The Philippi Horticultural Area is in danger of being shut down, and needs your support!

The Situation..

On Wednesday 31st July, the City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee (Mayco) meets to decide the fate of the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA), an unlikely zone on the outskirts of Cape Town where most of the vegetables Capetonians buy are grown. The PHA is an unlikely little island of agriculture in a sea of informal settlements and low cost housing, but this may not remain so.

Mayco will today vote on whether or not 300 hectares of prime agricultural land should be rezoned as residential and handed over to private developers for middle and low income housing projects.

It is here, in Schaapkraal, Philippi, that Naturally Organic, the organic farm featured on FoodJams can be found, along with a number of other commercial and emerging farms. The reason this spot of land of around 3,300 hectares has been used since the 1600s to grow vegetables for Cape Town is the underground Cape Flats Aquifer.

Click here to sign the petition against shutting down PHA

What the Activists Think…

“The land in question and indeed the whole southern part of the PHA is blessed with the best quality and quantity of water from the underground Cape Flats Aquifer. Vegetable farming needs good soil, ideal microclimate and plenty of water,” said the PHA for Food and Farming Campaign’s notice requesting that councillors vote against the residential zoning of this agricultural area.

According to a report on Avaaz.org, put together by Cape Town activists fighting to save the PHA, there are 800 hectares of marginal land in the PHA along the urban edge which are readily available to government to use for housing development because the land is not ideal for agriculture. The local community, recognising the need for low cost housing in the area put together its own spatial plan for the region called the PHA Vision Plan which utilises this marginal land in the north and western parts of the PHA, rather than land already in use.

“The 300 hectares of land in question has vegetables growing on it and is intensively farmed. Farming is doing well. Commercial farmers are looking for land to expand their operations while emerging farmers are looking for land to develop their farming,” said the PHA for Food and Farming Campaign.

The campaign makes it very clear that to rezone this land will shut down farming operations and mean a higher cost of vegetables for those in Cape Town who can least afford it.

What the City Thinks..

Mayor Patricia De Lille disagrees. According to De Lille the area in question is not being aggressively farmed and many of the farmers who live in this region indicated that they want 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 that some of those feelings were “partly motivated by the fact that low cost housing was being planned very nearby which would sterilise the land even more.”

She also argued that the vegetables grown in this region tend to be “soft-leaf vegetables like lettuce and that those who do farm in the area usually supply their produce to high end stores catering for upper income brackets.”

What FoodJams Thinks

Mayor De Lille’s assessment is pretty different from what FoodJams saw in our trip to the area, although we were there for different reasons. Skye of Naturally Organic told us that a great deal of his vegetables went to traders, the guys you see at markets or on street corners selling vegetables to passersby, not quite what I think of when I imagine “high end stores.”

My vegetables come off the back of a truck from a single trader who sells his vegetables cheaply on Kloof street every Thursday and Friday, those veggies are also grown in the PHA, I doubt this is what De Lille means by a “high end store” either. One also can’t help but wonder what would happen if all of our agricultural land was simply rezoned because of “security threats and unavoidable urban creep.”

FoodJams saw fields of working farms, all growing nutritious vegetables locally that not only cost less but offer a low carbon footprint due to the proximity of the farms.

De Lille said this plan by the City represents a compromise:

“We need the City’s compromise to be recognised by those who are so quick to parrot the perspectives of vested interests that they are almost out of breath by the time they reach the top of their soapboxes. For the City’s part, we best serve our residents, including the poor, by governing according to the dictates of our lived reality and not how we wish things to be,” she said.

She does not explain why 300 hectares of agricultural land being rezoned for residential development is a better compromise than using 800 hectares of non-agricultural land in the same area.

– Natalie Simon