Cape Town is unusual in that half of the fresh produce consumed by its residents is grown within the boundaries of the city. Cauliflower, lettuce, beetroot, onions, tomatoes, herbs, and other vegetables have been grown in the sandy soil of the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) since the end of the nineteenth century.
Today, the area encompasses about 2,370 hectares, and is split between smallholdings and larger commercial farms, which produce around 100,000 tonnes of produce every year. Some of these have embraced sustainable, organic farming. While most of the produce goes to supermarkets, a portion of it is sold to the surrounding, desperately poor communities who live in Philippi – to people who would not otherwise have access to fresh fruit and vegetables. In other words, the PHA is absolutely essential to ensuring that these households remain food secure:
According to a survey of 1 060 low-income households [in Cape Town] conducted by the African Food Security Urban Network in 2008, 80% of respondents were food insecure. The study looked at various indicators of food insecurity, such as whether respondents went to sleep hungry, or whether there were times when there was no food in the house.
A 2012 study by Rooftops Canada-Abri International and the African Food Security Network that examined the horticultural area’s significance in sustaining food security within the Cape Town municipality found that without it the city would be ‘place[d] in extreme risk’ of food insecurity, with low-income households suffering the most. A 2009 report commissioned by the city had similar findings.
As Rob Small of the respected urban farming project Abalimi Bezekhaya notes, Cape Town is ‘a farm with a city in it.’
As I wrote a while ago, this farm is under threat. Last month, Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee (Mayco) approved an application from the private property developer MSP Planners to have 280 hectares of the PHA rezoned for housing. This isn’t the first time that parts of the PHA have been identified for rezoning: in 2011, an application from Rapicorp to develop 472 hectares of the PHA was also approved, but nothing came of this because the company soon went into administration.
There are compelling reasons to oppose this development. Two studies have demonstrated not only that local people depend on the produce grown in the PHA, but that farmers are keen to extend the area under cultivation. Investing in the PHA – helping to increase the number and size of farms instead of reducing or threatening them – would create jobs and attract business to the area. As a group of academics at the University of Cape Town’s School of Architecture, Planning, and Geomatics argue:
The decision to allow development represents the not-so-thin edge of the wedge. There are three aspects to this. First, remaining farmers are unlikely to invest in the land if there is a sense that they may have to move. Second, it will become increasingly difficult, on the ground of administrative fairness, to reject future speculative applications if this one is approved. Third, there is considerable evidence to suggest that the provision of extensive urban infrastructure in the area will attract further development, both formal and informal. Infrastructure has a strong ‘lock-in’ dimension. In short, it’s a poor, short-sighted and dangerous decision.
What are Captonians doing about this? There is an Avaaz petition – and it’s worth signing it. But other than lobbying from NGOs and some PHA farmers, the lack of interest from Cape Town’s bloggers and foodies is palpable.
I wonder why? I mean, after all, these are the people who profess to love local produce, and who argue that their interest in food and cooking has the potential to do good in the world. These are people with clout: who appear on television programmes, who write for newspapers and magazines with large circulations. These are the people who have the power to shame Patricia de Lille and other members of the Mayco into rethinking their decision. They have, I would argue, a moral duty to use their position to save the region that produces the vegetables they cook with, and which they eat at restaurants.
And what are they doing? Is their lack of interest in the PHA to do with the fact that it’s in a poor part of Cape Town? That there aren’t any high-end chefs with restaurants in Philippi? That they can’t find the same sort of meaning in the PHA as they do in baking brownies? If they’re really serious about supporting small agriculture in Cape Town, then, surely, they’ll pay as much attention to the PHA as they would to the garden at Babylonstoren.
So. Foodies and food bloggers of Cape Town. What are you going to do to save the PHA?
For more information on the Save the PHA Campaign, see here.
Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.