News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Thursday July 19th 2018

South Africa battles land hunger, food insecurity

Patrick Burnett

foodsecurity3.jpgIt’s early spring in the fertile Breede River farming region, with the fruit orchards a blur of pink blossoms and the first green shoots starting to sprout in the vineyards, but for household gardener Ishmael Shiki it’s been a bad start to the growing season.

During the winter he lost his 82-strong flock of chickens to a mystery illness, a significant loss because each chicken would have sold for between R25 to R50 ($US3-6), while the eggs would also have provided an income.

Now he will have to restock his chicken coup from scratch.

Shiki and his wife Hilda Ngxongxela live in the Mandela Square shack settlement outside Montague, one of a string of farming towns in the Breede River Valley three hours drive from Cape Town.

As Ngxongxela prises a turnip just bigger than a golf ball out of the ground and squeezes the shrivelled leaves from the bulb, it’s clear that household food production in the hard and dry ground is a struggle.

“It’s not easy to get the best from it but we do,” shrugs Ngxongxela.

Before they started the garden in 2003, Ngxongxela says she and her husband survived on seasonal work in agricultural factories, but the garden now supplements this income.

Ngxongxela estimates it brings in about R500 (US$62.50) per month. Produce is sold to the community and farm workers who visit the town on the weekend, but Ngxongxela highlights the lack of a market as a frustration, while Shiki says he believes he could make more money from growing potatoes and onions, but does not have the land to do so.

The garden is one of 220 home gardens in the area started by the Rural Women’s Association, whose founder Dulcie Wingaard says it’s a constant struggle to find support for the project, obtain enough seeds for the gardeners and access sufficient land.

The need is great, she says, brandishing a thick wad of paper listing the names of those her association has helped feed.

Two years ago a household survey in the area by the Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE) found that 72 % of 2,668 respondents indicated that there were times in the last year when they had not had enough to eat.

TCOE general researcher Boyce Tom says the main constraints to household food security remain. The seasonal labour provided by the local economy has not changed, leaving many without work for large parts of the year. And not everyone has a home garden, while the gardens themselves are “tentative”.

With some estimates putting the number of former farm workers evicted from farms since 1994 at close to a million, access to land remains a pressing concern for communities like Mandela Square who have sprung up on the outskirts of rural towns.

In Robertson, another town 25km away, Jeffery Mpingelwane’s herd of cattle have dwindled from 24 to 13 head.

He used to live on a piece of commonage with his cattle, but the land has since been used for a land reform project for which he did not qualify. As a result he has moved into a shack in Robertson’s Nkqubela township.

From there he earns money running a shop selling household goods and also draws a pension from the municipality, where he worked as a tractor operator for 20 years.

In the summer months he says he is able to earn an income selling milk from his cows to the community at R3.50 ($US0.43) per litre.

“The people buy, they are crying for milk,” he says.

But the margins are small and from the money he earns he must pay his two sons who help him, cover the cost of petrol for his bakkie and pay for medicines should any of the cows fall ill.

And without land and capital he can’t even think of selling to the mainstream dairy industry as this would require having a milking machine and shed.

While Mpingelwane wants land, Stuurman Posholi has land but bemoans the problems it has caused him.

A small-scale farmer in Robertson, Posholi explains how land he was allocated as part of a land reform project is useless because of an intermittent water supply.

“We did get land, but it is dead land,” he says. Without sufficient water, he says he cannot irrigate the land to grow feed for his cattle. Without the feed, his cattle die. He lost 17 last year, he says.

As a result, he says he is not farming the land and keeps his remaining 23 head of cattle elsewhere. With no money coming in, a Land Bank loan looms large.

To bring money in, he is selling off his herd, one by one. This year he says he has sold three head of cattle that bought in R6,000 ($US750), less the 14% that goes to the auctioneer.

“I don’t want to sell but I have to because I need the money,” he says.

Tom identifies a general problem in addressing food security as land reform not having a strong enough focus on being done “from below”, resulting in the selection of beneficiaries for projects being flawed, with people drawn in who have no background or interest in farming.

He identifies another problem as the expense of land and the difficulties for government of acquiring it when keeping strictly to a market-based approach.

And he calls for an audit of municipality-held commonage land, arguing that there is little understanding of how much there is and how it can be used to settle land needs.

South Africa has a new Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, however, whose focus is to ensure sustainable land and agrarian reform that contributes to rural development and food security.

Spokesperson Sandile Nene says this involves specific support for small-scale farming, land reform projects and food gardens.

Commonage grants are available to municipalities to acquire land for this purpose and provide infrastructure to ensure land is usable.

Nene said the department’s role was set to become “more pronounced” with a view to responding to the Millennium Development Goals of halving the total number of 2.2 million food insecure households by 2014.

For Mpingelwane, the land is there – it just hasn’t come his way. But even though he says many have given up trying to access land because of the frustrations, his passion for farming is still there.

“If I have got land and I already have cattle, pigs, sheep and chickens I think it is a good start for me to start farming,” he says, “I don’t think I’m going to be a rich man, but it can maybe put me at a better level of life.”
– West Cape News

Tags: food, foodsecurity, land, montagu

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