As part of its commitment to contributing to the long-term economic well- being of the areas in which it operates, gold producer DRDGold launched the Morogo hydroponic vegetable growing project at its Blyvooruitzicht mine, during 2009, to promote job creation and skills development in the local community.
The company reports that hydroponic farming, which is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions without soil, has been fully established since September last year, with five open-field protective tunnels set up. The first crop of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers have been harvested successfully. Currently, one of the tunnels has been planted with the second crop of tomatoes and the second tunnel has been planted with the second crop of cucumbers. The other three tunnels are being cleaned out and prepared for crops of toma- toes and cucumbers that will be planted over the next three weeks.
The Morogo project, which will supply the mine hostels and the community surrounding Merafong city with reasonably priced seasonal salad staples, including tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet peppers, is situated on a section of mine property.
The first vegetable seeds were planted in September 2009 and the first produce was harvested in October 2009. This was sold to members of the surrounding communities and local supermarkets. The first harvest of tomatoes and peppers began in January and has now been completed.
DRDGold head of properties division Louis Lamsley, who until recently oversaw the project, adds that plans are in place to ensure that the pro- ject progresses into a self- sustainable venture and that, once the hydroponic farming has been fully established, the project will undertake open-field cabbage and spinach farming.
Besides the 100 m × 75 m of land, which has been cleared and zoned for farming activities, DRDGold has contributed R1-million towards the initial start-up costs and will con- tinue to support the project until it has reached a level of self- sustainability.
The company reports that a total of seven Merafong community members underwent four days of training, during August last year, and are currently working at the project. The community members currently employed have all received theoretical and prac- tical training in hydroponics and plant production at the Dicla agricultural training centre, which is close to Mogale city.
“The participating community members have been taught the necessary skills to operate and maintain the irrigation systems, maintain the basic water quality, as well as perform basic routine operations in a defined hydroponics context during the different growing periods of the vegetables,” Lamsley said.
The members of the project are looking to expand the types of crops they produce, based on demand and market price. Further, the vegetable patch serves as the training base for community members keen on developing agricultural skills, and it is envisaged that participants will go out into the surrounding communities and spread their knowledge and be able to make a living from the produce they produce in their own backyards.
Lamsley sums up the hopes and aspirations of all concerned: “Even though the Morogo project is still in its germination stage, we believe that it has the potential to grow. After all, even a mighty oak tree was once a tiny acorn.”
DRDGold has local eco- nomic development programmes in place for all three of its operations. The programmes aim to promote development that is based on resources that are available locally, and on the priorities and needs identified by the municipality concerned.
DRDGold’s local economic development programmes use resources economically and sustainably in ways that are feasible for the operation, given its size and profitability. They include as many economic sectors as possible, providing for a diverse labour market, while devolving ownership of the development process to the local community.