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Food Justice

Food Justice

Food hub launched at Wits as hunger grows

The newly established food hub at Wits University. (Photo by Michelle Banda)

The South African Food Sovereignty Campaign launched its second food hub at the University of Witwatersrand. It followed a series of workshops throughout the week, from preparing the soil for planting, to waste and compost management, and learning about different plants and herbs.

The SAFSC’s second food hub was launched on Friday, 18 March, three weeks into the Russia-Ukraine war that has spiked food prices and the inflation rate, and adding more insecurities to an already food-insecure South Africa.

Vishwas Satgar, a Wits academic, activist and Chair of Co-operative and Policy Alternative Center (COPAC), expressed the urgent need for the food hub by acknowledging the hunger issue in South Africa and emphasising how food hubs can better the situation. 

“We have a starving country. There are about 13 million people under food stress every day. On the other hand, we have extreme climate shock and that means drought and more hunger. The other challenge we face is our food system that is failing our country. Now the Russia-Ukraine war… the wheat and sunflower oil prices have gone up. But this is one of many shocks from 2006 that have affected our globalised food system. 

“Now, to survive all of that, we need to feed ourselves and create our food systems. That food system starts with the small gardens like the ones we have launched today.”

For Awande Buthelezi, and Charles Simane, both researchers and organisers at COPAC and activists with the Climate Justice Charter, the workshop is part of their work in building resilience around food sovereignty – a core objective of their organisation.

“In 2015, there was a hunger march at Wits to bring up the issue of student hunger. Initially students who could not afford food themselves used to get food from restaurants that was delivered to them from a storage base where trucks come and deliver. Part of the march’s objective was the students demanding dignity and a site where the issue could be addressed. 

“Through that march, they were able to win the site, where now the east campus food sovereignty hub is. Today’s launch is an expansion of that. As part of our work of the SAFSC, we initiate these kinds of processes and this service first as an eco-demonstration site of all the inputs of growing food, water management and access to other skills and knowledge, in the plight to end hunger,” said Buthelezi.

With hunger being among the list of issues preventing students from fully taking part in academic activities, SAFSC and Wits have identified unused pieces of land on campus to establish the food hubs. The food hub is an organisation that actively manages food gardens, communal kitchens and skills knowledge of growing your own food within the Wits campus. They serve the purpose of meeting food needs of the Wits community who can’t afford food for themselves, while also disseminating information on growing food to the greater community through demonstration workshops. 

The first hub was established on the east campus at a heritage building that wasn’t being used, and the newly established hub on the west campus is opposite Olive & Plates restaurant.

Tools to fight hunger

Simane explained what the space is for. “Universities usually create this false binary between manual labour and intellectual labour, which has kept a lot of young people away from farming. It starts from primary and secondary school. So when we have an eco-demonstration space like this, the theory is put into practice, which makes it easier to learn, and more attractive,” he said.

John Nzira teaching more than 40 attendees at the Wits food garden workshop on 18 March 2022. (Photo by Michelle Banda)

“In this space, we are creating food sovereignty but also equipping different groups of people with tools to fight hunger in their communities, the food dynamics and encouraging a culture to grow their food. Even more through the hubs, we create a zero input agroecology system, where people can come together to exchange skills and resources in the fight against hunger.”

According to John Nzira, a specialist in agroecology, regenerative systems and permaculture, “Anyone can have a food garden of their own, but to have a successful one that will have an impact, we need to be educated on how to manage these.” 

“People are aware of how to grow food, but they still need proper training to reinforce their indigenous knowledge and provide alternatives to meet the current climate… and this is what I have been doing throughout the week,” said Nzira.

“The lessons I have chaired were more on disseminating information, empowering local people, women and men as well as young people on their food, and why they need to be a part of food production and the consumption chain. Being part of your food is something you can start from your doorstep patch.” 

Nzira provided theoretical and practical lessons to workshop participants throughout the week.

Attendee Amnandi Mhlongo, district project coordinator at iLembe pilot Women Development Business in Maphumulo, KwaZulu-Natal said,

“I have been beyond blessed by being part of the workshop. From this workshop, I will make a training pack to capture all the lessons on preparing the soil to plant; waste and compost management; irrigation and about different plants and herbs, to share the knowledge with my community. 

“Ten members from my organisation from different branches are representing their respective branches. Just from being here today, about 100 other people will benefit from the lessons. Each member is going to be an ambassador and should teach everyone in their office and sites of the lessons we have learned here.”

“The event was really helpful for us. Our aim now in the next phase of actioning what we have learned is to promote more sustainable living, and people to grow their food. Food insecurity is a big problem in South Africa. Funding is always an obstacle in promoting, growing of our own food at a communal level. Because of the workshop, we are now aware of hubs such as this one that create a zero-input agroecology system. 

If hubs were to be established in most neighbourhoods, no one would have to buy seed, mulch or worry more about funds,” said another attendee, Nonhlanhla Hadebe of GenderCC, The Green Business College, based in Victoria Yards in Johannesburg.

“To continue from here, we’re going to have numerous gardens across campus, not just to cater for students, but whoever is hungry and wants food can have access at any given time,” concluded Satgar. DM/MC

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