Johannesburg is a young city; it was established at the end of the 19th century as a mining town on the highveld of South Africa. Unusual for a major centre, it is not situated on a water source and thus cannot look back to an agricultural past.
Johannesburg sits at the centre of Gauteng (meaning “golden” in SeSotho) Province, which is responsible for 10% of the GDP of the entire African continent. Seven million people reside in Johannesburg, and the population is growing rapidly; recent data suggest that it will double in the next five years, as immigrants from across the country and the continent arrive to seek their fortunes in the “City of Gold.”
While Gauteng is the smallest of South Africa’s nine provinces, covering only 1.4% of the country’s land area, it contains a significant proportion of the country’s productive agricultural land. Nevertheless, Johannesburg imports around 90% of its cereals and a high percentage of its fruits and vegetables. Average diets are biased toward meat and processed foods, leading to a significant incidence of diabetes and heart disease in the population. Access to affordable and nutritious food for most residents is hampered by the legacy of apartheid planning that cut the city along racial lines, coupled with underdeveloped public transport and few local markets.
This situation lends urgency to the need for innovation around the agricultural opportunities and significant food security challenges of the majority of the city’s population. MetroAg Joburg has been designed to contribute to that innovation and learning.
The MetroAg process began in September 2009 with a series of 20 stakeholder dialogue interviews. The interviewees underlined three main issues: dependence on poor quality, cheap food; negative perceptions about growing food for oneself; and the impact of city planning on food price vulnerability and access to markets.
In late 2009, teams began work on ideas for initiatives that included incorporating a greater focus on food security in the city’s strategy and introducing agriculture and food gardens into the school curriculum. Teams connected with each other and received coaching through a Ning group (www.joburgmetroag.ning.com) and monthly conference calls. Two additional workshops in 2010 have identified further areas that members have energy for:
· Collaborating to scale up a business-oriented neighbourhood food production project with a focus on value-added products (e.g., medicinal plants)
· Scaling up an alternative “closed-loop” approach to managing sewage in one municipality
· Seeking alternative approaches to offering subsidies to previously disadvantaged small-scale farmers
· Making growing your own food “hip” to youth
· Changing individual consumption patterns to be more sustainable
MetroAg Joburg members also joined participants in a sister project that looks at food security issues at the national level for two learning journeys, one in and around Johannesburg and the other to Cape Town. Johannesburg has the largest fresh produce market in the world, and through the learning journeys, participants gained a greater awareness of the role that these markets play in the food systems of urban South Africa.
As a result of the city strategy initiative identified last year, Reos and MetroAg are collaborating with the African Food Security Urban Network to lead a capacity-building workshop for City of Johannesburg officials in September to increase the alignment and impact of their work toward improved food security.