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South Africa: Food Gardens: CSI’s ugly duckling soon to become the swan?
South Africa’s government has committed itself to achieving eight
Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and arguably the chief determinant
among these is food security. That’s because human development is
dependent on human health. And good health is dependent on good nutrition.
Yet, initiatives that seek to support marginalised and poor communities’
food security appear to be left to gather up the crumbs under the
corporate social investment (CSI) funding table in South Africa. The
lion’s share of CSI funding locally is channelled into education, health
and HIV, and social and community development, understandably. However,
food security – as a class of development project – falls seventh on the
list after Enterprise Development and the Environment.
It would seem that the powerful dual impact of food security projects is
being overlooked, or much misunderstood. This dual nature encompasses
both short-term reactive and long-term proactive solutions to social
inequity and injustice.
Firstly, the provision of support for community food security
initiatives allows development workers a direct and tangible way to
support the basic and immediate welfare needs of a targeted community. A
feeding scheme allows poor and malnourished people access to good
nutritious food for as close to free as possible. There are different
models for getting this right; from collecting surplus (e.g. after
sell-by-date) merchandise from the formal economy, to negotiating
regular donor support (in cash or in kind) from the private sector to
procure food for distribution to the needy. Logistics preclude this sort
of public benefit activity to urban areas, however, where concentrations
of poor people and their relative proximity to food supply allow for
cost effective service delivery.
Secondly, best practice food security projects have also recognised that
building sustainability into their operating model means building
self-sufficiency into the package for the beneficiary. Indeed, to coin a
phrase, who can argue with the logic of giving someone their own fishing
rod and teaching them to fish for themselves – as opposed to feeding
them just for the day? Teaching the poor and malnourished how to
cultivate their own nutritious food is both the most noble and the most
cost effective food security intervention.
But creating the right environment for those who wish to take up the
skills learnt – to establish and care for their own food garden as part
of a new lifestyle – also requires the provision of basic farmer support
(having a local presence providing information, expertise, and possibly
collectively bargained discount inputs and collectively bargained
marketing channels – where possible). Yes, there is arguably a role and
a place for activation campaigns (getting people to start growing
veggies), but more importantly, there is a need for ongoing support.
Among local CSI funders over the past while, there has been more a
failure to recognise that food security projects, be they feeding scheme
or home-farmer developing in nature, require sustained ongoing and
uninterrupted support. All too often a project is funded just long
enough to see the food garden established – without ensuring that the
requisite support structures that need to exist to support the
micro-farmer are in place and are themselves sustainable.
All agricultural production worldwide requires sustained public support:
be it in the provision of infrastructure to help deliver inputs and
produce efficiently, to tax breaks and incentives, through to direct
state subsidies, no farmer can succeed without sustained support of
And so it is true for the micro-farmer at the homestead in Port St Johns
in rural Eastern Cape through to the community garden initiative in
urban Khayelitsha in the Western Cape: all require ongoing,
uninterrupted support. And as many sound instances in these areas are
demonstrating, long-term funding support is producing real, deep and
meaningful change in the lives of beneficiaries:
A culture of growing one’s own food is re-entrenched, with a small but
growing minority of beneficiaries now making a living from their food
gardens – earning enough money to send their kids to functional schools
and to save for the future;
They are also providing good, healthy produce to their immediate
community at a fair price thus simultaneously increasing that
community’s food security directly, and, reducing that community’s
carbon footprint (growing vegetable gardens organically sinks carbon,
and, growing it locally means much less fossil fuels burnt transporting
it to market).
This is not pie in the sky idealism. This is real, and the results are
demonstrable. However, the incidence of success is far too small in the
face of the need in our country. We require a countrywide movement in
support of home and community food gardening, and the movement needs
patrons who are in it for the long term. Every community deserves and
should have an opportunity to engage with the possibilities that food
gardening provides – from the Nelson Mandela Metro to the Winnie Mandela
informal settlement. This reach requires much greater levels of
investment and commitment from the South African corporate social
Designed expertly, managed efficiently and funded earnestly, food
security projects in South Africa will lay the foundation of a
prosperous nation for all. The seemingly out of place ugly duckling
will, in time and with support, grow to be the swan.
- Graeme Wilkinson is a senior CSI Practitioner at Tshikululu Social
Investments specialising in sustainable livelihoods and community
development. It is republished here with the permission of Tshikululu
Social Investment .