Hunger in the cities

Writing in the Mail and Guardian (November 27 - December 3) Jonathan Crush co director of the African Food Security Urban Network questions the assumptions implicit in the food security agenda - namely that food security is a rural problem and that the solution is to grow the smallholder sector ro produce more food. He cautions that the new focus on rural development could inadvertently sideline the urban poor. He cites a survey of 11 SADC countries where 77% of the urban poor did not have enough food  consistently throughout the year.

So what should be done about this? Crush argues that the answer is not simply to push urban agriculture, although this is definitely part of the solution. The key issue is rising food prices which hit the poor hardest.

In Cape Town the most reliable piece of recent research which focuses on chronic poverty and nutrition was a survey by the School of Public Health and PLAAS at UWC (2004) which surveyed 1500 households in townships within the metro. The findings were extremely sobering;

  • 38% of households spent more than 75% of their household income on food.
  • 70% of households reported having insufficient food in the last year
  • Only 3% of households engage in any form of home food gardening or livestock production.

Addressing urban food insecurity requires a whole range of responses including:

  • measures to create jobs and grow small enterprises
  • social protection
  • action against price fixing and collusion between actors in the food and retail sector
  • better understanding of the liuvelihood strategies of the urban poor and the consequences of muncipal controls on small traders
  • stimulation of homestead and group based food gardens

In a recent review of urban farming in Cape Town Phuhlisani highlights how urban agriculture involves a great deal more than securing access to land and support services. Attempts to create a ‘suction force’ through interventions such as the Philippi fresh produce market have failed. Very often such projects are initiated without research being conducted to properly highlight needs and risks. These expert led, externally driven initiatives experience high turnover of people and high risk of failure. Overall the profile and motivations of the ‘urban farmer’ remain vaguely articulated.

But given the rapid urbanisation of poverty and expanding reach of global food chains combined with the environmental impacts of conventional production methods, urban agriculture remains an important site of struggle to improve nutrition and food security.

Posted: 11/30/2009 (1:43:27 AM)

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