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A view of the Orlando Towers in Soweto, Johannesburg, Gauteng. Picture: 123RF/NICOLAS DE CORTE
A view of the Orlando Towers in Soweto, Johannesburg, Gauteng. Picture: 123RF/NICOLAS DE CORTE

What is the link between sustainability, climate crisis and food insecurity? Which practical and measurable interventions are initiated by the Gauteng department of economic development and agriculture to address the negative consequences of climate inaction and food insecurity?

The founding principle informing our approach and understanding of “sustainability”, as defined by the UN, is that “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.  

The consequences of failure to act and address with environmental and infrastructural sustainability, as both a country and provinces, are evident in the recent floods witnessed in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

Our collective failure to deal decisively with sustainability, factoring both nature and human action and inaction, is highlighted in hotter climate overall, higher temperatures, longer dry spells, intense rainfall patterns that in turn increase the risk for flash-floods and soil erosion. All these pressure points place pressure on, for example, stormwater infrastructure and affect agricultural practices.

Climate crisis in not only a matter of science since there is a growing recognition that sustainable solutions to the climate crisis and food security is also significant for the economy, politics, technology, and society in general.

While SA is food secure at national level, the country is still food insecure at household level as not all households have access to adequate food. According to Stats SA, about 15% of Gauteng's population are faced with food insecurity and 7.3 % face severe inadequate access to food. Let us remember that Stats SA’s 2017 household survey estimates that Gauteng had the largest percentage, 25.2% of households that are food insecure.  

Moreover, pre-Covid-19 statistics indicate that the proportion of the population affected by moderate food insecurity plus the population classified as severely food insecure was 10.1-million in SA, while those classified with severe food insecurity was 4.1-million. What is even more disconcerting is that this food insecurity has affected mainly female-headed households as compared to males.

This is an indictment since the right to have access to adequate food is a universal basic human right as reflected in the UN declaration on human rights, the 1996 Rome declaration on world food security and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In line with the SDGs and Agenda 2063, the National Development Plan (NDP) seeks to reduce poverty, unemployment and inequality, and build a national democratic society that is socially inclusive by 2030.

Informed and guided by the NDP, the kind of Gauteng City-Region we want by 2030 is where no-one goes to bed hungry. In practical terms, we will expand food security programmes to reach 78,144 food insecure households by 2024.

As the provincial government, we have also undertaken to improve local food production through creation of solidarity economy for urban food systems. In addition, 10,000 urban farms will be developed and handed over to previously disadvantaged individuals (PDIs).

Such a comprehensive policy intervention is important for Gauteng since it continues to experience the effects of climate change acutely.

Ensuring there is adequate food security and climate action is within our collective abilities as government, civil society and industry and with public-private partnerships with, among others, the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF), the Green Development Foundation (GDF) and the higher education institutions. 

As former president Thabo Mbeki reminded us in 2002 at the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD), “We have to answer the question whether we have the will and the common sense to ensure that we treat the planet as a common renewable resource; a friend and partner whose health is a necessary condition for the health of humanity itself”.

In this sense, this demands and requires concrete action by, for instance, “collaborating to involve communities in their own development” and by combining efforts “to enhance possibilities of equitable global distribution of resources for the benefit of all”.

Fortunately, the Gauteng government is making notable progress to assist small-scale farmers and new farmers and improving their market access. The first of our priorities relates to increasing primary production and part of that includes a targeted land release programmes by the department. The land release programmes will include support for urban agriculture, with the department looking at how vertical agriculture initiatives can be expanded. 

Addressing food insecurity and poverty alleviation is a priority for the provincial government. In this regard, we have prioritised urban food production as a catalyst for food security and a solidarity economy by creating, this year alone, a black farmers database that enables black farmers to supply, for example, the provincial government and the SA National Defence Force.

We have been relatively successful in enabling farming communities to access seven existing agriparks, which generate both permanent and temporary employment. This has entailed increasing an improved participation of previously disadvantaged individuals in the agri-food value chain.

Eradicating urban poverty and hunger has required that we enhance the capabilities of the identified groups and communities to achieve sustainable livelihoods and household food and nutrition security. Tackling child poverty through the Bana Pele Programme and a comprehensive basket of services at early childhood development levels.

Our anti-poverty strategy has the following pillars:

  • Allocate space and land for urban gardens and informal markets in town planning and architectural designs;
  • Integrate sustainable urban organic waste and water management with food production;
  • Protect consumers from price-fixing, corporate collusion and speculation; and
  • Develop effective nutritional education programmes integrated with empowerment of informal vendors, community food kitchens and feeding schemes. 

In recent years, tree-planting has become a cornerstone of many environmental campaigns to help reduce the effects of carbon emissions and restore natural ecosystems.

Perhaps the most ambitious example is the 1-trillion trees campaign launched by the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2020 in support of the UN’s Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, which aims to restore, protect or plant 1-trillion trees by 2030.

In collaboration with the Green Development Foundation as an implementing agent and fundraising partner, Gauteng initiated a 1-million trees programme in 2022. This is undertaken in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Total SA, BrandSA and the metropolitan, district and local municipalities in Gauteng.

The programme will enable the planting of 1-million indigenous and fruit trees by 2024 in the areas of the province with less green coverage, focusing on townships. This is a response to the president’s directive that SA should plant 10-million trees by 2024.

As the Gauteng department of economic development and agriculture, we regard the partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Green Development Foundation as critically important and fully support their call to action to address sustainably food security and climate action.

We are proud to partner to promote the message of sustainable development focusing on promotion of urban and backyard gardens, planting fruit and indigenous trees to foster and facilitate sustainable development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

• Tau is Gauteng MEC for economic development and agriculture. This is an edited version of the keynote address he delivered at the 2022 Nelson Mandela Day launch.

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