Food has become a topic of urgent concern across South Africa in recent months. In Cape Town alone, roughly half of all households have needed emergency food relief. But, while the pandemic and lockdown laid bare the flaws in our food system, food and nutrition insecurity had already been a crisis in South Africa for years. Even before COVID-19 hit, at least 60% of Cape Town’s population could not afford a nutritious diet and over a quarter of the country’s children were stunted.
As the emergency set in, thoughts often turned to growing food as a way to alleviate hunger. But the unfortunate truth is that, while every bit of food eaten by a hungry person can help keep them alive and ward off illness, urban farming is not the solution to food insecurity. In fact, peer-reviewed research shows that in South Africa’s cities, as in other urban spaces around the world, growing food in urban areas doesn’t feed a lot of people. The direct impact of urban agriculture on food security is marginal at best.
But we shouldn’t abandon the idea of urban farming as a way to address the vulnerability of our communities and improve the well-being of residents – especially in under-resourced areas. Urban farms might not feed all those in need, but they can have a powerful transformative impact.
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