Addressing Food Security in Langa

Photo Credit: WWF

In a country where 28 million people are on grants, including 10 million on Covid-19 grants, it makes no sense that local government does not receive a food security budget, nor have people specifically assigned to address this.

‘Food insecurity is currently seen as a national government food production and supply issue, with the Department of Health playing a small role, but this is not alleviating the food insecurity plight of the majority of people in this country,’ says Tessa Chittenden from the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership (EDP).

The EDP is helping to address this by bringing together government, NGOs and communities in a number of projects. The most recent is a 3-year project, funded by the WWF Nedbank Green Trust, which brings together the EDP, WWF-SA, and the Southern Africa Food Lab (SAFL) to tackle issues of food insecurity in Langa, with Worcester and Knysna to follow.

Chittenden, the leader of the project, explains: “The project aims to help reduce food insecurity through cost-effective, scalable food production systems in these 3 diverse areas in the Western Cape. Our first step is to map the food systems in the 3 project sites, such as the places where people buy their fresh produce, the informal traders and existing food farmers, as well as organisations working on food security in the area with whom we can build cross-cutting partnerships.’

Langa is the first site for the project, where the team is working with a group of small- scale farmers called the Langa Agri-Hub who have asked to participate, as has the Early Childhood Development (ECD) Forum – a group of ECD centres working together on childhood nutrition.

The project hosts people from these and other organisations and local government in sustainable food systems learning processes. They visit local food systems participants, such as smallholder farms, community food gardens and informal vegetable traders, and engage on how they can all collaborate and how government can better support local dynamics on the ground. In addition, WWF-SA leads a 5-day agroecology training programmes with local smallholder and subsistence farmers.

‘This project aims to increase resilience for smallholder farmers by building collaboration between state and non-state organisations to remove barriers within local food systems,’ says Tatjana von Bormann, a founding member of SAFL and current chair of the advisory board. ‘In consultation with participants at each site, we are developing on-the-ground evidence aimed at influencing policy mechanisms that support actions for food security and nutrition systems at the local level.’

The project builds on existing smallholder farmer projects supported by WWF-SA and the WWF Green Trust in townships, informal settlements and rural areas around the country. ‘To date, WWF-SA has worked with more than 5000 smallholder farmers and together with our partners, we have trained over 2000 smallholder farmers on agroecology practices,’ says Luyanda Njanjala, WWF-SA’s Smallholder Farmer Programme Manager, who is the hands-on trainer for the farmers in this project.

‘Whether they are growing vegetables in their back yard in the township or on a few hectares in the urban or rural areas, they are all farmers, and 80% are women. We teach them to grow food according to agroecology principles, which is the natural, sustainable climate-resilient way, with organic compost, harvested seed and no chemical fertilisers or genetically modified seed.’

The training equips farmers for South African Participatory Guarantee System (PSG) certification so that if they choose to go the organic route, their produce can be sold at organic markets or to organic retailers.

‘Irrespective of whether they go this route or not, we help all the farmers to collaborate in marketing their produce together, which contains transport costs,’ Njanjala explains. Many of the farmers do not produce a surplus or they are too far from cities and markets, and they use their produce in their homes or sell within their communities.

‘One of our existing projects is in the rural village of Upper Tsitsana near Maclear in the Eastern Cape where we are training 82 people,’ Njanjala continues. ‘The chief is part of this training and he encourages his community to produce their own food and that there is no other way to live.’

Facilitators like Njanjala are sensitive to social and cultural practices. ‘In the rural areas, we find that most of the women focus on vegetable and chicken-farming around the home so that they can be there to look after the children,’ he explains. ‘And when we hold meetings, we sometimes call for women only, as even if though the men are in the minority, the women often won’t speak up if there are men around.’

It’s fascinating to attend the training as the farmers come up with all sorts of practical questions, such as how to naturally protect their vegetables and crops from insects, how to prevent damage caused by frost and where to find a market when their produce is ready and they have a surplus.

Njanjala says they supply organic seeds and seedlings to farmers and teach them how to harvest and bank their seeds to be used for future season. ‘We are working on encouraging local government to collaborate with us as they tend to provide the farmers with chemical fertilisers and seeds that produces plants that do not reproduce,’ he explains. The farmers then have to buy more seed and this is expensive for them and not sustainable.

‘Sustainability is at the heart of our work,’ Chittenden adds. ‘This project’s overall aim is to build a network of food systems in the 3 project sites, encourage the uptake of agroecology methods to enhance access to nutritious food, strengthen community resilience and garner government support for sustainable food security at the local level.’