficult for small-scale actors, such as farmers, to enter these complex value chains. And if you can’t really afford food, especially in low-income communities where people are faced with high rates of unemployment, and loss of livelihoods, a whole population can go hungry. In South Africa there is a high unemployment rate: 35.3% for general population, and 66.5% for the youth. Almost 57% of the country is living under 992 rand per month (less than 60 €) and it is a real obstacle to food security.
There are lots of inequalities. For example, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Report on Food Systems of South Africa, highlighted that 20% of farms hold 80% of the formal market. It results in hundreds of thousands of subsistent farmers who struggle to access the market and it is difficult for them to enter this very complex corporate value chain that delivers food fast and at a low cost. Moreover, there is a high rate of highly processed foods in low-income communities that are creating a lot of issues: high obesity numbers, and increasing non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, and at the same time there are high malnutrition rates and stunting for children.
Thus, we realized that there was an opportunity to engage social innovation and impact entrepreneurship to address the complex issue of food insecurity. We know that the food system contributes to almost 34% to climate change, the current system while highly productive, has done so at the cost of environmental and social equity. So, when we talk about climate change, we have to centre the food system and have tough conversation and courageous actions for transformative change… The food system is a great entry point to address social, economic and environmental aspects of society. Also, we chose the frame of impact entrepreneurship because it is a business model that is trying to address social and environmental issues through a financially thriving model.
Our food security program at ORIBI gathers 30 entrepreneurs trying to tackle any problem that belongs to the whole food value chain, from farm-to-plate, here are a few examples of the innovative projects developed by our entrepreneurs:
- Order Kasi, a logistics startup to tackle the issue of forwarding food to hard-to-reach communities
- Foodprint, a blockchain-enabled platform to improve small-scale farmers or sustainable producers efficiency, as well create access to markets
- Fresh Life Produce, developed an energy-efficient vegetable grower system, the African Grower, suitable for dense township communities, where people have limited space or lack of ownership of land, to start their own urban gardens
- Living Soil, an academy training women from poorly resourced communities on agroecological farming, and how to run the farms
- Food Flow, a food rescue project that started during the Covid19 lockdown,to redivert small-scale farmer produce to low-income communities, as they lost their usual markets such as restaurants.
ORIBI’s impact is to create an inclusive economy that is driven by impact entrepreneurs who are willing to disrupt systems for positive social and environmental impact. We believe that building sustainable food value chains is where the next turn for social change will come from. Our ultimate goal is to strengthen entrepreneurial mindset, economic inclusion, and self-confidence of food system innovators, especially youth and women entrepreneurs from rural and urban townships.
Food security and responsible agriculture are part of the main issues addressed by Groupe SOS facing the current environmental and social emergencies. It is very enlightening to see how social entrepreneurs manage to deal with these issues in the specific context of the living conditions in Cape Town’s townships. This news from the other side of the world is very promising and makes us want to strengthen our efforts, get into action with us !