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Rural food hubs: Growing a locally connected and sustainable food economy

To develop an inclusive rural food hub connecting and supplying produce grown by smallholder farmers with retail outlets

Photo of Nicola Jenkin
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Southern Africa Food Lab

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

SPAR Group Ltd WWF - South Africa Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC), Rhodes University The Raymond Mhlaba Development Agency Pinpoint Sustainability

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

South Africa

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Raymond Mhlaba, Eastern Cape Province

What country is your selected Place located in?

South Africa

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The retailer, Spar has undertaken a Rural Hub assessment, in collaboration with Rhodes University's, Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC) and the Raymond Mhlaba Development Agency (RMDA). The ELRC has an established relationship in the area through their Amanzi [Water] for Food programme, as well as Food for Us. Rhodes University is situated in the community. All project partners are passionate about working in the area to improve local livelihoods in a food and water insecure part of South Africa. The farmers are passionate about their community and the food they grow, and through our connections. Spar is deeply committed to the development of the communities in which independent retailers operate their stores.

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.

The Raymond Mhlaba Local Municipality situated in the Winterland of the Eastern Cape under the jurisdiction of the Amathole District. It is approximately 200km from Port Elizabeth. It is the largest municipality of the six in the district, making up a third of its geographical area. The countryside includes the imposing and majestic mountain range of the Winterberg. The main economic sectors are General government services; wholesale and retail trade; community, social and personal services; finance and insurance; business services; construction; and manufacturing. Most of the farming activities take place in rural areas, which consist of partly-owned farms, and this plays a major role in the economic growth of the area. Livestock production, at 81% is the most common (however this is mainly 1-10 head of cattle), most have poultry (68%) - with 46% having between 11-100 chickens. 53% grow vegetables. 93% of the population is Black African, with most speaking Xhosa as their main language. The area has about 41,000 households. 43% of the population is aged between 15-34, and 30% between 0-14 years old. The majority of households (75%) live in formal housing and have access to piped water and electricity. However, only 45% have flush toilets; and only 30% have municipal refuse removal. Unemployment is an issue, with an estimated 47% of the population out of work. Education levels are also low, with the majority only having some form of secondary education. HIV is also prevalent, with about 12% of the population HIV+. [in progress]

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.

Some of the major challenges that the Raymond Mhlaba food system faces are: - Agricultural scale is subsistence but has huge potential to grow and stimulate the local economy, improve livelihoods and produce a more diverse food range - Malnutrition and poor access to nutritious food (especially at early childhood development age) - linked to diversity of food available and economic ability to purchase nutritious food - Access to market (how to access market, farmer capacity to grow for, plan for and supply formal food markets as well as local charities etc) - Financial viability of a large retailer accessing food from small holder farmers - Environmental issues including biodiversity and soil degradation, drought and water insecurity - Lack of technical solutions to keep produce and food grown fresher for longer [In progress]

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

SPAR has developed a strategy for increased local sourcing from emerging smallholder farmers through local Rural Hubs. Two pilot Rural Hubs which were designed to operate through a centralised Fresh Assembly Point (FAP) have been implemented, yielding many lessons. To provide smallholder training and support to provide produce to Spar and other entities e.g. public service in a financially viable manner - training to cover specifications, planning, how to access market, food safety legislation, operating a business etc. Also provision of farmer agriculture capacitation e.g. to reduce food loss on farm and to optimise their farming practices to increase yields, thereby leading to a better income. The Rural Hubs will also address the sustainability of the farmers businesses through the introduction of sustainable farming technology and ecologically sensitive farming methods. Emphasis will be placed on diversifying their market access. In addition, the project will strengthen and build local transport networks ensuring that these local transport operators perform the main delivery services in a way that conforms with food safety legislation. The hubs will supply the diverse existing local markets concentrating on local SPAR stores, schools associated with the National Schools Nutrition Programme (NSNP), and local informal traders. Working with Rhodes University and the Southern Africa Food Lab, the community of practice of smallholder farmers will be enhanced.This will provide the opportunity to create networks and connections for food to be grown and sold. These networks will provide avenues for knowledge generation, acquisition and diffusion. The development of a knowledge network will ensure the future 'social' sustainability of the hub with the aim of transforming the agricultural economic landscape in the area through learning, and with Spar the infrastructural and retailer access. [In progress]

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.

Improved livelihoods and nutritional health through scaled agricultural production, through improved access to markets and an improved connected community. [refinement of vision in progress]

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

• Redistributive, inclusive and spatially equitable economic development and growth • Quality Health • Education, Training & Innovation • Institutional Capabilities [In progress]

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email


Join the conversation:

Photo of John Casillas

Hi Nicola, I'm reaching out on recommendation of our Food Systems Guide, Rethabile Konopo, for Africa. Love the connection to SPAR in your vision statement. Would like to hear more as this evolves. Not sure how far SPAR reaches into Africa but will look at it. Our vision statement is under "Kick Stunting Out of Kasese!"; would love to hear any feedback. Best of luck in the completion and hope to hear from you!

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