Is urban farming a solution for South Africa?
By Kenneth Mokgatlhe
It is estimated that nearly half of the adult population of South African live in poverty.
It was reported in April this year, 2021, that of the 60 million South Africans, 10.2 million experienced hunger on a weekly basis according to the Nids-Cram and approximately 2.4 million faced perpetual hunger. One viable way to address this is by developing backyard and rooftop gardens that are inexpensive to maintain.
The rising unemployment figures and effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have worsened the hunger situation in South Africa. It is evident that hunger threatens social stability as evidenced by increased criminal activity as a direct effect of poverty.
It is time to think out of the box. Recently, the Jewish National Fund of South Africa (JNF-SA) hosted an important webinar:
Survival in our cities, food and water security – A South African crisis, is urban farming a solution?
It is unacceptable and should be embarrassing that our country has such an alarming number of its people enduring hunger.
The National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Nids-Cram) has collected data on a broadly nationally representative sample of South African households covering the period from May 2020 to March 2021. This is the period wherein the country has been under lockdown regulations with vast number of people losing their jobs or having had to take salary cuts.
Stressing the importance of food security as well as the quality of the food, webinar panelist Dr. Naude Malan, a senior lecturer at the University of Johannesburg’s Development Studies, said:
“Supermarket food is pretty expensive compared to the food which we produce for ourselves. A farmer can actually make a really good living by selling food at less than retail/market prices and still dominate the competition. You will capture the market and create a livelihood.”
Through ConvenesiZindaba Zokudla (Conversations about Food), Dr.Malan is working with the local communities around the province of Gauteng to create opportunities for urban agriculture in a sustainable food system.
One of the beneficiaries of this noble project is a family from Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg who own a state-sponsored house referred to as “RDP” – a house that was built as part of a government-funded social housing project. The family have converted their parking space into a garden which they are using to feed themselves and sell the surplus to the community for profit.
Panelist Siyabonga Ndlangamandla, a BSc in Biological Science graduate, is one of the vibrant young South Africans who are using their knowledge to solve hunger problems in many struggling black communities. He is a board member of an enterprising and innovative organisation called Makers Valley whose priorities are food security and social matters.
“What is disturbing for me is the food waste that we are experiencing in our cities. While there is so much food coming to our cities so much is not being consumed. That is one of our biggest challenges in the food system,” said Ndlangamandla.
Through Makers Valley, Ndlangamandla, has encouraged the local inhabitants to develop small gardens in their backyard. “Low-income communities are more likely to install a shack to rent it out than start a garden.” Over and above the food problem, “There is also a water problem in South Africa,” reminded Ndlangamandla.
Not only a scarce resource in South Africa, water is also expensive – especially in cities. Most, if not all community protests regarding service delivery are mainly about shortage or lack of water. This makes gardening or agriculture challenging for the weaker sectors of society.
Contributing to the panel discussion from Israelwas Dorit Chassid, a Sustainability Manager at Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv. She illuminated a path forward by presenting a whole host of the work that they are doing on the rooftop of the mall named after the city’s famous and first mayor, Meir Dizengoff.
Today, Dizengoff Center houses a variety of activities in the field of urban sustainability like hosting school kids for planting trees activity, investing in energy saving systems, a center for hydroponic urban gardening on the Centre’s roof and more.
Not having access to land is no excuse for not starting a garden project; there is the option of doing it on top of the roof on tables, with or without soil.
“We have school children whom we teach about sustainability; we have lots of tools and we bring people to see the work that we are doing,” explains Chassid. “We have bats and we teach people about the importance of bats into our ecosystem. We also have beehives on the rooftop; we do them in a natural way. We do not harvest honey, we do not do anything to harm the bees; we just let them be there,” said Chassid
“We bring about 1, 500 children each year to plant small trees on the rooftop of the mall which we sell when they are ready for planting, and the money is donated all over Israel,” Chassid added.
No less inspirational was the insights and suggestions from the founder of Green Roof Designs (a specialized environmental design company), Dr. Clive Greenstone, who works on various projects that deal with urban design, sustainable development, urban ecology, urban resilience and urban landscape activation designs.
Offering tailor-made greening solutions to enhance building functionality and design, Green Roof Designs provides a complete greening scheme including green roofs and ground level planting schemes.
Dr. Greenstone said that there are large, flat, and empty rooftops that are abundant throughout South African cities on institutional, private, residential, industrial, municipal, and commercial buildings.
“These underutilized spaces are ideal locations to rethink urban spaces and create urban greening advancements. Very little research has been done in reimagining the socio-environmental benefits of developing these underutilized spaces to improve human-environmental relations within the cities.”
Listening to these panelists on the JNF (SA) webinar, it was evident to this writer that one of the main ways to combat hunger in my country of South Africa is to develop backyard or rooftop gardens. Food that we buy from our supermarkets is not as cheap nor as healthy as the food we could and should grow ourselves in our backyards or rooftops. Every family should start a garden that will serve the family and the surplus could be sold to those who do not own a garden.
This is one of the sustainable ways to deal with the hunger and labour market challenges facing South Africa today.
About the writer:
Kenneth Mokgatlhe is a freelance writer and political commentator from Zeerust, North West Province, South Africa.
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