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Fight to preserve fertile Cape Flats farmland

2019-04-23 13:00

Those who want land are not necessarily after a big, remote farm. We visited three urban farming ventures to find out what it means to farm in the city.

Wadea Jappie and Agmat Brinkhuis bought their farm, Chamomile, on the Cape Flats 17 years ago.

At the time, they paid their five sons to clean rubble off the 1.6-hectare property. On the clear patches, they started growing dhania (coriander) to use in their kitchen.

Soon they had surplus dhania and started to sell to family members, then to local butchers in nearby Grassy Park.

Today, the couple supplies a thousand dhania bunches to Shoprite and Checkers stores around Cape Town every day.

Their success story started about three kilometres down the road.

“We stayed in Lotus River,” recalled Brinkhuis. “At dinner we would hear gunshots, and the children would be like: ‘Oh, that’s a shotgun’ and ‘Oh, that’s a .38’. One day I said to Wadea, ‘We need to get the kids out of here.’ So we looked and looked and found this property, and we made an offer to the bank and we bought it. When we came here, it was a dump. So we paid our sons to clean it.”

Their first farming ventures were dhania and poultry.

“One day, the two of us, we went to an agricultural show in Franschhoek,” said Brinkhuis. “They were showing chickens. And we thought to ourselves, ‘This is what we need for the boys!’ Because the boys are like vacuum cleaners, they eat everything that’s in the house. So we bought five chickens to feed the kids with eggs. I was so impressed that the next weekend I went to buy chickens again.”

Today, Chamomile Farming Enterprises  which rents an additional 20 hectares  houses 13 000 chickens in a long shed. They supply eggs to Nulaid, also stocked at Shoprite and Checkers stores.

Walking along neat beds of tilled soil, Brinkhuis pointed out young leaves pushing through the ground. “Those are vegetables for soup packs for Shoprite too. We do a lot of those for winter,” he said. The pair’s other major retail clients include Woolworths and Spar.

Chamomile Farming Enterprises is one of about 35 farms in the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA)  a dwindling swath of fertile agricultural land above an aquifer (water-bearing rock) on the Cape Flats.

A community-based organisation, the PHA Food and Farming Campaign, is challenging further development in the area in the Western Cape High Court. In court documents, the organisation, with the second applicant, local farmer Nazeer Sonday, called on 13 respondents to stop urban sprawl from infringing on the urban farmland. Respondents in the case include developers, Western Cape government departments and the City of Cape Town.

Said Sonday, “The very fact that the city and province are opposing their citizens in court alongside developers is hugely problematic.”

He added that the area is home to 98 bird species. “We counted that, in four hours during one Saturday morning walk,” he said. “The bird poop produces amazing soil for feeding veggies. Alas, this land has been rezoned by the city.”

The City of Cape Town said it would not comment while the court case was pending.

Sonday expects a ruling next year.

While the department of agriculture is a respondent in the court matter, MEC for Agriculture Beverley Schäfer, told City Press it had always opposed development in the PHA.

A 2017 study, commissioned by the department, found that PHA farmland yielded a yearly turnover of between R440 million and R480 million, while creating 3 000 direct and 30 000 indirect jobs.

“We do not want housing to take over on this piece of land,” said Schäfer. “The department of agriculture has no decision-making ability when it comes to the PHA, but the study provided a set of recommendations that we could then take to the decision makers in order to highlight the importance of the PHA to farming, the economy and food security in the province.”

Schäfer noted that, apart from having major retail clients, PHA farms were an invaluable source of fresh vegetables to small merchants, spaza shops and bakkie vendors in Cape Town, and especially on the Cape Flats.

Another major problem, the one keeping Jappie and Brinkhuis awake at night, is crime.

So we have so little produce and they’re stealing what little we have. It is heartbreaking.
Wadea Jappie

The 2017 study notes PHA farmers suffered from threats to their personal safety, along with business invasions, cash heists, body dumpings and hijackings in the area.

Jappie agreed that crime was out of control. “The produce is growing slower now because of the lack of water that we had. These are the after-effects of the drought,” she said. “So we have so little produce and they’re stealing what little we have. It is heartbreaking.”

Brinkhuis added: “We planted leeks, which take about six months to grow, but there’s a lot of planning involved. Then last week we caught two guys running away with six bags full. Now that’s what makes you sick.”

Chamomile Farming Enterprises employs 13 permanent workers, mostly from surrounding informal settlements.

  • This package is part of a journalism partnership with Africa Check, the continent’s leading fact-checking organisation. The project aims to ensure that claims made by those in charge of state resources and delivering essential services are factually correct. In the run-up to this year’s national and provincial elections it will be increasingly important that voters are able to make informed decisions. This series aims to provide voters with the tools to do that. The Raith Foundation contributed to the cost of reporting.

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August 25 2019