The groundnut revival: A journey of farming and community enrichment
A farmer and an Executive Director of Usiko, Arnold Okkers, reflects on his upbringing in a Jamestown, South Africa, farming community where generations of his family were dedicated to cultivating their ancestral land. Growing up, their unwavering commitment to farming meant that he and his siblings had no choice but to immerse themselves in the art of tending to the land. Read his reflections below.
In the town of Jamestown, the main agricultural delight was strawberries, becoming the focal point as summer began and the harvest season neared. People from distant places flocked to savour the exquisite organic strawberries that Jamestown was renowned for. Amongst the array of crops, one that particularly appealed to me was the peanut, also known as groundnut. My early introduction to this delicacy came courtesy of my uncle. With eager anticipation, we awaited the harvest season, eagerly enjoying the dried and roasted nuts he prepared for us.
However, as time passed, groundnuts seemed to vanish from the farming landscape. It was a challenge to find anyone cultivating this unique crop. Fast forward to my adult life, when I took the responsibility at Usiko, and my curiosity about groundnuts resurfaced. I embarked on a quest for information but discovered no nearby farmers engaged in groundnut farming. A heartening conversation with my uncle, who still farmed, unveiled vivid memories of his own groundnut farming endeavours.
Attending biennial meeting rekindled a memory
In 2021, I had the privilege of attending the Biennial General Meeting of the African Biodiversity Network (ABN) in Nanyuki, Kenya. It was there that I encountered a delightful dish of cooked groundnuts, rekindling my interest in this crop. Determined to acquire groundnut seeds, I eventually secured a small bag of them in town and brought them back home. In September 2021, we sowed all the seeds, achieving a reasonably successful germination rate. We nurtured the plants diligently, reaping our first harvest in March 2022. Most of the seeds were stored for the upcoming planting season, but we couldn’t resist experimenting with roasting some for a taste. The satisfaction was immeasurable. We shared some seeds with two neighbouring farmers, who planted them during the summer of 2022.
Our second planting season significantly surpassed the first in scale. With knowledge about soil types and plant care, and aided by plentiful winter rainfall, we encountered no issues with irrigation. The harvest was bountiful, requiring creative use of space for groundnut drying. The children, who often visited the farm, relished the baked nuts as a special treat.
Usiko Farm plays a crucial role in the local community’s battle against hunger. We support two community kitchens, providing warm meals for 350 individuals five days a week. Additionally, the farm serves as a training ground for high school students seeking practical experience for their exams. We also offer training to local women on managing their own small urban gardens for food production.
The sharing of groundnut seeds during the recent harvest has benefited more farmers. With planting seasons in September and October, we anticipate a significant increase in groundnut seed multiplication. Usiko is committed to expanding the quantity of seeds planted and exploring processing methods to incorporate groundnuts into food products. The ABN meetings enlightened us about the importance of seed banks and seed preservation. Our heartfelt gratitude to ABN for the ongoing inspiration derived from these gatherings. I extend my appreciation to the farmers within the ABN Community who have been instrumental in teaching me about seed preservation and the preservation of seeds for future generations. Our community is now significantly richer in knowledge, and the tradition of sharing seeds and skills continues. The groundnut crop will undoubtedly flourish and expand, and the Western Cape holds exciting possibilities for its future. Thank you!
Usiko is among partners of ABN in the Southern Sub-Regional Node. Other Nodes are East, West and Central-North Africa.