80% of low income households are food insecure

UWC students Siyamthanda Gxokwe and Danica Carnow with Dr Thokozani Knayerere and farmer and activist Nezeer Sonday.

Bergvliet urban geographer Dr Jane Battersby put the spotlight on food security at the recent Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) Summit.

The author of the 2012 report titled Philippi Horticultural Area: A City asset or potential development node, commissioned by Rooftops Canada Foundation and the 2013 Food Systems report for the City of Cape Town, is based at UCT’s African Centre for Cities and was recently awarded a global food security and food system prize – the 2017 Premio Daniel Carasso.

She says low income areas were at extreme risk of not accessing a nutritious diet. “We are concerned that 80% of households we sampled in low income areas were food insecure because of poverty, unemployment and inequality,” she said.

But it is not only about plundering our agricultural areas. “It’s also about health, with 27% of children under the age of five being stunted, 10% of them severely,” says Dr Battersby.

She spoke of a food desert – where fresh produce is available in wealthy areas and poorer households having fewer supermarkets.

She said conditions in the PHA were ideal for growing vegetables most in demand by the majority of our population, with some farmers even adapting to the needs of immigrants.

Dr Battersby said the PHA characterised the four pillars of food security as availability, accessibility, utilisation and stability.

However, findings recorded in the 2013 Food System study show that Cape Town’s present and future food security and agricultural land were able to meet residents’ needs.

Findings indicate that the PHA and other commercial agricultural land provided ample food and were important in food system resilience – and that agricultural land value was not designed to protect horticulture.

Dr Battersby said an Agricultural Land Review had found that farmland under viticulture, such as wine producing areas like Constantia and Stellenbosch, was deemed more valuable, resulting in the PHA, parts of Durbanville, Joostenbergvlakte and Philadelphia losing the battle.

Bergvliet resident Mea Lashbrooke, who is also involved with the campaign to save Princess Vlei from commercial development, said wine was South Africa’s largest agricultural export.

PHA volunteer Susanna Coleman said another factor was water, with the PHA being mostly flooded during winter, attracting migrant birds who poop there and thereby, enriching soil.

She added that the low water table – one-metre below the surface – was not conducive to development as there was usually a six-metre requirement.

Former South Peninsula High School principal and Lansdowne resident, Brian Isaacs, asked how much support there was from farmers and if they wanted to sell.

With no farmers at the summit, the Southern Mail went in search of them. First, we found Piet
Baartman, driving a tractor. He said he was born in Schaapkraal and that development would be good as he wanted his own home. He supports four children and his wife by working in the PHA.

Along came his boss, Stephen Bock who said he and his brothers had farmed there all their lives but he had had enough and said “they” could take the land. He employs 350 people from the surrounding communities.

On Sunday September 20 Zelda Hestermann said she woke to gunshots on the 90ha Lekkerwater Farm where they employ 80 people.

Her husband Marius said three shots had been fired and his farmworker phoned to say a group of intruders had carried off about 200 cabbages which they had wrapped in duvets and thrown into the back of a bakkie before making off.

He grew up on the farm and loved it, but farming was no longer viable, he said, and he would like to move to Paarl or Malmesbury.

Mr Hestermann said vegetables were grown up north and could be delivered overnight. While the PHA had once been the City’s breadbasket, this was no longer the case, he said, as people stole from the farms, not only vegetables but also borehole pumps, water, electricity, equipment – anything.

Errol Ohlhoff has worked his 30ha farm and 7ha seedling nursery. Now aged 62, he was attacked by four panga-wielding men one Friday afternoon. He said assailants take everything from tractor parts and electrical lines to irrigation pumps but that police did not come when called because the thefts were considered petty crime.

Mr Brock said he paid R40 000 a month for security but thieves still managed to make off with items such as netting placed between crops for protection against the wind – and there’s theft every

These farmers said they report incidents to the police but are routinely told that police have no vehicles, that they are off to a murder in Hanover Park, or that the thefts are considered petty crime.

But the land is also being stolen. He recalled a few years back when the whole area was agricultural, not anymore.

They are also concerned about the City using their underground water. Mr Ohlhoff adds nitric acid to his water or his seedlings will not grow.

Increased traffic is also a challenge, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon, between Mitchell’s Plain and the city, as is dumping, with people buying small-holdings and then filling trenches with rubble which they say will cause flooding.

Mr Ohlhoff has heard about the PHA Campaign’s plan to encourage small farmers to work the land but doesn’t believe it will work. “Not if you give the land away. You have to go to agricultural school, to have mentorship programmes and role models, to have a love for the land,” he said.

None of the farmers knew of the PHA summit although they had been to other meetings.