From Despair to Hope: A socio-economically transformed "township" through a re-designed food system and holistic approach.
Leading township transformation through food system re-design that utilises "Home Farming" supported with "Hubs" and "Agripreneur" networks.
The pioneers of the new dawn in Philippi: A wise and brave Xhosa woman with an energetic, visionary young "umlungu".
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Fresh Life Produce (Pty) Ltd. South African Company Registration Number: 2016/018346/07. VAT Registration Number: 4790280285
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small company (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
Sakhulwazi Women's Hub, Philippi; and
REEDiSA (Pty) Ltd. (South African Company Registration Number: 2011/105140/07)
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Cape Town City
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Philippi, one of Cape Town's oldest and largest "townships". It covers an area of 47 km2. Elevation: At sea level.
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
I started my first "township" project during 2018 when we were contracted by the Western Cape Provincial Government to assist in establishing 40 households with a new type of hydroponics garden in Philippi. We trained and mentored these 40 households for 6 months and completed the assignment with a 90% success rate. 36 Households were still using their vertical gardens effectively after 6 months. I was then introduced to Sakhulwazi Woman's Hub - a community centre and garden run by women from the community.
We realized that by working together we could make a bigger impact in the surrounding area and community. We moved our hybrid hydroponics production facility to Sakhulwazi and started looking at ways to make Sakhulwazi more financially sustainable. Together we developed a brand-new Africanised hybrid hydroponics system. We countered real world challenges that local users had with hydroponics and other similar growing systems - like: (a) the size of the technology in comparison to its yield and the amount of technical skills required for using it; (b) the bad soil they had to work with in their areas; (c) scarce and brackish water and (d) access to markets.
We are now using the system in all our projects with great success. We also started a food processing kitchen and trained young woman from the surrounding community on how to add value to the crops and produce grown in their gardens. We have recently started a “creative township experience” facility so that visitors can also “co-create” with the Sakhulwazi women and experience the community "vibe" and life in and around Philippi. We are currently establishing an additional 140 household gardens in Philippi using the new African Grower system as well as the deployment and support model we developed in co-operation with Sakhulwazi Woman’s Hub.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Sakhulwazi and its high-density, residential context.
Philippi and its direct township "neighbours"
Philippi as part of the larger Cape Flats area and Cape Town City
Philippi, Cape Flats: A place of Despair and Conflict
Philippi’s…developments and substantial residential growth emerged in the early 1980s. Originally called “Die Duine”, (the Dunes), Philippi was (originally) mainly used for grazing until the late 1970s and a few farms existed in the area. Like most black South African “townships”, the history and development of Philippi is linked (extensively) to "apartheid" policies. Most people in Philippi townships came from the former Ciskei and Transkei "homelands" and settled in Nyanga, Langa, Gugulethu and later in new squatter areas such as Crossroads, Browns Farm and Samora Machel. Philippi increasingly became a place of refuge from the political conflict and violence in the former homelands. (Gerry Adlard’s 2009 historical profile of Philippi).
Today Philippi is one of Cape Town’s largest townships. It lies sandwiched between Ottery, Hanover Park, Grassy Park, Mitchells Plain and Manenberg on what is known as the "Cape Flats". According to the “SAEP Philippi Community Profile” (updated 2014):
"Of the population group between ages 15 and 64, 38.18% is unemployed, and 41.87% is employed. Currently, the household income in Philippi is low –51.8% of the population earns between 0 and R1 600 per month, which translates from 0 to R19 200 per year. Students make up 48.76% of the Philippi population. 7.89% of the Philippi population are homemakers or housewives and 7.74% of the population is unemployed due to disability or illness. 19.82% of the Philippi population cannot find work. All these groups are economically inactive."
During the apartheid era Philippi was a battleground, and today still faces massive challenges like poverty, unemployment, overcrowding and susceptibility to fire and flooding due to the failures of post-apartheid initiatives to bring (socio-economic) reconstruction and development to the area. Due mainly to these appalling socio-economic conditions, gang violence has turned Philippi into a war zone (again) as rival gangs fight for “territory” and dominance.
Newspaper headlines provide some idea of 2019 conditions:
"As army deployment is delayed, 43 murdered over bloody Cape Town weekend"
Times Live,2019-07-12 18:45
….it has emerged that 43 people were killed between Friday and Monday in the Cape Flats.
This was also despite a heightened police presence in some of Cape Town's most violent areas, such as Philippi where 13 people were killed the previous weekend.
"SAPS Anti-Gang Unit fed bullets in Philippi"
Weekend Argus,16 June 2019
Cape Town - “IF crime was food, I would say it is cooked there.”
That’s how chairman of the Samora Machel Community Police Forum…. described his shock at the brazen attack on members of the SAPS’s Anti-Gang Unit…
Five police officers were shot when they came under fire in Sweet Home Farm informal settlement in Philippi. They were on a tracking operation for murder suspects. Two officers were critically injured in the shooting.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Current 2020 - Soil in the township is very poor and consists mainly of sand as the place’s nickname, "The Dunes", states. Local community members use container gardening with any old buckets or bathtubs to create a small space where they can enhance the soil to a level where they can grow at least the bare minimum.
Future 2050 – Continued deterioration due to no regeneration led to a situation were no plants grow naturally in the soil. Philippi is a barren place where the rain now wreaks more havoc than ever before and flooding of roads, yards and homes is a common occurrence. Home gardening has become too cumbersome to practise.
Current 2020 - up to 27% of children under three suffer from stunting in South Africa. This means that both their physical as well as brain growth is hampered due to lack of proper nutrition. Community members are buying from "spaza shops" that do not have the capability to keep produce fresh. The produce travels many "food miles" and lose a lot of nutrients.
Future 2050 – The Philippi community members do not have the education or financial means to buy from shops that can ensure the nutritional quality they need. People are desperate for food and are being used as a testing ground for new mass-produced cheap products.
Current 2020 - The system of centralised, big agricultural production has reduced the Philippi's community to powerless buyers and consumers of food. The shops in the townships are known as "Spaza shops" who have no bulk buying power and pay excessively for fresh produce.
Future 2050 – As poverty has grown people has turned into the cheapest labour that will work – and do – anything for a living. Everything had contributed to a "spiral of violence" where insecurity and fear is the norm of the day.
Current 2020 - The youth is struggling to find economic opportunities and employment, and more and more are relying on gangs to provide a sense of belonging and purpose.
Future 2050 –The area has become totally uncontrollable and turned into a lawless space with violence as an only option.
Current 2020 - Low education levels are a big problem in Philippi and projects that have tried to implement technology driven solutions have not always considered this. Community members had to receive extensive support which caused these initiatives to fail as soon as direct support ended.
Future 2050 – Due to the socio-economic conditions that prevented and hindered the aspirations for proper schooling and education, community members are unskilled and unable to adapt to a fast-changing macro context.
Current 2020 - Government has implemented mostly reactive policies to alleviate
poverty and unemployment and has done very little to facilitate the mind-set changes needed for progress.
Future 2050 – Both government and the private sector has written off communities like Philippi and are focussing more and more only on security and reactive measures.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Current 2020 - The African Grower is a vertical garden with a high yield and no need for soil. It uses coconut coir as a growing medium making it 10 times more water efficient. Because the system is suspended above the soil, the soil can be regenerated below it.
Future 2050 - Because the soil has received compost (made from food waste), the topsoil in back-yards has turned from barren land to fertile growing space.
Current 2020 – Community members can now start growing their own produce at home ensuring the freshest and most nutrient rich produce is worked into their diets. As they save money from eating out of their own garden they can spend it on other necessities.
Future 2050 – Because of the healthy diets consisting of fresh produce grown in their own gardens the youth is now able to benefit from education and also participate in sports more actively.
Current 2020 – Because community members are now growing their own food, they are saving money that can be used on areas like skills development. As the community members start to scale their African Growers it becomes an enterprise opportunity.
Future 2050 – As the community members have scaled up their gardens and become self-reliant they are able to use their money for bettering their standards of living.
Current 2020 – A culture of self-reliance is being developed by teaching inhabitants to start growing their own produce and once they have excess, they can start their own businesses.
Future 2050 – The food (and wider) economy of Philippi has become self-reliant and they can feed themselves. They are supporting and growing their internal economy and becoming proud of their achievements.
Current 2020 – As the Africanised hybrid hydroponics system was easy to construct, use and maintain, it gave everyone the confidence to grow their own produce at home and even scale up to start an enterprise opportunity.
Future 2050 – Because the range of technologies introduced were always in line with people's abilities, community members have built confidence in using technology and scaled-up to build food processing facilities - even in their own yards.
Current 2020 – The growing system created a mind-shift in community members and assisted them to support policies that empower them rather than creating "hand-out" mentalities.
Future 2050 – Philippe has become an economic powerhouse and policy reference and guidance point of a self-sufficient township with a growing local economy.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
Philippi, Cape Flats: A socio-economically transformed Place of Progress that was initiated through a redesigned food system.
A picture of a food secure township that has become an inspiration for South Africa in showing what can be achieved through cooperation towards a re-designed food system which not only uses lightly, but also regenerates natural resources while acting as a catalyst for new dreams, knowledge and actions at individual and communal level. The approach and technology utilised was not only a re-designed (and regenerative) food system, but it has guided a major mind-shift to occur within the community. Community members have taken ownership of their own futures through the development of a systemic and holistic approach to food production – growing and processing – which had spin-offs in all areas of communal life. Once an individual (or family) did not have to struggle to have nutritious food on the table their thinking and doing was freed up and directed to the improvement of all areas of their lives.
Philippi – once a “suicidal” township - has become food self-reliant and is producing surplus which is exported to the larger Cape Flats and Cape Town. “Resource drainage” has been stopped and value addition to (“back-yard”) primary production is happening at “home-base” with new money flowing into the (very) local economy from the larger Cape context. Education levels and standards of living is rising all over Philippi and members are productive and proud citizens of the larger Southern Africa.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
About Sakhulwazi Woman's Hub - our first "Home Farming Hub"
A Systems view on re-designed township food system
Athi Saki: one of the very early "Home Growers"
Basic starting configuration of our early technology.
Thobeka Baartman: another very early "Home Grower"
Implementing one of our 40 household projects in Philippi
The early African Grower Kit with everything needed to start growing at home fitted into a 40cm x 30cm x 30cm box
Systems view of Modernisation /Transformation of contexts with a human component
Philippi, Cape Flats: A Place of Possibility and Hope through food
I am theoretically old now – beyond 60 – and am supposed to be contemplating retirement as I sit here on the dune overlooking Philippi! (;-) Yet I feel invigorated and motivated to do more as I see the buzz in the streets below and remember how we got here.
At Fresh Life Produce we were committed to showing the world that there is an alternative to the thinking that we need to have a few large-scale producers to feed households and entire cities. We passionately believed (and still do) that we all can become our own “mini” producers that collectively work together to fight the growing food production challenge in a sustainable and resource efficient manner.
Our 2020 vision was to create a “township” that would be a thriving beacon of hope and (food) productivity that could illustrate what was possible by changing mindsets (and actions) of community members around food production and consumption from a passive, consumptive state to active, productive producers and masters of their own fate.
The first signal (that change was possible) was when our new growing technology was easily adopted on large scale. This initial adoption and the system as well as the processes, people and structures we put in place to support it, contributed extensively to large-scale systemic change.
We have since then confirmed that sustainable outcomes (i.e. permanent changes in behaviour) were dependent on an iterative process of changing how people “see” (awareness and desires), “know” (external information and internal knowledge) and “do” (technology and ability)! This change approach was further strengthened through the statements on systemic needs for change (in systems with a human component) which resulted from research done in the mining context of South Africa during 2019 on human factors in modernisation - as depicted in the attached diagram.
As "home farming" continued to develop in Philippi, we realised the need for a systemic approach to keep the growth alive and to guide it towards large-scale effect and change. We embarked on this future pathway by taking 3 crucial, initial steps:
Step 1: Establishing “Home Farming Hubs” that acted as central bases of support for the "Home Farmers" and the "Agripreneur" networks. These trusted and local Hubs acted as demonstrators to the community of all the technologies we introduced over time and their capabilities, use and maintenance. It was also the "place of learning" which provided opportunities for both theoretical and practical learning as well as "post learning" coaching and mentoring services delivered by the network of "Agripreneurs". We were very quickly forced to create multiple revenue streams for the Hubs to assure sustainability of the support services based here. We started strengthening the (politically popular) co-operatives (primary, secondary as well as tertiary) model through training and establishment services but in a manner that was focussed both on the collectiveness (ubuntu) embedded in our African cultures as well as on individual responsibility, contribution and participation - an approach we ended-up calling socialist-capitalism! (See the attached diagram for the work and focus of the Hubs in the bigger scheme of things)
Step 2: Establishing networks of "Agripreneurs" (multi-purpose change and support agents) who both initiated and supported their own new "Home Farmer" networks which they supported with food technology (initially our African Growers), logistics, financial and non-financial services in a subscription manner which ensured their ongoing commitment and sustainability. (Also reflected in the attached diagram)
Step 3: Developing support (training, maintenance and advisory material) at a national "back-office" to support both the Hubs and the Agripreneurs in a virtual "hand-holding-of-the-hand-holders" manner. The "back-office" was also responsible for the development, deployment and maintenance of reliable Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems - the "glue" - needed at all points in the network.
Looking back at the humble beginnings, I can only marvel at how far we have come!
The Hubs have turned into places of both learning, support and local value addition for crops were larger volumes are needed for marketable value-added products like spinach-pasta and similar products.
The Agripreneur have turned into sophisticated logistics and payment networks where cargo e-bikes (originally introduced from Sharpeville, another historical township in South Africa) are now supplemented with drones (both quadcopter and VTOL-types) that both take care of input deliveries (seedlings, plant food and pest control) to households as well as real-time, "Home Farm" product deliveries to internal (Philippi) as well as external (Cape Flats and Cape Town) destinations.
The "back-office" (and ICT systems) - and consolidated data warehousing and analysis - provided the network with the ability to introduce traceability, reliability and responsibility into all activities in the network. We realized very early in our ventures that accurate and reliable data was crucial for both the ongoing understanding of the context in which we were operating as well as for the ongoing monitoring and evaluation of what we were collectively achieving. In partnership with a range of technology partners we therefore developed a range of both "front-desk" (mostly mobile) and "back-office" ICT platforms that allowed us know the status of all elements and transactions in the network and identify areas that needed attention in real time.
By always using appropriate Technology and ensuring adoption, we were able to help improve the Environment by giving people the ability to start growing fresh produce at home and use much less water than growing in soil. Because the system did not need the barren soil from the area (coconut coir as a growing medium), we allowed the soil to be rejuvenated through the establishment of composting as a standard practice. Because people could sustainably grow fresh produce at home, they were able to incorporate those nutritional crops into their Diets - making sure they received the maximum nutrients possible without the adverse effect of extensive “food miles”. Variety in the diets were also increased as additional (nutritious) options became possible – especially under the influence of Cape Town’s “fusion” culture - and the dependency on starches (“pap” or porridge) decreased. The percentage of infants and young children who were victims to “stunting” was drastically reduced due to children receiving the nutrients they needed from the fresh produce grown at home. This ensured that they did not have a mental or physical backlog to other children and gave them a better chance at education and of becoming productive members of their societies.
As soon as the households built confidence in their growing capabilities, they started expanding their facilities and added more African Growers as well as other technologies to their home gardens. As they started to produce excess and they realised they could sell it to surrounding community members (and further), they became productive members of the Economy. Creating an additional source of income - and because they were spending less on buying fresh produce from the local spaza shops - they now had more money to spend on education and lifting their standard of living. The Culture of being powerless consumers started to change into productive mind-sets and the more they accomplished the more they wanted to achieve – a positive and upward spiral of growth that was reinforcing itself. Community members started to become proud of what they accomplished and their surrounding environment. As they became open to the use of Technology, they took on bigger challenges and expanded their knowledge to other areas of expertise. We could assist them to establish value adding food production facilities - even at home! Because of the enhanced productivity of the community they could start exporting their products (and technologies) to surrounding communities. As the community grew more self-sufficient they become part of the local and national Policy process as they were leading the way and were able to provide tried and tested input into government (at all levels) new food and local development policies (and undertakings) in similar (township) and even more rural areas.
I am sitting here thinking of the possible way forward of which some next steps might be:
- Partnering with the National Department of Health to identify key clinics in communities to convert into “home farming hubs” in order to also introduce an element of preventative care in the healthcare system.
- “Virtualise” the training of youth nationally to become “Agripreneurs” who can manage and maintain the “home farming hubs”;
- Assisting in continuously shortening the “farm-to-plate” journey by linking more and more “Home Farmers” to local businesses and homes through the mechanisms of enhanced reliability and traceability provided by the “taming” of new technologies like blockchain and crypto currency; and
- Expand the learning from the Western Cape to the rest of the Continent and the World!
Part of my personal passion had been to show that a young, white male could contribute extensively to the food future and welfare of our beloved country. Due to the legacy of apartheid, we (white, Afrikaner males) were once seen as walking reminders of our country’s dark past. I have been hoping to show (to some extend) that we, who have the same pride and love for South Africa as any other productive member of our wonderful country, can make a positive and impactful difference through re-designed food systems and holistic approaches in places that need it most.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?