Debate on Food Production in Urban and Peri-urban Areas by Mr Lulu Johnson, ANC MP

23 October 2012

Poverty and lack of economic opportunities in rural areas has increased rural-to-urban migration. However, increasing unemployment throughout the country including in urban areas, has seen an increase in urban poverty and food insecurity, which used to be confined to rural areas.

Until recently, urban and peri-urban agriculture did not receive adequate attention in South Africa (from both government and the private sector) despite the potential for increasing livelihood and greening options.

Where urban and peri-urban households do not have land in their properties for backyard gardens, municipal commonages and other unused municipal land can be sustainably used to grow food for the urban poor.

However, in some areas, commonages are not included in Local Economic Development (LED) or Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) as possible economic development tools. As a result, some commonages are not well-managed and have been left as open-access areas with no infrastructure, and where there was infrastructure, it has since been damaged. Some of these end up being turned into informal settlements.

Unused lands in school yards, clinics and other government properties can also be sustainably used to produce food for the urban and peri-urban population.

Urban and peri-urban food production can be easily integrated into municipalities` waste management programmes/strategies for recycling of organic waste and by-products (for compost-making) and use of non-conventional water.

Given that South Africa is a water-scarce country and some municipalities are struggling to meet the water needs of their citizens; there should be a strong focus on water-conserving farming systems (i.e. conservation agriculture), cost recovery mechanisms from water consuming-producers and treatment of waste water for vegetable irrigation.

It should be noted that urban and peri-urban agriculture or food production is not only confined to vegetable production and planting of fruit trees but where land and resources are available, other options include livestock and poultry production as well as aquaculture. These however, should be approved and implemented in accordance with relevant national environmental legislation and municipal by-laws and policies regarding environmental protection, management, health and safety.

Due to their proximity to transport and business infrastructure (compared to rural areas), urban and peri-urban areas have the potential to develop agro-processing and therefore, address unemployment in these areas.

Intergovernmental Relations and Coordination

There is a number of urban and peri-urban agriculture projects throughout the country and although some have been initiated and are supported by municipalities (including metros); most have been initiated by community groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and in some cases, academic institutions. There is a need for government (all three spheres) to upscale the success stories and expand lessons learned to other poor urban and peri-urban areas.

Therefore, for urban and peri-urban food production to be successful, as in most cases elsewhere, there needs to be coordination and integration of activities by all relevant government agencies and other stakeholders that are involved.

Municipalities should play a central role and where there is potential, include urban and peri-urban food production initiatives in their LED and IDPs. Other departments and agencies such as Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Water Affairs, Environmental Affairs, Eskom, Trade and Industry, IDC, Public Works and others, should also be involved.

Public authorities are expected to take their responsibilities in securing the required resources essentially land and small plots (horticulture or green zones) within and around towns and cities, as well as sufficient water and other infrastructure.

There is a need for adequate agricultural technical training and supervision/extension to producers (site-appropriate crop selection, integrated pest management, efficient production technologies, affordable value-adding).

There is a need to promote and finance greater linkages between production, processing (agro-industry) and marketing for more self-reliant urban food systems, more local employment and revenues.

There is also a need for greater decentralisation of agricultural policy from central to municipal governments, for support to locally relevant food production and sustainable urban and peri-urban food systems.