Response to our Business Day Op Ed
This letter was in Business Day today:
“GARETH Haysom and Jane Battersby Lennard (Ask yourself: Where do my vegetables come from? August 6) are right in emphasising that securing a continued supply of food to SA’s urban areas is a critical question, one which needs a much higher prominence in policy.
However, they are coming at it from an entirely wrong angle. Never over the last 10,000 years have urban areas supplied their own food — that is the role of rural hinterlands.
SA’s policy towards rural areas has significantly depressed food production and agriculture’s expansion.
Maladministration of the Land Bank, homeland tenure, scrapping various food boards, the threat of “forced” land redistribution, inaction with respect to farm murders and insisting farmers give rights in their land to workers, have all been detrimental to food production.
While there are persuasive moral arguments for such policy imperatives, the negative consequences for food security remain real nonetheless. Not surprisingly, SA has switched to being a net food importer in the past four years. To direct policy debate now to urban food production seems more like a convenient way of avoiding being politically incorrect.
Turning to Cape Town, it is not just wealthy developers who regard the Philippi horticultural land as more valuable for settlement than growing carrots. Attempted land invasions by desperate communities have become a monotonous occurrence. In the case of the nonreversible occupations of private land in the area, owners’ lives have been threatened by the community if owners do not allow the municipality to install services. This does not bode well for continued farming of the area.
The point is that there is a very real property market in metropolitan areas, driven by capital and communities alike. If the Philippi Horticultural Area is to be retained for farming in perpetuity, nationalising it, or taking it off the market and enforcing agriculture, is essential. However, that too may be a politically too inconvenient avenue for the writers.”
The letter raises some interesting points, but I think it has missed where we were coming from.
Locally and internationally urban and peri-urban food production have in fact been vital sources of food, but we are not arguing for urban food production per se. Nor are we promoting urban production as a way to duck the difficult questions of land reform and commercial agriculture. The fact is that as the African Food Security Urban Network our interest is not primarily on issues of production in the rural. There are many more qualified people working on these issues.
Our point is that food in urban areas has been profoundly neglected in policy at national and local scale - not simply production, but the whole urban food system. This absence of awareness of food means that it becomes difficult for a food based argument to have any power in political debates on land use. The outworking of a lack of food awareness and food mandate in our cities negatively impacts food security and undermines the food system. The struggle to protect the PHA is just one manifestation of this wider challenge.
University of Cape Town