UMLAZI, KWAZULU NATAL – Nissan South Africa (Nissan SA) today donated Vegitunnels to the value of R1 million to the Robin Good Initiative Vegitunnel Project, which encourages unemployed people to become self-sufficient through the growing and marketing of home-grown vegetables. The Robin Good Initiative provides the requisite tools and skills to enable individuals and recipient organisations to establish sustainable vegetable-growing enterprises in the economy's informal sector. The project was established four years ago in response to a request for assistance by the KwaZulu Natal provincial government, which was having limited success with its own vegetable-growing project. Representatives from the Departments of Health and Education in the province, as well as from KwaZulu Natal's Sustainable Food Production programme, attended today's event.

In accepting Nissan's contribution, symbolised by the handing over of a Vegitunnel and wormery at an existing Vegitunnel site in KwaZulu Natal, Robin Good Initiative's Managing Director Brian Plant recognised the role of the private sector in the vegetable-growing programme, which has grown from a pilot project in KwaZulu Natal to a country-wide initiative.  

"The project is largely a success because of the involvement of companies, like Nissan, whose donations allow us to fund the start-up costs of Vegitunnels, which includes training. Their participation provides deprived communities with not only a source of income but also of sustenance," said Plant. "Our motto is from those who have to those who have not", he added, alluding to medieval folklore hero, Robin Hood – famous for robbing from the rich to provide for the poor, and after whom the organisation is loosely named.

Individuals or recipient organisations, which have a secure piece of land and access to water, are eligible for a 4 X 9 metre Vegitunnel, costing approximately R3,200. Vegetables are grown quickly and easily hydroponically i.e. in a growth medium other than soil (for example, sawdust or sand) and with a twice daily feed of nutrient-rich water. A range of nutritious produce (for example, spinach and loose-leaf cabbage) can be grown and, depending on the yield, has the capacity to generate an income of about R1,200 a month through sales to identified markets within the local community. 

"In taking its corporate social responsibility commitment seriously, Nissan SA is pleased to be associated with an organisation whose aim, through job creation and poverty alleviation, is the upliftment of South African citizens," said Pat Senne, General Manager Group Corporate Affairs and Communications at Nissan SA. "We are looking forward to tracking the progress of our Nissan-sponsored Vegitunnels, which we know will provide a much-needed source of income for many needy communities in KwaZulu Natal."

Thamela Primary School, host for today's event, is currently the site of a SAPREF-sponsored Vegitunnel that supplies spinach, which is either used in the school's feeding programme or sold for school funds.  The Vegitunnel is managed by a community member, who, as stipulated in the Vegitunnel Project co-operation agreement, receives his own Vegitunnel in exchange for looking after that of the school.  As well as handing over a Vegitunnel to Thamela Primary School, Nissan also donated an environmentally-friendly wormery, which makes use of worms to break down organic matter into compost and fertiliser.  The Vegitunnel Project envisages that, in future, all Vegitunnel locations will have a wormery, in order to ensure a steady supply of compost for healthy vegetable production.

Nissan's involvement in the Vegitunnel Project runs parallel with two other corporate social responsibility initiatives in KwaZulu Natal, especially rural areas: its ongoing  adbag campaign which makes use of recycled billboard material to provide learners with school bags; and its recent handover of a mobile eye care clinic to  the Africa office of ICEE, an international non-profit, non governmental organisation to assist in its efforts to prevent avoidable blindness and uncorrected refractive error amongst needy communities. The mobile eye care clinic is especially assisting ICEE's National Child Eye Care Programme, which is developing and implementing a national child eye health programme for South African school children. ICEE has embarked on a pilot project in KwaZulu Natal with a view to rolling out the programme nationally.

Under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding signed today between the two parties, the Robin Good Initiative will, during the course of a year, roll out one million rands' worth of Vegitunnels at schools in areas visited by ICEE's mobile eye care unit.


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