Piloting prosperity

Food security through land care

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A successful pilot project demonstrated climate smart urban farming’s potential to address the multiple challenges facing urban development in eThekwini Municipality, including pollution, unemployment and poverty.

As a result of coastal topographies, around 40% of land remains undeveloped as unmanaged open spaces, a site for pollution and informal settlement with limited access to services, resulting in increased pollution risk to open spaces, rivers, estuaries and the ocean.

Urban farming is already widespread in these open space areas, but is generally done unsustainably, and often in wetland areas which are environmentally sensitive. The contaminated rivers mean that river water used in irrigation threatens safe and secure food supply for these communities. The model affirms the importance of looking after the land in order for the land to produce safe food.

Communities living in neighbourhoods along river catchments are assisted to form cooperatives and trained in land care through practical work, clearing alien vegetation, pollution, recycling, and propagating indigenous plants for restoration. Upon mastering this skill, they are then trained in organic farming, graduating as climate smart farmers, who are allocated a large open space area to manage as a concession for farming a limited footprint area for their benefit.

To ensure that they are successful, unemployed environmental and agriculture graduates are appointed as extension officers to provide technical support and links to the local commercial markets (hospitality and supermarkets) are facilitated. These climate smart farmers are producing to supply and not to sell, thus ensuring that they are protected from price competition with volume commodity producers. The initiative results in a win-win as the environment, neighbouring communities and graduates all benefit.

The AgriHub is run as an enterprise, responsible for managing both supply and demand for a specific area. It provides technical skills transfer and inputs to these farmers. A 12-month internship programme, guided by an agricultural scientist mentor trains agricultural graduates in extension services while environmental interns are mentored by environmental consultants. Upon completing internships graduates feed into government land reform programmes which will benefit from this new breed of climate smart farmers supporting land reform beneficiaries.

The pilot project addressed oHlanga river pollution in a seven kilometre area, from the estuary to inland Ottawa/M41, resulting in the collection of 300 tons of waste, and established the Ottowa Agrihub. The project was implemented by Tongaat Hulett in partnership with eThekwini municipality under the Department of Environmental Affairs’ national Resource Management Programme.

The project is now being rolled out as part of the government’s Radical Agrarian Socioeconomic Transformation (RASET) programme where each river catchment will have several river valley small organic farming cooperatives all linked to an AgriHub.

On 23 March 2018 the eThekwini Agri-business and mechanisation programme, under the RASET theme, was launched by Her Worship the Mayor, Zandile Gumede, at Ottawa AgriHub.

Speaking on behalf of the Mayor was councillor Sipho Kaunda, who outlined the city’s role in unlocking potential for small, medium and micro-sized enterprises for black entrepreneurs.

“The city has been supporting subsistence, small-scale farmers and agri-entrepreneurs for 15 years, however it is difficult to get them to be self-sustainable because of limited technical skills and a lack of market access,” explained Kaunda. “In the city, we are buying food from outside, but we are capable of producing our own food. This programme rationalises the city’s support for the agricultural sector, aiding at every step. Our aim is not only to address the challenges but also to enhance access to government and private sector markets in food supply.”

“Applying Sustainable Development Goals, Vision 2030 provides the framework for managing river systems which are pollutant highways to the oceans, to ensure that we have clean rivers from which to irrigate safe food, access to basic services and environmental health.” said Bongani Gumede, Tongaat Hulett Developments Executive. “It reflects, so clearly, the joint ambition eThekwini Municipality and Tongaat Hulett has for the empowerment of the disadvantaged through sustainable practices. Ecological economy as a multidisciplinary theme, sees food security as more than just a stand-alone activity, but as a way to connect people, business and the environment to a sustainable and successful future.”

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