An Alternative Approach To Agriculture In South Africa

Vol 23 No 1

Category: ,

The Case Of The Philippi Horticultural Area

Africa, as a continent faces many challenges, most tangible among these, that of food security. It is estimated that 250 million Africans are chronically malnourished, with 40% of children under the age of 5 years experiencing stunted mental and physical development. A Global Hunger Index, released by the ‘International Food Policy Research Institute’ in 2014, places Sub-Saharan Africa at the top of regions/countries afflicted by this problem. Some of these countries are facing mortality rates as high as 15-18% amongst children under 5 years of age. This is  directly due to hunger.

Africa has the largest tracts of arable land coupled with amongst the biggest and youngest work forces in the world. This begs the question why do we find ourselves in the midst of this crisis and what are the options and mind shifts needed to eradicate this problem?

Alternative farming, as viewed within the capitalist order,  has been postulated as a possible vehicle towards solving the current food crisis in the world. Within this capitalist agricultural context, it can be defined as “ a systematic approach to farming, intended to reduce agricultural pollution, enhance sustainability and improve efficiency and profitability.”        It focuses on  those   farming  practices  that are consistent with its ideal. This holds far-reaching implications for amongst others natural resources management and lifestyle philosophies conducive to environmental care and community building/social upliftment.

Let us look at the case of the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) and the proposed Oakland City housing developments within its borders. The PHA is an important agricultural area spanning 3000ha, 30 minutes’ drive from the Cape Town central business area. It contains fertile farmland and acts as a natural recharge area for the Cape Flats aquifer. It is estimated that the PHA produces as much as 50% of the fresh vegetable needs of Cape Town and its surrounds and provides work to many in the formal and the informal working sector, contributing to food-security for the poor. In 2012 a proposal was tabled at a MAYCO meeting to change the ‘Cape Town Spatial Development Framework’. Its purpose was to alter the urban edge line in order to allow a change of designation from ‘agricultural area of significant value’ to ‘urban development’, thereby opening the door for 300ha within the PHA to be allocated towards a housing development. This proposal was turned down. At a MAYCO meeting in August 2016 however, a decision was made in support of the proposed housing development. Concerns from interest groups and farmers were simply ignored in pursuit of short-term economic gain. Some of these concerns include

  • Encroaching of the urban zone on valuable agricultural land
  • A threat to food-security of the poor and marginalised
  • Loss of income and livelihood of the affected people
  • The environmental impact of construction activities within the PHA and its detrimental effect on the already pressurised Cape Flats aquifer.

Against the backdrop of alternative approaches to current agricultural practices the PHA serves as an example of how food insecurity for millions could be addressed within capitalism. At a time when there is an active drive towards creating ‘greener’ urban spaces for the improvement of quality of life, we can ill-afford the compromise of the PHA. It sets an unhealthy precedent which can only lead to further losses to working class communities in the greater Cape Town area.

The struggles for food-security, rational agricultural practices and progressive environmental policies must be conducted as one,  guided by a political programme.