Bangladesh food

Localized food systems are essential for economic inclusion and the…

On a sunny and unusually windy winter day in early May, I had the privilege of taking a “learning trip” to Worcester, the largest town in the Breede Valley Municipality (BVM) in the vineyards of the Western Cape. A two-day learning journey that aims to explore Worcester’s food system and imagine, through the co-production of knowledge, how alternative food futures can be realized.

worcester food learning trip
In Worcester Market Square, Western Cape, local historian Anwaar Sedan tells stories and anecdotes about the city. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

Nestled between the Hex River Mountains to the north and the Kwadouw Mountain Range to the south, the valley is known for its food production, made possible by the water flowing into it from the surrounding mountains. This rich resource allows the valley to produce wheat, stone fruits, apples, pears, olives, citrus fruits, vegetables, broilers and laying hens, wine and table grapes.

Despite this abundance, recent surveys indicate that more than a quarter of children under five in Worcester are malnourished, while many adults subsist on nutritionally poor diets, leading to poor health outcomes. health. It is this paradox between abundant food production and food insecurity for many that the learning journey set out to explore.

food learning journey
Participants compare prices and food offerings at local spazas in Worcester, Western Cape. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

A learning journey is an innovative research process whereby a wide range of participants literally embark on a journey to explore a complex system – called a “system tour”. Through this process, participants gain direct experience of the issues. This has proven to be an effective means by which habitual thinking and assumptions about problems can be ‘flushed out’ and new, innovative thinking around solutions can emerge.

In Worcester, our trips (which were walking trips) were in two areas that are integral to the city’s food system. In small teams of community members, government officials (local and provincial), academics, activists, food advocacy groups and early childhood development (ECD) practitioners, we have visited Durban St at Parkers Dam on day one and Mayinjana Avenue at the entrance to Zweletemba “township” on day two.

Durban Street is characterized by its informal wholesale and retail of fresh fruit and vegetables, butcher shops, several non-franchised fast food outlets and a large formal food retailer. Mayinjana Avenue is known for its educational institutions, including primary and secondary schools, and a remarkable concentration of ECD facilities.

By focusing on these two places, we were able to get a perspective on the complexity of food-related processes at the place level rather than in an aggregate way. This “territorial” perspective can disrupt the way we traditionally think about food system challenges and contributes to thinking about how to address specific local challenges within the broader context of food systems.

It breaks with traditional sector-specific, or “one-size-fits-all solutions” ways of thinking, allowing participants, in the words of Bruno Losch of Western University’s DSI-NRF Center of Excellence in Food Safety Cape, “taking stock of existing local potential and activating local assets through direct engagement with local people”. It is an approach that recognizes that people live in places, not economic sectors.

While undertaking our journey down Durban Street, team participants interacted directly with people involved in the food system. In doing so, we have learned that crime is a problem in the region for food retailers as well as consumers, that much of the fresh produce sold by retailers comes from Epping, Cape Town, rather than locally where a much of it was farmed and butchers stocked chicken from many places overseas, including the United States, Poland and Denmark, although Worcester is home to a large poultry company that supplies 6% of Africa’s broiler chickens from South.

Worcester ECD
Nobanzi Elvinah Ndamoyi, Director of the Zanokhanyo Early Childhood Development Center and Chair of the Masipthatisane ECD Forum, welcomes participants to the second day of the food learning journey in Worcester, Western Cape. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)
worcester ecd food
Brenda Siko, who runs an unregistered early childhood development center in Worcester’s informal Mandela Square, shows Professor Julian May the ingredients she uses to feed children at her facility. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

Our walking trip to the ECD centers in Zweletemba revealed several food system challenges. Head teachers have lamented the BVM’s apparent inability or unwillingness to free up unused land for vegetable gardens, the problems they have had in officially registering their centers and the inability of some parents to regularly pay fees. of ECD due to the seasonal nature of agricultural work.

ecd zwelethemba worcester
Participants visit an early childhood development center in Zweletemba, Worcester. Participants met with directors of ECD centers to understand their role in the local food system. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

After each learning journey, we met for “learning labs” where we shared our experiences and ideas. Recognizing that knowledge does not just reside with the ‘experts’, but also comes from those who are embedded in the systems, either formally or informally, learning labs encompass the full range of opinions that, while sometimes leading in various and stimulating positions, often result in the emergence of a new thought. A new way of thinking that recognizes that what is often identified as a problem is a symptom of a failure within a system.

Agriculture Hlamalani Ngwenya
Dr Hlamalani Ngwenya from the Western Cape Government Department of Agriculture reflects on her experience and discusses ideas for improving the food system in Worcester. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

Worcester’s learning labs were not without their moments of contention. Our learning journey at Parkers Dam revealed that many food wholesalers and retailers are now owned by first-generation migrants, largely from Bangladesh. Some participants lamented this fact, complaining that “locals” had been sidelined by this development. This led to a fruitful discussion about what it means to be considered “local”. Although progress has been made, no agreement was reached on this issue during our learning lab. But, as Julian May, also from the Food Safety Center of Excellence, reminded us, the learning lab was just one of many planned in and around Worcester, where difficulties can be constantly revisited to allow solutions to emerge.

Although no agreement was reached on this particular issue, significant progress was made in other areas through the learning processes. For example, at the end of the second day, the provincial Department of Agriculture pledged to work with the local ECD forum to support vegetable gardens, and some councilors in Worcester and Zweletemba agreed to monitor how vacant land could be used for vegetable gardens, initiating a wider debate on how the BVM could work to overcome national restrictions on the use of unused land. Finally, participants strongly advocated for the creation of a fresh produce market in Worcester to avoid retailers having to travel to pick up fresh produce in Cape Town.

street food durban worcester street
One of the few food stalls on Durban Street, Worcester, Western Cape. Abu Amaar Ferus’ burgers are popular on Saturday mornings. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

The importance of recognizing place-based constraints in the food system and coming up with creative solutions is all the more urgent given the negative impacts that climate change is having on food production in the BVM. Evidence suggests that wildfires, erratic rainfall and droughts will increasingly endanger agricultural production, threatening not only the quantity and quality of food available, but also jobs in the agricultural sector. It is therefore essential that local actors understand what specific mitigation and adaptation measures to take at the local level to combat climate change.

If the BVM food system is to deliver food and nutrition security, as well as livelihoods and economic inclusion in an environmentally sustainable way, it needs to be relocated so that it can become more resilient to challenges. coming. Such a resilient food system emerge ohonly through local cooperation, co-production of knowledge, collective action and the creation of a shared vision of what a socially just and sustainable food system looks like. Recent food trips and learning labs in Worcester were important first steps in this process. SM/MC

Neil Overy is a freelance writer and researcher who studies the intersection of environmental and social justice issues. In May, he was invited to join the Worcester and Surrounding Food Learning Trip organized by the Center of Excellence in Food Security in partnership with the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership, the Southern Africa Food Lab, the Government of the Western Cape and the Breede Valley Municipality to reveal food system issues through first-hand experience.