Sustainable Food Development And Community Resilience

Self-sustaining community development strategies focused on education as a means for change, have great potential to make an impact on worldwide poverty. Instead of a one-time intervention with results that fade over time, the cyclical structure of participatory development will yield increasing results as time goes on. Teaching the community how to improve itself will increase its ability to deal with future problems, and positively impact women, children, and the environment in developing countries.

The spread of COVID-19 highlights the importance of community resilience, including sustainable local food systems. Growing some of your household’s own food is a practical response to a global health crisis that calls into question many of our contemporary food systems and lifestyle habits.

Iris Duval

Iris Duval, Adele Marnitz, and Vernon Staplefeldt of The ARC feeding scheme have changed from simply feeding the community to offering them the proverbial fishing pole. Iris Duval explains; “The need and unemployment have grown, so the urgency of the sustainable garden is vital.  I have also motivated women in the community to grow veg to share very soon. Basically to grow with us and join hands in this unprecedented time of the pandemic. I have set up a garden of distribution, once we grow and share the veg we started with, we will share seedlings from the garden of distribution. Encouraging the others to keep a good flow and section of seedlings”

Vernon Stapelfeldt

People around the world are turning to the garden as a soothing, family-friendly hobby that also eases concerns over food security as lockdowns slow the harvesting and distribution of some crops. Fruit and vegetable seed sales are increasing worldwide.

The likelihood that COVID-19 and the associated economic challenges will spill into our already serious food crisis if the food system cannot cope. Half of Africans already face food insecurity, of which 50 % are severely food insecure, while the number of people who are hungry is likely to double during this pandemic crisis.

Quinton Nicholson

Quinton Nicholson, together with his assistant, Vincent Myeza have started a food garden project through which he seeks to ameliorate issues of food access and food security for people living in the Austerville area with low access to fresh produce. Within this initiative, he wishes to promote community gardens as vehicles to reclaim unused space, to produce fresh vegetables locally.  He wishes to start a variety of community gardens to grow food for donation to feeding schemes as part of a program to benefit socioeconomically disadvantaged people in the Austerville community. However, the ability for these gardens to evolve will require neighborhood participants to provide the benefits attributed to community gardens.

Jennifer Meyer, a resident of Vasco Road, has allowed Quinton to use part of her property with the shared aim of starting a community garden to provide fresh vegetables, as well as contributing to a sense of community, and connection to the environment, and an opportunity for satisfying hunger as well as neighborhood improvement.

Quinton said; “I’m inspired to establish vegetable gardens in the community:

To bring gardens back and encourage people in the community to learn to grow their own vegetables. 

Food security is a concern, the world population is over 8 billion people and earth resources are already struggling to sustain all of us. Therefore we need to look at urban gardens as a proactive measure to aid against food scarcity in the future. 

Growing your own vegetables would save on food costs and would be much healthier than commercially grown vegetables”

Eco-villages are essentially designed communities intending to be socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable, and self-reliance refers to community members being confident and having the capacity and skills to act as agents of their own development. This is the kind of discipline that works around reinforcing local knowledge and skills, such that communities taking charge of their own development processes, and in this way, are able to perpetuate, sustain and enhance the work done in partnership with the community. By stimulating community-led development, this project will foster a culture of self-determination and economic viability in which the community itself is the initiator of its own change.

Growing our own food means freedom: the freedom to know what we eat, freedom from big markets, freedom from pesticides, and freedom to know that our agricultural practices are not harming the environment.

Tom Butterworth, Nichole Smith, and Jillian Harlim,  from the Blue Roof Life Space, believe that urban agriculture can be beneficial to the environment, and to the health and wellbeing of community members. Their introduction of community gardens may be able to reduce the impact of food deserts in a low-income area like Wentworth and allow residents greater access to nutritious food that is necessary to live a healthy life.

Tom Butterworth

In addition to cultivating seedlings, they have also adopted the system of; hydroponics and aquaponics, which have clear benefits over soil-based gardening ie; lessened, adverse environmental impacts, reduced consumption of resources, faster plant growth, and higher yields. It is believed that aquaponics is a better option than hydroponics when choosing a soilless growing system.

Tom Butterworth explained; ” aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture, which is growing fish and other aquatic animals, and hydroponics which is growing plants without soil. These beneficial bacteria gather in the spaces between the roots of the plant and convert the fish waste and the solids into substances the plants can use to grow”

The Blue Roof Lifes Space has also introduced community gardening to the local kids. By being creative on the garden plot, gives the kids incentives to join in on the activities. All over the world community gardens and farms are sprouting, with organizers devising playful ways to engage local children so that they not only get involved now but become long-term contributors to this self-sustaining community initiative. 

Jillian Harlim, manager of the gardening project at the Blue Roof Life Space, said;  “We have only been planting since mid-May. The first month we were just experimenting. Initially, it was a slow start, with lettuce being the first to be harvested, next was spinach and coriander. Tomatoes, cauliflower, and broccoli will be ready in the next two weeks. Spring onion, kale, cabbage, and beetroot were planted this week. We have been using some of the produce in the new Blue Roof cafe for sandwiches and soups. As we are only in the early stages of cultivation, we need more time to produce statistics regarding the development and consumption of the plants.

Tracey  Leigh Williams of Wentworth Angels, together with Fats Mullings is using the strategy of getting recipients of food aid to work in their communities. A few members of the community are open to the idea that they may need to do a bit of work in exchange for a benefit from a food aid hamper, and they welcome this. According to Tracey, this initiative was aimed at making the streets of Wentworth garbage-free, while educating community members about the effects of illegal dumping and littering on the environment.

Being involved in cleaning up their environment is such a boost to the well-being of these individuals, that they have volunteered to continue contributing to this good cause.

While the concept of sustainable development targets development which can at least in part avoid such changes like; the devastating effects of covid-19, and the global lockdown on vulnerable communities, and the negative consequences on people and the environment, resilience is about tackling and overcoming these changes without being completely overwhelmed by them.

That said, according to Statistics South Africa-as indicated in the above diagram; the involvement of households in agricultural activities for subsistence farming can play an important role in reducing the vulnerability to the hunger of rural and urban food-insecure households. The results show that out of 16,2 million households, about 2,5 million households (15,6%) were involved in agricultural activities in South Africa in 2017. Provinces that are predominantly rural and with high levels of poverty such as Limpopo (25%), Eastern Cape (20%), and KwaZulu-Natal (20%) had the highest proportions of households that relied on agricultural activities to supply their own food. Most households involved in agricultural activities were involved in the production of fruits and vegetables, grain, and other food crops, as well as in livestock and poultry farming. Although the main source of income for these households was social grants, most households involved in agricultural activities indicated that the main reason for their involvement is to supplement food for the household.

It is a noted fact that resilience is an important component in sustainable food development, as it enables communities to develop mechanisms for protection against experiences that could be devastating.

By: Lorraine Richards  

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