Urban development vs. agriculture in Cape Town

Housing or food security? This question is at the centre of Cape Town’s latest urban debate about land use in Philippi, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town.  After the City of Cape Town approved plans for 280 hectares of agricultural land to be developed, major disagreement has followed. Some argue that the productivity of the land has been declining and farmers have lost interest in this urban farm. Others contend that the land is a vital source of food security in the city, labelling it Cape Town’s ‘vegetable basket’.

Fruit Portal, a news source for food security in the Global South, sums up the debate. Rebecca Davis of The Daily Maverick illustrates that the “Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) produces about half of the city’s carrots, cauliflower and lettuce for a total of 100,000 tons (MT) of fresh produce a year. These products are argued to be a key food source for low-income residents.

Available farming area in the zone has been on the decline for years, however. South African publication M&G reported that between 1998 and 2012, horticultural land decreased from 3,200ha to 2,370ha.

The mayoral committee has argued that the agricultural value of the area has diminished and that local landowners have lost interest in farming the land.

Executive Mayor Alderman Patricia de Lille dedicated her weekly newsletter to contesting development doubts, saying public debate had been distorted by misinformation.

De Lille cited a food system study requested late last year to support the push for housing development. According to the mayor, vegetables from the zone are comprised mostly of soft left lettuce destined for high-end retail shops and not for the area’s poor.

“Not only was the area in question not being aggressively farmed across all plots, but the people there had indicated that they wanted to sell their land for development.

“They wanted to do so for various reasons, including increased security threats, unavoidable urban creep and the fact that of those families that were involved in farming, most of them in that particular portion wished to stop farming and move out of the area,” de Lille said.

“Some of these feelings were partly motivated by the fact that low-cost housing was being planned very nearby which would sterilise the land even more than it had already been compromised by existing urban activities.”

Pro-farming opponents have contested de Lille’s claims.

A 2012 report called “The Role of Philippi Horticultural Area in Securing the Future of the City” argued that the agricultural value of the land is not in fact declining and that the zone offers a significant source of low-skilled work.

The land is also complicated by its positioning over a valuable aquifer and usage by the mining industry.

“Urban development, and specifically affordable housing, carries risks associated with the high water table on the majority of the PHA as a result of mining. Apart from increased costs of development there are challenges associated with the management of storm water so as not to impact on the water (aquifer) resource,” the report said.

“The City will need to consider various service and infrastructure implications should this broader urban development scenario be pursued.”

For the full story visit Fruit Portal.

Image via Wikimedia Commons user Chell Hill.

For Urban Africa’s reporting on the Philippi Horticultural Area read “Losing farmland is forever.”



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