Local food is lekker food

2009-10-13 00:00

PLANTING a garden that can feed a family and generate an income isn’t only about taking a step towards physical health and economic sustainability.

For Mboniswa S’khakhane, fourth director of the Edendale Lay Ecumenical Centre, it’s also about altering a mind-set, building self-worth and reclaiming people’s dignity.

When it comes to the future of Msunduzi and the development challenges facing the Edendale Valley in particular, S’khakhane comes back time and again to what he believes is the persistence of the master-servant relationship in South Africa, which sees black people locked into a pattern of subservience. “We were taught to hate ourselves, and we’ve been doing a good job at that,” he said.

A self-confessed product of the Black Consciousness Movement, S’khakhane said: “We have to help people believe in themselves and stand on their own.”

One of the ways of achieving this, he believes, is improving agricultural production, specifically giving people the skills to implement environmentally sound agricultural practices in their back yards, such as those promoted by the late Robert Mazibuko, Edendale’s veritable pioneer of organic farming, more commonly known as The Tree Man.

“I like the idea of feeding people,” said S’khakhane. “People can do things when they are healthy and are able to take control of their lives.”

S’khakhane is not alone in his thinking about the value of agriculture to the development of people and their environment.

According to Professor emeritus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Environment, Agriculture and Development, Rob Fincham, urban agricultural initiatives are taking root in many parts of the world. “Today’s cities are essentially separated from their food sources. But there’s no reason why cities can’t be places where food is produced and supplied. It takes us back to the idea of the city as a social entity which brings people together around local market places and the notion of local production — local is lekker!”

The ideas of both Fincham and S’kakhane feed directly into the food security concerns of the Msunduzi Innovation and Development Institute (Midi), which today hosts a mini summit on the city’s food value-chain. The mini summit aims to evaluate ways of increasing food security by boosting agricultural production in the city and ensuring that local producers are paid a decent price for their produce.

The mini summit is part of a series of strategic meetings which will culminate in the two-day City Summit, to be held on October 20 and October 21.

Midi, a partnership between three of the city’s major players, UKZN, the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business and the Msunduzi Municipality, was established to facilitate the city’s sustainable growth and development over the coming decades.

Food security and food sovereignty are among a range of pressing issues, including socioeconomic development, environmental issues and human resource development, around which the work of the institute revolves.

S’khakhane is highly supportive of Midi’s focus on food security and agricultural production and the wide range of expertise that the Midi partnership can bring to the issue of urban development.

“The statistics are real, the people are starving,” he told The Witness, referring to last year’s baseline study by Fincham and other UKZN researchers which showed that over 90% of households in poor and vulnerable communities are food insecure.

For Fincham, who is a Midi trustee and managing a project to look at the current and future wellbeing of the city, the aim of the institute is not to take over the critical roles already being played by government officials and municipal appointees. “Midi is a facilitator,” he said. “It wants to provide support for a municipality that facilitates development. The reality is that the municipality, already struggling with a disproportionately low rates base, cannot achieve development without the help of partners.”

Critical to that development is the Edendale Valley, which has enormous potential, but which, according to Fincham, has always sat on the “periphery” of the city, despite plans to upgrade the area dating back to the fifities.

“It continues to worry me that ‘development’ is seen as ‘economic activity’ only,” he said. “The Edendale Valley has a rich cultural history, a history of political activism and multiracialism. And a glorious past as a rich agricultural area, where people used to be able to produce more food than they needed. All of these attributes offer enormous potential for different kinds of development.”


• For more information on Midi or to attend the summit, phone 033 386 0416 or e-mail info@midi.org.za

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