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Posts from the ‘Sustainable Livelihoods (Rural Skills Centre)’ Category

Excellent start for the Tshezi chicken farming enterprise

Quick facts: They tip the scales at an average of 3.5kg; almost every household has one on peyi day (social grants’ payment day); and they were bred in Tshezi Village by Mam’ Maduma and Mongezi – They are the chickens of the Tshezi chicken farming enterprise.

After months of construction, training, endless preparatory planning and dissapointment, the farmers finally produced mature chickens for the market – and the good news is that all the 71 chickens were sold out. It wasn’t all smooth-sailing though for the farmers as they came face-to-face with some pitfalls. In the second week of the chicks’ lives, heavy rains pounded the village, flooding the brood and resulting in the death of 17 chicks. However the farmers showed resilience and moved on despite the heavy losses.

The broiler chickens are raised from one day old to a maturity age of eight weeks. Breeding chickens for sale is hard work that requires careful planning, good management techniques, dedication and commitment.

The one day old chicks

One has to wake up in the middle of the night to check that the temperature in the chicks’ house is optimal. It is also the farmer’s responsibility to clean the chicken house and replace the dirty material on the floor of the chicken houses after every five days.

The chicks at four weeks

The work doesn’t end there as, on maturity, the chickens have to be loaded into heavy crates and taken to the pay points as eraly morning as possible.

The business of selling chickens is a lucrative one in the rural areas. With almost all rural households being recipients of one form of grant or another, buying a live chicken is a must for households on social grants’ pay day. The Tshezi chicken farmers thus made their first foray into the competitive chicken business and came out with their tails up. Although they did not manage to sell all the 71 chickens on the day, they made their presence felt and they managed to make sales of about 20 chickens (at R85 each).

It doesn’t matter how you carry it home

And everyone had a chicken to take home

With the mature chickens eating more than 10kg of feed per day, keeping them for a day longer than scheduled erodes into enterprise profits. To counter this potentially business-killing problem, the chicken farmers went on an aggressive marketing venture and managed to sell the remaining fifty chickens in a week.

Future prospects for the chicken farming venture are positive and, with the commitment shown by Mam’ Maduma, Mongezi and Tata Mbangasini , the enterprise is well positioned to grow and make a difference in the entrepreneurs’ livelihoods.

Hairdressers for Nqileni village

Nqileni village is soon to be home to its own hair salon. The idea of opening a hair salon in Nqileni follows on the success of Masizakhe Hair Salon in Mgojweni village. The entrepreneurs, Moses Khanyisile Gashe and Noma-indiya Qondovu, are young and energetic individuals born and bred in Nqileni village.

Moses Gashe - one of the new hairstylists

Moses and Noma-indiya have been working non stop cleaning the place, putting up mirrors and chairs and making storage shelves. They have been shuttling to and from Mthatha (the closest city to Nqileni) to buy the different items needed for setting up the hair salon. The hard work has paid off because the rondavel has been transformed into a clean and beautiful hair salon.

Getting set-up


Another point scored for the Bulungula Incubator Microenterprise project is that the entrepreneurs from Masizakhe Hair Salon, the first hair salon that the project set-up will train these aspirant hairdressers. Buyelwa, the owner and hairstylist at Masizakhe Hair Salon has been in operation for a year now and she now has the experience and expertise to train the new hair dressers  (see previous blogs about Masizakhe’s set-up).

Buyelwa at Masizakhe Hair Salon

Essential Oils Cooperative spreads its wings

The Bulungula Essential Oils Cooperative is taking its business to a higher level by adding soap making into its existing activities. The core business of the cooperative is still the selling of dried lemongrass for tea production and essential oils distillation. Teething problems affecting the lemongrass plants such as the compromised quality of the dried lemongrass and inconsistent production levels led the cooperative to decide on diversifying the products. The soap production process is relatively easy to learn and the returns are favourable.

The expertise of Rose, Karen (from the Agricultural Research Council) and Launa Arntzen (of Sacred Nature) was sourced to train the cooperative members in distilling and soap making. The cooperative produces organic and glycerin ranges of products. Lemongrass oils are the main flavouring ingredient but there are various other oils such as rose geranium and rosemary.

Soap Production

In addition to soap making, the cooperative also produces bath salts, sugar scrubs, lemongrass flavoured rooibos tea and lip balm. The products are sold as individual units or as gift baskets in traditional reed baskets made by the cooperative members. The Bulungula Essential Oils Cooperative’s soaps and related products are the top selling items at the Siyakhula Shop (at Bulungula Lodge). Different markets are being explored for the products as the cooperative cannot solely rely on the shop sales. Establishments such as hotels, BnBs, backpacker lodges and supermarkets are being courted as potential markets.

So next time you visit Nqileni or get to a soap aisle, make sure you look for the ‘Made in Bulungula’ soaps.

Flash, camera & action in Nqileni village

Special moments, the beautiful scenery of Nqileni, the vibrant colours of the village events and the ‘I was there moments’ will not be easily forgotten as Nqileni has its own ‘paparazzi’ to preserve the memories. Zamile Dyubhele, also known by his indoda (man) name Vuluzuko, is the young man responsible for keeping Nqileni’s memories fresh in peoples’ minds through his photographs. Equipped with a digital camera, long lasting rechargeable batteries and a portable photograph printer, Zamile has all the resources needed to photograph and develop photographs without having to make the long (and bumpy) ride to town.

Zamile Dyubhele, the Nqileni photographer

Before Zamile had the means to develop photos, Nqileni villagers had to wait and hope that a photographer from Mthatha or Elliotdale would visit the village and photograph them. If, by luck, the photographer does visit the village and photograph people, then there would be a second waiting period for the developed photographs to be brought back to the village. However, with the presence of Zamile, the wait has been reduced to…..well…minutes.

Zamile’s creations

Zamile’s energetic, social and lively nature has certainly helped his business profile as he is always present at all the ‘happening’ places such as parties, imigidi (Xhosa initiates’ welcoming ceremonies), weddings and sports. More importantly, Zamile loves and enjoys his occupation. He had this to say; “Hayi uyabona, andizuphinda ndibheke e Grabouw ezi apileni. Ndizawhlala apha elalini ndifote” (I have no reason to go back to the apple harvesting jobs in Grabouw. I will stay here in the village and keep on photographing)

The new members: Chicken Farming and Photographing enterprises


In exciting developments for the Bulungula Incubator’s Sustainable Livelihoods portfolio, two new micro-enterprises have been started. The Chicken Farmers of Tshezi village and the Photographer from Folokhwe village are the new additions to the existing local micro-enterprises.

The Chicken Farmers will be producing broiler chickens that will be sold locally. The broiler chickens, commonly referred to as Ramthuthu, are a must-have item on social grants’ pay days in the villages. Properly reared, Ramthuthu grows to weights of between 2.5 – 4kgs.


(from left) Khuselo, the BI community facilitator with Mam' Mbangasini and Mongezi, the chicken farmers


Construction of the chicken houses is going according to plan and the first batch of day-old chickens will be purchased in mid-October.



Mam’ Mbangasini and Mongezi, the chicken farmers, are excited about the prospect of owning their business and they are working hard to ensure the success of their venture. They have also got expert training on chicken farming from Michael and Alex of Ikhaya Loxolo.


The days of having to travel to Xhorha, Mqaduli or Mthatha to print and develop photographs will be consigned to history as there is a new photographer in the community. The photographer, Yonela Nkopheni, is a young man from Folokhwe village who has been unemployed. Yonela recently received a digital camera, rechargeable batteries and a battery charger that were kindly donated by a BI Board Member.

A photo-printer and its accessories were bought to complete his photographing and printing kit. The printer is a portable unit that prints instant photographs from memory devices and directly from a digital camera.

Yonela, the photographer, busy printing photos

The early signs of success have prompted the idea of having a second photographer that will service the Nqileni village.

Wool felted cellphone pouches made by Takane Felting

Custom designed mobile phone pouches are the hottest property in Nqileni. The pouches come in different styles, designs and colours. Customers get to choose their preferred designs and they can also watch the felting process. iPhone and Blackberry pouches are by far the most popular pouches that are being produced.

The pouches are designed and made by the Takane Felting enterprise. The name Takane is taken from the Xhosa name for a lamb. Takane Felting is managed by Veliswa and Nocawe, two creative and hard working women from Nqileni Village. Customers have a choice of strapped pouches, pouches with flap-tops and also open-top pouches. There are at least ten colours to choose from and to make colour combinations.



In addition to the mobile phone pouches, Takane Felting offers a wide range of wool felted products such as handbags, laptop bags, scarves, iPad pouches and baby blankets.




Visitors to the felting workshop have marveled at the dedication, craftsmanship, skill and ease as the felters go about their business. Veliswa and Nocawe have become accustomed to the amazed expressions of the on-lookers as the product takes shape from simple un-spun wool to bags, scarves, baby blankets and pouches.  



Beekeepers get expert training on honey making

The Bulungula Forest Honey producers recently hosted an expert beekeeper, Mr Faku, to train them on the different aspects of beekeeping and honey production. Mr Faku, a patient and easy-going man from the village of Libode, 20 kilometers east of Mthatha, is a commercial honey producer who supplies honey to buyers in East London – he has 180 bee hives compared to our current 6 hives!  The Bulungula beekeepers, Jolibhadi and Siyabonga, were at their attentive best and had many questions for Mr. Faku during the four days’ training exercise.

Bee hives were dismantled and rebuilt, the grounds around the hives were cleared and beekeepers scaled tall trees to mount bee-trapper boxes in tree tops during the training.

Faku, Jolibhadi and Siyabonga fixing the hives 


Simple and economic solutions for big problems were prescribed by Mr Faku: the bee keepers had problems with ants eating the bees’ larvae and the simple solution was the spraying of the invading ants with a water-and-sunlight powder solution; the beekeepers did not have the financial resources to buy the expensive hessian (a smoking element) for the smokers and Mr. Faku’s solution was the use of dry cow dung.


The training motivated the beekeepers and corrections were made to some beekeeping mistakes that Jolibhadi and Siyabonga were making. There is a positive outlook for the beekeepers as good harvests are expected in the summer months.

After all was said and done, the organic Bulungula Forest Honey was harvested and attractively packaged – mmmm! mnandi!


Lemongrass farmers do some research into the essential oils market

The Zizamele Co-op, led by our Chairperson Mam’ Nolesile, paid a research visit to Essential Amathole on the scenic mountains of the Hogsback. Essential Amathole’s profile describes it as a producer in a range of organic essential oils and medicinal plant extracts for the global market. The aim of the research visit was to get more information about the process of the production of essential oils to determine whether or not this could be a profitable way in which to expand our production range.

After going through the indoor formalities, the team had to brave the freezing temperatures and the rain as it went about visiting the fields, nurseries and, in Ian’s words, the ‘baby distillers’ and the ‘giant distillers’

Filling the 'baby' distillation machine

The giant distillation machine

The highlight of the day was the distillation of the Lemongrass, Rose Geranium and Rosemary that had been harvested from the fields and the nursery belonging to the Zizamele Co-op. The Rose Geranium and Rosemary instantly produced results while the Lemongrass had a sting in its tale. Having gone through the distillation process, we were disappointed to see only water trickling out of the distillation outlet. Seeing the ‘cooked’ Lemongrass being dumped in the compost heap was a demoralising sight. However, Xolani (the Essential Amathole expert distiller) was not one to give up and he retrieved the Lemongrass and distilled it for the second time. This time around it was an elating sight as the volume produced was even more than for the first two plants (although this was still only 5ml, about a teaspoon, from 7kg of plant matter).

Inspecting the distilled lemongrass oil

Chatting to Ian in their nursery in the freezing Hogsback temperatures

Lessons learnt from the research visit were that the prices of essential oils are volatile on the market and are not very high. Particularly for Lemongrass oil, a market that has been captured by the Indian market and where prices are considerably low. It seems that the fresh leaf market that we are already selling to is a good one for us to continue to supply. We will look into buying a small distiller, just for the produce wasted through mould and rust. We will also be exploring the production of soaps and moisturisers in which to use these oils. If it proves to be viable, the soap making business could be set-up as a separate micro-enterprise venture.

Fighting the mould!

The Zizamele Farmers Co-op has been growing. The number of Lemongrass farmers has increased from the original 14 to 19. The heavy summer rains at the beginning of this year gave the crops a big boost and we are now expecting our biggest harvest ever. Having improved the yields we now have to ensure that we don’t lose the crop to mould. Half the harvest from the end of last year was, frustratingly, lost to mould.

Thus far, the farmers have been experimenting with a range of ‘home-made’ drying methods around their homesteads.  With so much humidity in the air during these summer months,  we have realised that we need to get a little more sophisticated with our drying methods!

Hanging bunches of Lemongrass from the rafters of the huts

Through our research we found the building plans for a vegetable solar dryer, a tunnel that sucks through wood smoke, and a greenhouse developed by the DBSA for vegetable farmers in PE. The most cost-effective and easiest one for us to begin experimenting with was the solar dryer. Our local inventor, JP, got to work again and whipped one up in a couple of days! The first experiments with this drying structure have been very successful with the Lemongrass drying in just one day. The structure helps to concentrate heat from the sun through clear UV plastic and from its position on a slope, it allows the through flow of wind, further shortening the drying time. The optimal temperature at which to dry the grass is between 50 and 60 degrees Celsius.  The lemony smell of the grass dried in this solar dyer is stronger and more deeply fragrant than when dried over a longer time hanging inside the huts.  We hope that if we get the grass dried quickly, the mould won’t have a chance to set in.

Packing the new Solar Dryer

We have also been experimenting with dipping the grass in a mould-resistant solution of salt and lemon juice. Once dried, the grass needs to protected from mould setting while the crop is waiting to be transported to Cape Town. We were concerned that the salt and lemon juice solution will affect the taste of the product but a quick rinse with plain water was enough to remove any trace of saltiness.

So the solution to the mould problem seems within our grasp. Our next big challenge is to find cost-effective transport. If there is anyone out there with a truck going from the Eastern Cape to Cape Town, with a little bit of spare room, please let us know!!!

Eish! These village sheep are dirty!

The wool from the sheep in the area has always been treated as a waste product by the community. The Local Microenterprise Project has been experimenting with a new business idea to turn this waste product in an income-generating one. We have been working on refining the process for transforming the wool from dirty waste into a good quality, organic product for use in woollen garments and as a filler for the Hot Box Cookers (which in turn save on cooking fuel and save the forests!). The process is quite complicated and we are still assessing its viability for an appropriate micro-enterprise for our area. Thanks to the legendary Liesl of Bulungula Lodge fame we have gone a long way in the process although some refinements are still needed.


Step1: Eish! These village sheep are dirty, dirty, dirty! The process starts with picking out twigs, seeds, faeces and big dry pieces of dirt.

Caked with dirt!

Picking out dirt, seeds, burrs, twigs....

Step 2: Soak for 3 hours in soapy water – just soaking, no rubbing as this will cause the wool to start felting and make it difficult to spin.

Soaking overnight

Step 3: Pour out the filthy dirty water, sort and remove any remaining twigs and pieces of caked dirt and soak in a fresh bath of soapy water for another 3 hours

Step 4: Soak in plain water overnight

Step 5: Sort and clean again and then lay the wool out to dry in a hammock for 3 days

Drying in a hammock

Step 6: More sorting and cleaning of any leftover dirt and bits. Then brushing (carding) with a metal-toothed comb

Nice, clean, organic wool!

Step 7: Hand Spinning into usable yarn with our home-made ‘spinning machine’ – cleverly designed by our resident inventor, JP van der Walt!

The spinning 'machine'

Spun Wool

Step 8: Dyeing – We are busy experimenting with a range of organic dyes: beetroot juice, ink berry (dark blue) and lichen moss (orange). Any tips/suggestions on how best to do this and other natural dyes to experiment with are welcome!