Building an active civil society and promoting democracy
Re: Media release, saving the PHA
The Philippi Horticultural Area-PHA- has historically been very important to the City's food system and ecological stability. The PHA produces over 50% of the fresh produce consumed in Cape Town. The area also serves as an important recharge function for the Cape Flats Aquifer and is the green lungs for the Cape Flats. The PHA has been reduced in size through development pressure over the years and the remaining part is under immense pressure right now.
The PHA is an agricultural area located in the heart of the greater Cape Flats. It is approximately 3000ha in extent and is rural in character. The area was first intensively farmed when German immigrants landed on the shores of the Cape of Good Hope in 1883.
In the early 1900’s the agricultural area of Philippi stretched from the current M5 in the west to near the False Bay coastline in the south, from parts of Athlone in the north to the whole of Mitchell’s Plain up to Swartklip Road in the East. The area became known as the ‘’Kaapse Vlakte’ or Cape Flats. The Cape Flats was used by indigenous hunter gathers for millennia. It was the grazing ground for Khoisan herders for over 2000 years prior to the arrival of the European settlers. The Cape Flats became the contact point between the local herders and European settlers during the 17th century.
As the population of the city grew over time so has the need for housing also increased, with the consequence the agricultural area today has consolidated into a unique space in the heart of the current Cape Flats.
From a food security perspective for a growing population, the PHA is a critical resource now and even more so in the future. Poverty and inequality is rife on the Cape Flats where according to an AFSUN study 80% of the population is food insecure. PHA agriculture supports 2000 jobs and this increases by 40% in summer. It also supports vulnerable groups such as illiterate women, hawkers, spaza shops and small business. Because of its close proximity to the low income market on the Cape Flats, the cost of access (transport, etc) is cheap which keeps the price of fresh produce low. There is some 600ha that can be made available for cultivating food crops by emerging farmers which can increase the PHA’s contribution to the market from 50& to more than 80%.
The on-going food crisis in the world has led to food security being the number one focus for progressive cities in the developing world. In the climate of climate change, increasing transport and energy costs and rapid urbanisation, progressive cities in the developing world are planning ahead for the food security of their populations. As a city, we should be thinking and planning around these issues too.
The increasing and often violent service delivery protests are as much about the high cost of living as it is about the slow rate of transformation, lack of jobs and development. The agriculture sector has the potential to address these issues if our agricultural land is protected and emerging farmers are nurtured in the appropriate technologies and support.
South Africa’s water demand will outstrip supply by 2015- WWF
The ecology of the PHA is part of the larger Cape Flats ecology which plays an important role in the lives of the people in Cape Town. The Cape Flats is the custodian of a massive underground water reservoir called the Cape Flats Aquifer. A study done by the United Nations Environmental Protection Agency in 2006 concluded that there is enough water in the Cape Flats Aquifer to supply two-thirds of the basic water needs of the city of Cape Town.
Underground aquifers are a very efficient way to store water since there is little evaporation. Aquifers don’t use any surface area. But the aquifer has to be protected from abuse such as over-extraction, pollution and be allowed to replenish itself. Levels of pollutants are high in the CFA. This can be managed by improving or upgrading sanitation in informal settlements in the PHA and on the Cape Flats and upgrading the estimated 800 soak-away-septic tanks in the PHA’s housing estates that discharge sewerage into the water table. The wetlands in the PHA and on the Cape Flats which recharge and replenish the aquifer must be protected from development.
The PHA holds the last naturally occurring wetlands on the Cape Flats. 20% of the PHA floods during winter. This recharges the CFA and is a critical function to maintain the level of water available and improve the quality of water. The PHA ecology support 95 plants species, 100 bird species, 7 reptilian species and 4 amphibian species. Agriculture in the PHA depends entirely on the CFA for irrigation. But crucially for Cape Town, the CFA is an important future water source and mitigation against the worst effects of expected climate change.
Large parts of the Western Cape are already water stressed and this means available water resources need to be better managed while recycling water will take increasing prominence in the future. Annually millions of litres of recycled water at the Strandfontein Waste Water Works is pumped into the sea. The close proximity of the PHA to this facility could see recycled water diverted to farmers’ irrigation dams in the future.
A planning study in 2009 found that due to the highly favourable climate and soil factors in the PHA, similar crops grown on the periphery of the city use as much as 4 times more water. This together with the ever increasing transport and energy costs has a huge influence on the price of fresh produce at the stores.
Housing and economic development in the PHA
The PHA is ready to contribute to the housing needs on the Cape Flats. But housing developments cannot be allowed to take place on good agricultural land with the best water available or in areas where the local wetlands and ecosystems will be threatened. Local community organisations has been engaging council for over three years now and is intimately and pro-actively involved in addressing the challenges in the PHA, identifying opportunities and most importantly offering solutions.
They have put together exciting proposals for the orderly development of the PHA which propose a win-win situation that attempts to integrate the various activities such as agriculture, commercial, industrial, smallholdings and the local ecology while at the same time addressing food security, water security, job creation, economic development and attracting new public and private investment on the Cape Flats. These proposals if realised, will create a huge urban rejuvenation project that will have a major and positive socio-economic impact on the PHA and on the Cape Flats with spin-offs for the whole city. These proposals seek to address the slow rate of transformation of our living and public spaces, joblessness, under- development and the legacy of the debilitating and hated Apartheid spatial design.
The proposals amongst others, strongly recommends that the extension of the R300 and the proposed Rail Link be built through the PHA as a matter of urgency. This puts the basic infrastructure in place to support sustainable development not only in the PHA but on the whole Cape Flats. The government’s Proposed Ring Road is hugely unpopular, mired in controversy, insensitive to ecosystems in its path and simply over-kill.
It proposes a new Strandfontein Road commercial corridor or ‘main road’ from Baden Powel Drive to the N2 supported by the first Bus Rapid Transport system on the Cape Flats. The Strandfontein Road upgrade has the unique distinction of being the first road in the city to be designed to accommodate the Bus Rapid Transport System.
It further proposes a housing component between the Proposed Rail Link and the Proposed Sheffield Road Alignment. This has the good sense to put housing close to major public transport options, work opportunities and leisure activities. It is envisaged this will lead to and encourage investment in and upgrade of the Edith Stevens Wetland Park, Zeekoevlei, the Cape Flats coastal areas and other conservation areas on the Cape Flats. This will unlock the tourism potential of the Cape Flats by attracting local, national and foreign tourists.
In terms of agriculture, emerging farmers show the most appetite and vision to take the PHA into the next millennium. The PHA has the ideal location, is close to markets, and has proven water resources and the ideal micro-climate. More than 600ha of arable land is available for land reform. This is the enabling environment to establish an alternative agricultural paradigm involving emerging farmers, agroecological production, provide support structures for new farmers, establish farmers’ co-operatives, introduce farmer’s markets, develop value-adding and processing operations, etc.
The Philippi Horticultural Area can offer Cape Town much more than can be quantified in terms of just land for development. The provincial government has quietly and unilaterally in late 2011 approved the redrawing of the urban edge in the PHA to allow the 475ha 20 000-unit housing development to proceed. This is short-sighted and not in the interest of the people of the city. This proposed COSATO development will occupy the best agricultural land with the best available water resources in the PHA. Within months of tampering with the urban edge, a number of new proposals have been received including another 300ha housing development on land that has fresh produce growing!
The PHA is at a crossroads. It is our civic duty to bring the issues around the PHA to the attention of the greater Cape Town population because in the end, what happens here will affect everyone in the city. The PHA has historically made a huge contribution in the lives of the people of Cape Town. This can continue provided an integrated approach is adopted to address the challenges and take advantage of the many opportunities she has to offer. For more information or to attend our public meeting please call Nazeer @ 0727243465 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Nazeer A. Sonday
Secretary: Schaapkraal Civic and Environmental Association-SCEA