Meet urban farmers Nomonde Buthelezi and Hazel Nyaba who live and farm in Mfuleni, about 40km from Cape Town.
Over two days last month, 20 smallscale farmers and farmers-in-training got together to help build farmers Nomonde and Hazel’s micro farm, part of a growing network of smallscale farmers who support each other through farmer-to-farmer learning and sharing of resources. This is an initiative of the PHA Food & Farming Campaign*.
More than 70% of global food production is from small-scale farmers – 70% of Africa’s food is produced by small-scale farmers. China’s food security depends on 200 million small-scale farmers who farm on an average of two hectares. In South Africa, colonialism and apartheid almost destroyed smallscale farmers. But despite this and poor government support, 200 000 black small-scale farmers are active.
Small-scale farming featured in the ANC’s New Growth Path, the National Development Plan and now in a statement by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The late and respected University of Stellenbosch professor Sampie Terreblanche warned that without developing South Africa’s manufacturing and small-scale farming sectors, it would not address the high poverty, unemployment and inequality levels.
In his essay “Early Zimbabwe land reform showed the value of smallscale farmers” Professor Xolela Mangcu noted Zimbabwe’s land reform in the early 1980s (before the “fast-track” programme better described by Horace Campbell as “executive lawlessness”), shows small-scale farmers made better use of land which led to the increase of total national agricultural output.
Developing small-scale farmers in agroecology can help address some of today’s key challenges like climate change, hunger, soil, water and biodiversity conservation. It’s an important component of land reform and restorative justice.
Agroecology is concerned with the ecological, socio-economic and political impact of agriculture and the food system. It seeks to place farmers and consumers at the centre of the food system. Farmers practising agroecology seek to mimic nature in production.
Two important elements for producing crops are nitrogen for growth and managing pests. Nitrogen and 40 other nutrients essential for growth is accumulated through land use management techniques such as using cover crops, crop rotation of nitrogen-fixing legumes and compost use.
Industrial-style pest management (via pesticides) is a large contributor to the extinction of insects. These insects play a vital role in the web of life on earth: for every pest there are 1 700 beneficial insects. Pesticides kill a few pests but destroy entire populations of beneficial insects, and the residue in our food is a major health concern.
Through agroecological practise, farmers conserve local plant species and even set aside land for this as part of an ecosystem to maintain pest and predator in the right balance. In this way two giant overheads (fertiliser and pesticides) are eliminated, making food more affordable and infinitely healthier for people and planet.
For every R1 million spent in the vegetable industry, 4.5 industry jobs are created and 46.5 indirect jobs. This multiplier effect is unparalleled in any other sector, especially within vulnerable groups: youth and women.
Agriculture zoned land is so zoned because of its properties. Favourable climate, soil and water in the PHA is irreplaceable and therefore finite. Our struggle illuminates the issue of protecting well-located agricultural land from urban sprawl – a global crisis.
The debate about land reform is also playing out in the PHA. The concept of expropriation without compensation – in the public interest – of agriculture zoned erven owned by developers, speculators and mining companies is central to providing Cape Town’s 500 existing farmers like Nomonde and Hazel with a viable livelihood.
There are 11 000ha of non-agricultural land identified by the city as appropriate for development – and housing must be placed there.
Hunger is a local and national crisis: a 2012 African Food Security Urban Network study on 1 000 homes in three wards (Ocean View, Philippi and Khayelitsha) quantified household food insecurity at 80%. This means that adults and children in these households are going to bed hungry.
Meanwhile, supermarket shelves are overflowing with food; the problem lies not in availability, but affordability. Small-scale farmers can address this through the provision of food locally. Thus, location, location, location is important. The struggle to protect the PHA is exactly this.
Protection of land like the PHA is critical because it’s close to people. The PHA is within 15km of every citizen – so close we are almost in your kitchen. The benefits don’t stop here.
Agricultural fields are habitat for bees and pollinators. It is estimated two-thirds of our food will disappear through poor land use management inherent in the industrial large-scale farming model and through urban sprawl. Farmlands harvest storm water to recharge aquifers – 25% of the earth’s total supply is stored as ground water. Via Managed Aquifer Recharge using available waste water now dumped into the sea, the Cape Flats Aquifer can deliver 30% of the city’s potable needs.
Classical economic theory would have it that the “free market” price of a cabbage is arrived at through supply and demand. But in reality, because supermarkets control 70% of our food, they dictate their own price to farmers; and while watching their competitors calculate the maximum selling price on what consumers will bear.
Shareholder profiteering is the primary concern. The only thing free about the “free market” food system, is that corporates are free from government regulation to amass massive profits; while 14 million South Africans go to bed hungry – on one meal or less per day. In the absence of affordable vegetables, land and time, obesity, diabetes and hypertension multiply.
Small-scale farmers can address this middleman extraction model by growing food locally and make healthy, affordable food available through direct sales: food boxes, bakkie traders, hawkers and farmers’ markets.
Today, 34 000 white commercial farmers produce 80% of our food, but 80% of this is produced by only 20% of these farmers. The rest are landlords.
In a water-scarce country with only 14 million ha capable of producing food, up to 80% of our agricultural land is inefficiently used or fallow.
Meanwhile, 200 000 black smallscale farmers hold down multiple jobs in order to farm. They simply don’t have access to enough well-located land and the appropriate support to make their farming an economically viable livelihood.
In the PHA, landowners seek to cash in on the land speculation bubble and sell to developers. Had the agriculture zoning been respected by local authorities, this would never have happened.
Via speculation, peri-urban agricultural land has become scarcer and too expensive to farm; this directly affects the price of our food. The supermarket business is not about food, but the logistics of moving goods across the country, and around the world.
The further food travels, the greater the profit. If food cannot be sourced locally – the logic goes – we truck it in. Little thought is given (except in advertising) to the phenomenon of global warming, regional and national droughts; or peri-urban agricultural land in South Africa is being wiped out at an alarming rate by urban sprawl.
The numbers out of PHA studies show that if the whole of the 3 169ha farmlands is protected – the PHA Campaign is in the high court fighting for one-third under threat from developments and mining – the contribution to the city’s economy will be R848m directly and R1.6 billion indirectly; jobs – 5 000 direct and 55 000 indirectly.
Horticulture is food we eat every day: vegetables, fruits, nuts, herbs, small animal protein. Extrapolating the PHA numbers nationally means increasing the 200 000 small-scale farmers to 500 000 and providing meaningful jobs to 5 million. Now this is huge impact and why agriculture is considered the backbone of an economy. Nomonde and Hazel are central to this equation. The PHA Campaign FarmBuild is funded by the Heinrich Boll Foundation.
This article originally appeared in the Cape Argus on 9 November 2018.