“More than with any other of our biological needs, the choices we make around food affect the shape, style, pulse, smell, look, feel, health, economy, street life and infrastructure of the city” 1
The Umlazi Food Network is an inspirational community-led project that provides a great example of the multi-faceted opportunities related to urban food system projects and the potential of urban agricultural collectives to stimulate spatial and socio-economic transformation.
Ranyaka initiated the project in Umlazi township, Durban in 2021 as part of the roll-out of the Nedbank Proud of my Town (PoMT) programme. The project kicked off with the cultivation of what would become the Umlazi Food Network’s first urban food garden.
The project has since expanded to four different sites and three greenhouses. The local community earmarked derelict and neglected spaces in their vicinity, and with funding provided by the PoMT programme and the support of the local PoMT team, have transformed these areas into thriving community gardens. Today the greenhouses on the initial two sites already support 53 farmers. The second community garden based at Isikhwelo Primary School also has 16 active plots (not including the greenhouse) that support 4 families per plot, a total active reach of 64 families.
This indicates the critical multiplier effect of efficiently farmed and resilient local food gardens.
Partnership is key
Local farmers manage the community gardens with the support of the Ranyaka/PoMT team, who facilitate training programmes and unlock strategic partnerships with potential funders and other local community stakeholders. Many of the community garden managers have existing small-scale farming experience and are instrumental in training other community members who are also interested in becoming food gardeners. The training programmes focus on promoting ecologically sustainable and context-specific farming skills, and self-sustaining entrepreneurial skills.
PoMT food gardens projects are also demonstrating the ways in which greenhouses have the potential to be instrumental in supporting school-based feeding programmes. School grounds offer urban farmers access to safe land and services, whilst the garden provides a green backdrop to school grounds that serve as a visual amenity, potential outdoor learning space and source of fresh vegetables on-site.
Join the Club
The “Garden Club” is a concurrent initiative that involves and supports interested gardeners and urban farmers in the community. The Garden Club is a group of volunteers who assist the entrepreneurial farmers currently managing the existing community gardens. In exchange for their time and assistance, they have direct access to fresh produce and participate in the co-creation and sharing of food farming knowledge. Many Garden Club members have started growing their own food and creating small pilot gardens at their homes. The Garden Club is also already hosting educational events for school children to foster greater awareness around nutritional food choices.
The dominant crops include cabbage, spinach, chillies, mielie, aubergines and peppers – all staples in the local cuisine. A robust tomato cultivar, the so-called ‘moneymaker’, has been identified as the best-suited crop for this region and is used for the production of chakalaka, a favourite local condiment.
PoMT team in action
The PoMT team members play an important role in identifying potential synergies to drive the sustained expansion of the Umlazi Food Network. Under the guidance of local coordinator, Andile Wah Mafa, they conduct surveys of local buyers and identify existing businesses in the area that will support local farmers – these mainly include shisanyamas, resellers/agents and tuckshops. These also include local restaurants, like the prominent Depot Fare, that are supporting the food gardens and using community produced condiments with their traditional dishes.
A bright future for urban agriculture
The production of food in urban areas can localise the supply chain of fresh staples and increase the value for the small-scale farmers and business participants by increasing their potential profit margins. This provides more incentive for productivity and finance for expansion and employment. Ultimately, community-led urban agriculture can boost the ecological, physical and economic well-being of a community.
The Umlazi Food Network provides a socially cohesive, common purpose around which a community can take action to provide for itself. The gardens, market spaces and outdoor restaurants are transforming the township landscape. The fresh produce grown by the community is being turned into authentic Umlazi cuisine – amplifying local culture and social values.
‘There is an invaluable community pride in knowing that, from plant to plate, this food comes from Umlazi.’ 2
Photography by Ocean Driven Media
1 (Roberts 2001: 4, Cited in Battersby & Watson, 2019)
2 (Umlazi Food Network, 2022).
Battersby, J. & Watson, V. (2019) ‘Urban Food Systems Governance and Poverty in African Cities’, Routledge, London and New York.