Media practitioners, scholars, economists, farmers, and others are concerned about food security being threatened by the recent unprecedented riots which affected Gauteng and Kwazulu Natal (KZN) provinces.

Poverty was cited as one of the contributing factors of the violent riots in which more than 200 people have lost their lives.

The Jewish National Fund of South Africa (JNF-SA) has recently hosted an important webinar entitled ‘Survival in our cities, food and water security – A South African crisis, is urban farming a solution?’

This webinar was important as the country has an unacceptable reputation of hunger which predates our young democracy. 

The National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Nids-Cram) has collected data on a broadly nationally representative sample of South African households covering the period from May 2020 to March 2021. In this period the country has been under lockdown regulations, and many have lost their jobs or have experienced salary cuts. According to the Survey, 3 million people lost jobs, of this figure, about 2 million were women.

University of Johannesburg’s senior lecturer of Development Studies, Dr. Naude Malan, stressed the importance of food security and the highest quality food. “Supermarket food is pretty expensive compared to the food which we produce for ourselves. A farmer can actually make a really good living by selling food at less than retail/market prices and still dominate the competition. You will capture the market and create a livelihood,” Dr. Malan said during the webinar.

“The Rand (currency) should at least circulate 3 times in the local economy before it leaves the township or village, and if that is not done, then there is absolutely no chance that we will ever relieve poverty,” Dr. Malan added.

Through convenesiZindaba Zokudla (Conversations about Food), Dr.Malan is working with the local communities around Gauteng to create opportunities for urban agriculture in a sustainable food system. One of the beneficiaries of this noble project is a family from Orange Farm, South of Joburg. This family owns a state-sponsored house referred to as “RDP” houses, they have converted their parking space into a garden which they are using to feed themselves and sell the surplus to the community for profit.

According to Nids-Cram, of a population of approximately 60 million South Africans:

  • 10.2 million people experience hunger at least once or more a week
  • while 2.4 million of the 10.2 million are experiencing hunger daily
  • 2.8 million children of the 10.2 million face hunger at least once or more times a week
  • while 600 000 children face hunger daily.

A BSc in Biological Science graduate, Siyabonga Ndlangamandla, is one of the vibrant young South Africans who are using their knowledge to solve hunger problems in many black and struggling communities. He is a board member of an organisation called Makers Valley whose priorities are food security and social matters.

“What is touching me is the food waste that we are experiencing in our cities, there is so much food coming to our cities but not consumed accordingly. That is one of our biggest challenges in the food system,” Ndlangamandla said.

Through his organization, Makers Valley, Ndlangamandla, has encouraged the local inhabitants to develop small gardens in their backyard. “Low-income communities are more likely to install a shack to rent it out than to start a garden. There is also a water problem in South Africa,” added Ndlangamandla.

Water is not only a scarce resource in South Africa, it is also expensive, especially in cities. Most, if not all, community protests regarding service delivery are mainly about shortage or lack of water. This makes gardening or agriculture difficult.

Dorit Chassid, a Sustainability Manager at Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Israel, made a presentation during the webinar about a whole host of the work that they are doing on the rooftop of their mall. 

Not having access to land is no excuse for not starting a garden project, as there are options of doing it on a rooftop, on tables, with or without soil. 

“We have school children whom we teach about sustainability, we have lots of tools and we bring people to see the work that we are doing. We have bats, we teach people about the importance of bats in our ecosystem. We also have beehives on the rooftop, we keep them in a natural way. We do not harvest honey, we do not do anything to harm the bees, we just let them be there,” said Chassid.

“We bring about 1, 500 children each year to plant small trees on the rooftop of the mall which we sell when they are ready for planting, and the money is donated all over the country (Israel),” Chassid added.

The founder of Green Roof Designs (a specialized environmental design company), Dr. Clive Greenstone, works on various projects that deal with urban design, sustainable development, urban ecology and urban resilience.

Dr. Greenstone said that there are large, flat, and empty rooftops that are abundant throughout South African cities on institutional, private, residential, industrial, municipal, and commercial buildings. “These underutilized spaces are ideal locations to rethink urban spaces and create urban greening advancements. Very little research has been done in reimagining the socio-environmental benefits of developing these underutilized spaces to improve human-environmental relations within the cities,” Dr. Greenstone said.

It is clear that one of the main ways to combat hunger in South Africa is to develop backyard or rooftop gardens. Food that we buy from our supermarkets is not as cheap and healthy as the food we could grow ourselves. Every family could start a garden that will serve the family and the surplus could be sold to those who do not own a garden. This is one of the ways to deal with the effects of skyrocketing unemployment figures.

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Kenneth Mokgatlhe

Kenneth Mokgatlhe is a political and social commentator.

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