In South Africa, Community Gardens Contribute to Food Security

CAPE TOWN, South Africa - A few years ago 66-year-old grandmother Regina Fhiceka
and her family of five ate vegetables only once a week. They would
survive on maize and bread the rest of the time -- the cheapest food
available in the poor township of Philippi, just 15 minutes from the
affluent business district of Cape Town.

then Fhiceka got to hear about a municipal project where people were
encouraged to get together to establish community gardens.

"I knew a few of the other women in the community who had
started their own backyard gardens where we were growing small amounts
of vegetables. We asked the local social worker to help us obtain a
bigger piece of land. We filled out the necessary application documents
and the local department of agriculture made a piece of municipal land
available to us."

Fhiceka and five other women were given land on the outskirts of
Philippi where 150,000 people live in squalid conditions. After a few
months, Fhiceka's group had an abundance of vegetables, including
tomatoes, cabbage, carrots and beans, and they started selling the

"I had no choice. I had to start farming because I had no money to buy
vegetables from the shops. I also realized that if we farmed as a
group, we would have more than enough food to eat and that we could
generate an income from selling the rest."

According to to UN Habitat, the United Nations agency which is involved
with studying human settlement patterns, 2007 was a landmark year as,
for the first time ever, there were as many people around the world
living in cities as there were in rural areas. This has increased the
demand for food, water, housing and other basic services in cities.
Cities in developing countries are often ill-equipped to deal with
these pressures. Governments of developing countries worldwide have
recognised the importance of urban agriculture and a number of projects
have been initiated to support these initiatives as people flock to the

In Cape Town, people like Fhiceka will be helped through a co-operation
agreement signed on Nov. 25 between the City of Cape Town and the
Municipal Development Partnership for Eastern and Southern Africa
(MDP-ESA). Under this agreement an urban agriculture project will be
implemented in Philippi. MDP-ESA is an organisation that helps
municipalities across the globe to develop and expand urban agriculture
projects through the Cities Farming for the Future programme.

The Philippi budget for the next five years is 99,000 dollars. Urban
farmers are helped to obtain plots, they are given guidance on what to
farm and are helped to find markets for their produce.

Urban agriculture projects like this issues like food insecurity, ill
health and poverty are addressed. As in the rest of Africa, women in
South Africa are the backbone of the small-farmer agriculture. The
Philippi project will benefit women who are responsible for looking
after the sick of the community, who earn a living through selling
their vegetables and who look after their grandchildren who are left
behind when their parents die of AIDS. It also addresses environmental
issues as the farmers are taught how to re-use grey water (mostly used
for personal hygiene and for washing dishes).

"Even though I am poor, I believe that I have to give some of my
vegetables away," says Fhiceka. "Some people are so poor and ill that
they have absolutely nothing. I cannot just sit and look on as people
die of hunger because they are too ill from AIDS to plant their own
vegetables or to find a job."

According to Stanley Visser, Cape Town's head of development
facilitation, more than 80 percent of the people of Philippi are
without any formal source of income. "Many of these poor households are
already subsisting on home gardens."

"In the global economic downturn where food insecurity has increased
due to soaring food prices, backyard and community gardens are some of
the most basic survival strategies. Many people who live in the poor
informal settlements have come here from rural areas. They turn to
backyard farming because they survived as small farmers in the rural
areas and they apply these skills in the cities."

A backyard garden four times the size of an ordinary door, can supply a
household of six people with fresh vegetables for a year. By replanting
and ensuring that the ground is fertilised well, the four-door garden
can be farmed fruitfully for years.

"Trench gardening is also popular in the townships," said Visser. "The
people dig trenches into which all their biodegradable waste is thrown.
It is covered with soil and seeds are sown on top. The soil is high in
nutrients and it can be farmed for up to four years before new compost
is needed."

Rob Small, director of the NGO Abalimi Bezakaya (a Xhosa expression
meaning gardens of the home), which is involved with community gardens
in a number of townships in the Cape Town metropolis, said that women
who are involved in community gardens often help those poorer than them
and the sick.

"Women have a strong sense of community and they are always helping
others. These gardens are often established on school property because
the principals are keen to become involved with the communities they
live and work in and where they are daily confronted with the
devastating effects of poverty. The national department of education
formally supports community gardens on school grounds."

Small said that community gardens make ecological sense as the farmers
usually plant hedges and other flora around their plots. The gardens
(which can be anything from 1,000 to 5,000 square metres in size) and
the hedges attract a number of insects and small animals turning the
areas into small conservancies.

Fhiceka says that eating vegetables regularly, has improved her health.
"Before I became involved with the community garden, I did not eat well
and I was always ill with colds. Now I seldom get sick."

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