“the benefits of agro-ecological farming in the PHA – via a mosaic of hundreds of small scale organic farms – far outweigh the housing development model proposed”
The Philippi Horticultural Area is a unique opportunity to pave a better future for greater Cape Town in regards to job security, education, food production, innovative farming methods, and environmental sustainability.
Despite the wide coverage and investigations highlighting the value of the over 3,000 hectare Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) in Cape Town, the pro-development arguments have largely been centred on the city’s need for adequate housing, as well as the impression of a decline in the agricultural productivity in the area. The land in question is 2370 hectares of food producing area and PHA provides 3,000 permanent jobs, which expands to 4,000 seasonally, in packing sheds and in support services, primarily for citizens who fall into the category of unskilled labour, most of whom are women.
Currently 80% of South Africans cannot afford to eat nutritionally. “The most food insecure group in SA is the people who produce our food, the farmers,” said Dr Tracey Ledger. The difference between wholesale and retail draws attention to the plight of small scale or emerging farmers in South Africa. Last month John Kane-Berman argued for a shift of focus from land to the support of farmers, adding there had been “no real breakthrough” in helping African farmers to move from subsistence to commercial.
Further to this was the #breadpricemustfall campaign in May 2016, where Imraahn Mukaddam from The South African Food Sovereignty Campaign (SAFSC) said, “the reality is that it is the most vulnerable who are affected and there is no relief from the state. The government needs to intervene to understand how producers manufacture these substantial food prices”. The Department of Social Development, however, said grants are not meant to cover a family’s entire cost of living, while shocking news reports reveal the measures Johannesburg supermarkets are implementing due to the theft of baby formula.
If we point to Ledger’s talk entitled What’s Wrong with our Food System: How we might go about Reinventing it with the PHA as Ground Zero, she highlighted the greater purpose of the PHA Food and Farming Campaign. The current food system has been dehumanized. Hunger and people’s inability to feed their families not only degrades communities, it destroys social fabric and perpetuates inequality. By supporting the current food system, she affirms, consumers are handing over the responsibility to large corporations and allowing them to decide who gets to eat and who doesn’t. In a supermarket where consumers are presented with various choices, one cannot choose the implications for other people. Ledger thus urges consumers to start thinking about the ways in which the decisions they make, on how to feed their families – are resulting in other people’s families starving. Further to this consumers need to be aware of the personal relationships that underpin food. Therefore it is against this backdrop that she confirms the greater purpose of the PHA – “it is not just a campaign to stop paving over the aquifer”.
Just over seven years since the proposal to amend the urban edge and accommodate two major housing developments, the PHA dominated media debate has resulted in outrage from ratepayers and several non government organisations such as Soil for Life, Abhalimi Bezekaya, WESSA, Centre for African Studies, and Princess Vlei Forum.
Due to the City’s poor enforcement of its zoning bylaws the area has degraded due to random squatting, crime and the dumping of building rubble on what appears to be vacant land, perpetuating speculative support to develop the area for housing and other uses. Following the formal complaint that had been lodged with the public protector in May 2014, the office of the public protector had invited the PHA Food and Farming Campaign to a meeting sometime this month.
Further to this, in April Mining Weekly reported on the current state of illegal sand mining in and its potential negative impacts on South Africa. “In Philippi township’s agricultural area, in the Western Cape, large-scale illegal sand mining is threatening crop production and jeopardising the long-term livelihoods of thousands of agricultural workers” says Dr Eshaam Palmer, the environmental compliance and enforcement director at the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning. He cites soil erosion, sinkhole formation, the loss of biodiversity, as well as the contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water as ways in which crop production is being affected. Illegal sand mining operations in Philippi are also threatening the safety of residents. According to Palmer there had also been several cases where school headmasters in Philippi had given informal permission to illegal mineworkers to conduct mining activities that contravene official policy on school premises, thereby placing the health and safety of learners at risk.
As a response to the threats to the PHA and with a view to creating awareness around food security the PHA Food and Farming Campaign have launched a model for agro-ecological farming practices that provide an alternative agricultural-based development plan. Located on a one ha site, identified as “The Vegkop Farm”, the model includes a Campaign Centre which is proposed to become knowledge hub for future training and learning in the field of food security and agriculture.
The preparation of the soil commenced around June last year but while trying to plough the land Sonday and team experienced unexpected setbacks due to the large amounts of rubble. After two weeks of lifting the soil they prepared the beds, installed irrigation systems and then proceeded to plant 15 different species of cover crops. These included cowpea, radish, mustard, millet, sunn hemp and others. Sonday explained that this was part of their rehabilitation strategy to restore fertility in the soil and attract beneficial insects to the site.
Currently at the site, production includes a five crop rotation, consisting of Brassicas (Cabbage Family), Cover crop mix, Legumes and Pod Crops, Alliums (Onion Family), Root and Solanaceous and Tuberous Crops. “The point of rotating crops is to build healthy soil and help manage diseases and insects that affect a specific plant family and aid in weed control,” said Sonday. “With crop rotation, vegetables in the same botanical family are grown in a different part of the garden each year”.
Vegkop farm is also quickly moving into a no-till situation, “the less the soils is worked the more quickly we build good soils and a better habitat to grow nutrient-dense crops”, added Sonday.
Using the structure which previously housed a local farm stall, Sonday along with volunteers revamped a section of the building to be used as The Campaign Centre. The Campaign Centre is spearheaded by chairperson Nazeer Sonday, who has been lobbying for food security and social justice in the PHA from its inception and is also one of the founding members of the movement. Two years ago he was joined by fellow activist Susanna Coleman and partnered by Brian Joffin, a local farmer, and together they promote active advocacy at Vegkop Farm.
The campaign which evolved organically from four local organisations started its work in earnest in 2011, from a need to focus attention on protecting the PHA at a policy and public participation level. Having realised that in order to do so, consumers needed to know the value of the PHA, thus the campaign talks and presentations at the Campaign Centre would become a pertinent platform for dialogues surrounding “do you know where your food comes from?”
“Now we believe we have the right model with which to have good income growing a diversity of produce including vegetables, flowers, herbs, fruit, nuts, berries” says Sonday. Through the promotion of agro-ecological farming practices the PHA Food and Farming Campaign strive to increase the livelihood and employment figures to 9,000 jobs – using the Vegkop as the pilot.
The economic, health and land reform benefits are paramount. The surrounding properties are typically about one hectare large and are mostly used for lifestyle use; people who own horses, NGO’s, hawkers, owners who are in high skill employment or owners who have their own businesses (non-farming). “The area is a buffer for the large scale farming operations in the PHA. The Vegkop farm is already having beneficial spin-offs where other land owners are looking at enhancing their land.” adds Sonday.
“We are in the process of developing infrastructure to hold laying hens and chickens for meat. We will also build a dam to hold fish.”
“Diversity of the site now harbors two-fold benefits for the farm: (a). It provides for multiple income streams throughout the year which on a small scale means better income and profitability. Together with this is a plan to develop on-farm/ off –farm farmers markets to sell food directly to the consumer, thus cutting out the middleman. (2). On-farm diversity of food and indigenous plants also provides for systems stability in pest management, promoting pollinator and beneficial insect activity, and protecting and regenerating ecosystem biodiversity.”
The vision for the campaign centre
It will not only be the central information centre for the PHA, but a knowledge sharing and training hub for advocating agriculture and food security in the city. The campaign centre will host a weekly farmer’s market for Vegkop, surrounding small scale farmers and over time consistently provide low cost meals to the poor through the long table initiative.
The current focus of The Campaign Centre is to quantify an empirical-system based on holistic farming values, through the use of academic reports, which is currently being closely documented to inform the campaign’s alternative agriculture-based development plan for the contested 1,000 hectare.
“The benefits of agro-ecological farming in the PHA – via a mosaic of hundreds of small scale organic farms – far outweigh the housing development model proposed”. All work on the campaign is done on a voluntary basis; although the team are currently thinking of ways to raise funding for the operational costs.
Get involved with the PHA Food and Farming Campaign :
Read more about the Philippi Horticultural Area :
- Why the Philippi Horticultural Area matters : securing Cape Town’s water, food and economic security
- The Opportunities Await in Philippi
- Bold City: A Bold Vision for Philippi Horticulture Area
- The facts: Philippi Horticultural Area
Image credits :
- (Cover image) : Rifqah Tifloen
- (Lady with beets) : PHA – Food and Farming Campaign
- (PHA Analysis map) : the City of Cape Town
(Man harrowing) : PHA – Food and Farming Campaign
- (Nazeer Sonday) : Rifqah Tifloen