KwaZulu-Natal’s agricultural MEC on Thursday launched a programme to encourage urban agriculture – growing food gardens in small, open spaces, including city rooftops and townships.
Urban farming is not new and is practised successfully in cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg - and internationally - with the stated aim being to ensure healthy food intake, particularly among poor city dwellers that are unable to afford nutrition-packed fruit and vegetables.
MEC Themba Mthembu visited a rooftop garden at the Methodist Church Central City Mission building in the heart of the city on Thursday morning before taking part in the programme’s official launch in Claremont.
The church would use the produce it grew in its soup kitchen, which feeds about 200 poor city dwellers every Tuesday, and at the shelter the mission had opened for migrants to the province, said reverend Akhona Gxamza.
“We need these intentional collaborations that are aimed at improving the lives of our people. When [the agricultural department] brought the idea of the project to us, we felt we should be amongst the first people to benefit.
“At the centre of our programmes at central city mission are the people of God. The agenda of the church is determined by the society in which it functions,” said Gxamse.
He said the church would also train some of the unemployed in its care to maintain the gardens. This would be done in collaboration with the city.
Speaking later at the launch of the programme, Mthembu said the main purpose of urban farming was to alleviate poverty and ensure food and nutrition security.
The programme forms part of DARD’s food security programme, with which it intends to establish 1370 household food gardens, 170 community gardens, 190 institutional gardens and 198 food tunnels.
“Roof top gardens in city urban farming play an important role in recycling gases such as carbon dioxide while providing healthy oxygen gas, food and cash for farmers,” said Mthembu.
“As KwaZulu-Natal we still lag behind when it comes to urban agriculture compared to other provinces. Western Cape and Gauteng are the two leading provinces in South Africa that are known to be practising urban farming,” said Mthembu.
Cape Town had about 6000 farmers, he said, which included neighbours, NGOs, private companies as well as provincial and local government departments, “all partnering and working together to facilitate and speed up urban farming projects”.
Zoning was imperative when considering urban farming, said Mthembu. “Even if you have purchased or are renting your premises, permits must be obtained or clarified prior to the implementation of projects.”
The structures to be used in projects would depend on site locations, buildings, types of crops and the length of the growing season.
“There are costs involved in setting up urban farming projects and this largely depends on the type and size of the project. With the growing population those who reside in urban areas are encouraged to find fresh ways to transform their concrete spaces into green opportunities.”