The women who work at Hleketani Community Garden, a small-scale farm in Jopi village, Limpopo Province, South Africa, have overcome many hurdles in the drought-stricken region during the development and continuing operation of the farm. Founded in 1992, Hleketani not only provides food, but also fosters a sense of community among the women and other residents of Jopi. When asked what working on the farm had done for them, the women replied that “it heals us.” Meaning, the farm has helped the women heal from the effects of apartheid.
The farm relies on drip irrigation for growing crops but that supply must still be replenished by rainfall which is declining year after year due to human-induced climate change. That drip irrigation system was stolen during a period of drought in 2015 but has since been replaced. Further, the municipal water supply can scarcely provide enough water for basic household use, let alone contribute a surplus for watering crops. Despite the use of irrigation, in some years the rainfall is too inconsistent or insufficient and the farm produces, in the words of one woman, “nothing, nothing at all.” In contrast to Hleketani, most of the available agricultural land in South Africa is used for farming on a large-scale for commercial production and sale to the global market.
By taking back control of their own food supply through a small-scale farm, the women are able to work towards food sovereignty. Food sovereignty is particularly beneficial for people who have been marginalized by the social and economic disparity that exists within a society, in this case, post-apartheid South Africa where there is a large economic disparity between black and white farmers. The latter holds the majority of land, and produces the majority of food for commercial output. This is a direct result of apartheid. While black South Africans actually comprise the majority of individual farmers, this production is on a smaller, household scale as with Hleketani. One of the benefits of small-scale farms is the food both helps to feed the community it is grown within and the sale of excess crops generate income. The majority of these small household farms are operated by women. However, government policies favour the typically larger, male-run farms.
Due to the government’s focus on encouraging commercial output from monocultural—or single-crop— farms, traditional farms which grows a wide variety of crops have been largely displaced. This has the consequence of reducing the variety of foods within the diet of South Africans. As climate change reduces both the amount of arable land and water available for agriculture, government policy that oversees how that land and water is used is critical to ensure the viability of small-scale farms.
Rising temperatures and declining precipitation have resulted in a water crisis with a severe impact on agriculture, especially for small-scale farmers. Continuing to shift government resources to support white commercial farming operations will further disenfranchise and prevent food sovereignty.
The future of food sovereignty in South Africa depends on overcoming the current commercialized model that favours white-owned, large-scale, monoculture farms and encouraging a diversified approach to farming traditional foods. This would ensure more equitable access to land and water as these resources diminish due to climate change.
The project Four Stories About Food Sovereignty aims to bring awareness to the issue of food sovereignty in South Africa. The Hleketani Community Garden is one project that aims to restore food sovereignty to a community facing human-induced climate change and socio-economic inequality.