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Johannesburg, South Africa

Greening the city is beginning to bear fruit

Saturday, August 2, 2014

 

 

Plane, oak and jacaranda trees line many streets in Joburg. But recently the city has planted 6 500 fruit trees in the suburbs, and is planning to plant a fruit orchard soon.

 

There’s only two places I know of where large orchards of fruit trees were grown in old Joburg:  below Melville Koppies on Louw Geldenhuys’s farm, where peaches and apricots were abundant; and on the farm that is present-day Linden, where cherries and peaches blossomed.

 

Joburg City Parks and Zoo (JCPZ) have planted oranges, lemons and peach trees in school gardens and orphanages in Soweto, Orange Farm, Diepsloot, Alexandra, Ivory Park and Cosmo City. “Food gardens in schools were initiated to engender a caring culture for the environment. However, through the programme we have realised that these food pockets now form part of a critical component of the schools’ nutritious feeding schemes,” says Jenny Moodley, spokesperson for JCPZ.

 

“JCPZ is also exploring the development of food gardens in poverty depressed wards throughout the City of Johannesburg,” she adds. Some 42 food gardens have been planted in schoolyards since 2012.

 

Over the past few years 200 000 trees have been planted in Soweto, an effort to green the area. But these are not fruit trees. Last year a survey in Soweto revealed that people wanted the city to plant fruit trees.

 

Back in June 2011 I remember going to the first press conference of new mayor, Parks Tau, held in the Workers’ Museum in Newtown, one of my favourite museums. He was shy and awkward, clearing his throat often, and one thing he was passionate about was food security. He said at the time: “We need to urgently address the issue of food security – there are a very high number of people who don’t have access to food.” He suggested then that fruit trees be planted.

 

Distressingly, studies show that levels of food insecurity among the poor in the city are as high as 42%, according to the 2016 Integrated Development Plan (IDP), which means that three days in a month people go without a meal. He said that “we should set an objective of having a city where no one goes hungry”.

 

The result was that agriculture and food security have become among the top 10 priorities of Tau’s term, alongside financial stability, the green economy, safer communities and investment growth. So, a section in the IDP, part of the broader Joburg 2040 Strategy, outlined what the city was going to do for agriculture and food security.

 

We now have the Food Resilience Unit, with several programmes, one of which is the Agri Resource Centre. It trains and empowers communities with agricultural skills, gives them seeds and tools, and access to finance. It targets small and emerging farmers and co-ops so that they can bring their excess produce to the centre for sale. So far Joburg has four of these centres, with three more to come, one for each of the city’s seven regions.

 

There are also Empowerment Zones. Each person in the zone has one hectare of land, where they can grow crops and keep livestock, producing for the market. A partnership with the Fresh Produce Market sees these co-ops supplying the market, thereby becoming small scale city farmers. Residents of Lakeside and Orange Farm are the first to be targeted.

 

What I like about the policy is that it encourages self-sustainability and inclusivity. It has a wide range of stakeholders – from small entrepreneurial farmers to large supermarket chains, and farming co-ops, to individual households. And, it stresses healthy lifestyles, something the mayor believes in, as witnessed in his participation in the Freedom Ride in February and again in July.

 

The city is being inclusive through its seed collection campaign, where city employees, the private sector, NGOs and civic society are urged to buy vegetable seeds to donate to child-headed families, co-ops and schools with food gardens. The city is already involved – through NGOs it distributes around 76 000 food parcels to needy households.

 

But it doesn’t want to encourage dependency. “Our key approach is not to rely on hand-outs and food parcels. We want to mobilise, train and empower individuals and households to become involved in food production and small-scale farming through which they can feed their families and support their neighbours,” said health and social development mayoral member Noncebe Molwele a year ago.

 

The stats are impressive – the city has assisted 863 households to get backyard gardens going; and established 218 communal gardens with another 753 households. So far 43 co-ops with 328 households have got off the ground. Gardeners have been given training through workshops, seeds, tools and tractors. One hectare of land in Eikenhof have been given to 50 co-ops each, with irrigation systems and fences, plus the seeds and tools.

 

One of the schools to receive fruit trees is Inkwenkwe Primary in Diepkloof in Soweto. The principal, Skipper Lekglake, says on Mandela Day this year he planted nine trees – bananas, apples and peaches. His school has kids who come to school hungry so he has started a vegetable garden and gives them two meals a day. He is looking forward to harvesting fruit from the trees. “It is a beautiful thing,” he enthuses. Each class has a tree to care for. “It gives them a sense of responsibility, which is a lifelong thing.”

 

I wondered if other cities grow fruit trees in public spaces. San Francisco does. A group of “guerilla grafters” have been busy grafting branches of fruit trees on to established pavement trees in the city, and soon citizens will be able to pick delicious cherries, pears and plums. They simply tape the fruit branch on to a cut branch of the established tree, and with lots of love, it grows on the mother tree.

 

There is some resistance from the city bosses – they fear an infestation of bugs from the fruit will affect other city trees - so the grafters are not saying where the grafted trees are but they have dedicated grafters surreptitiously looking after the spliced branches. Sounds like fun – I like the idea of picking a plum or a pear on the way to work.

 

Who knows, maybe we’ll get gangs of guerilla grafters roaming the streets of Joburg, taping spliced branches to street trees. I’d be willing – I’m going to practise by grafting a fruit branch on to the coral tree in my back garden.

 

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