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Cape Town's food security - Our letter to Mayco

On 31 July, Cape Town's mayoral committee sat to vote on the extension of the urban edge into prime agricultural land to allow property development. A positive vote would be short sighted and irresponsible. The PHA Food and Farming lobby group asked concerned citizens to write to the mayor and premier uregently. This is what we wrote.

Dear Local Governers,

I am writing in support of the petition against your decision of July 16th 2013, and to request that you reserve the Philippi Agricultural Area for agricultural purposes. I would like to specifically respond to some points raised by Mayor P de Lille in her recent newsletter, quoted below. 

“We do know that it is highly doubtful that the poor of Cape Town get their food from the PHA given that the PHA produces soft-leaf vegetables like lettuce and that those who do farm in the area usually supply their produce to high-end stores catering for upper income brackets.” 

Whether these doubts are or are not verified should not preclude that the PHA can, and should, be producing food for the urban poor. In fact, the pro-farming lobby group in the PHA have developed a multi-faceted sustainable farming plan that also includes a strong job creation and empowerment focus. Furthermore, anecdotal information shows that many urban poor in the local area do in fact buy their produce from local farmers at a reduced rate.

“We decided that we should review our previous delay of the application and make a recommendation to Council to consider the matter of the urban edge for Minister Bredell to make a final determination on. This would accommodate these irreversible realities while also preserving a portion of the PHA that would be more than capable of sustaining the current measures of agricultural production especially given that large tracts of the PHA are not currently actively farmed. We considered this the responsible thing to do because it is our duty to adjust our strategies to accommodate changing circumstances.”

I think the Mayco is missing the point here. Citizens are concerned mostly about our future capabilities to mitigate the impacts of global and national food insecurity (as you’ll no doubt be aware, the UN is predicting a world food crisis in coming years). It is the government’s responsibility to make decisions in the best interests of its citizens i.e. that support Cape Town’s ability to sustain decent living standards for all its citizens, both now and in the future. That large tracts of fertile land are currently unfarmed is, in fact, a failing on local government’s part. Local government should be protecting Cape Town’s resources and ensuring they are utilised in the most beneficial way possible. In terms of its consideration of “changing circumstances” the local government should be considering the effects of the rising cost of oil on food prices. Retaining the option to bring fertile land into production is invaluable in this regard.

“In the case of this matter of where an artificial boundary is or is not located, we sought to accommodate what the affected landowners wanted; what the realities on the ground are; and the need to sustain the current contributions to food production in the city. We believe that we have found a compromise.”

Doing what a few want to the detriment of the many is disturbingly short-sighted, and again, not what government is there for. To reiterate, this is not about sustaining “the current contributions” of food, this is about protecting the assets that will make our city resilient to food insecurity in the not-so-distant future. Not to mention the positive impacts this land can have on job creation and enterprise development. Mayco’s so-called “compromise” seems more compromising to our future, than beneficial.

As a concerned citizen, I request that local government reconsider this issue with a view to the long term sustainability of access to healthy food that is the human right of all our citizens.

Yours faithfully,

Denise Archer

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