OPINION: City assumes ratepayers back the urban farm idea with R3 million

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IT’s a shame that only 2000 or so ratepayer responses were received by the Cape Town City Council when its draft budget for next year was made available for public comment.

Probably, more ratepayers had a look, groaned at the huge and depressing task of reading it, and gave up. 

Those who gritted their teeth and waded in would have found items in departmental budgets that – were they in the private sector –  would have been sent back with a demand to cut at least 10% of it, if not rejected outright.

Such an item was trumpeted in a media release recently issued by the Council. It concerns a plan to spend R3 millions of your money on what is quaintly described as an “intervention”—a word normally used the describe friends and family gathering around a wanton relative to persuade him or her to change their ways.

This spare R3 million is going to bring fresh vegetables to poor families who will grow them on vacant city land that the Council does not have any other idea of what to do with it ( but would rather it grew vegetables rather than squatters, perhaps).

Where this tidy sum comes from is not stated but one must assume the taxpayer is the source somewhere along the line. The beneficiaries are not named. We can only assume that R3 million is surplus to the monies required to carry out the Council’s basic requirements like paying their wages and salaries and doing such boring stuff as making sure the water is drinkable, the electricity flows, refuse and sewerage collected and (sometimes)  fixing potholes and repairing pavements.

Who are the potential beneficiaries?  They are 720 urban farmers who will participate in creating 30 food) farms across the city within the 24 Sub councils. This scheme has the marvellous name of an “Urban Agriculture Programme which, according to its proud press release, “aims to encourage and upskill urban farmers across the city”.

Who are these happy people exactly? We are not told. But then as the Council press release says, it is an initiative. In other words, it is an experiment. An experiment with taxpayers’ money.

Quoting the press lease again:

“… the City put out a call (sic) inviting suitable not-for-profit (that makes it ok) organisations to apply for grant funding to implement a food gardens project in partnership with the City and the South African Institute of Entrepreneurship has been appointed as the service provider ( a great relief to know that).

“The project will provide support to new urban farmers using secured sites such as backyards, schools, open space around City buildings, churches, NGOs, clinics and libraries that require no capital costs”.

Where are these convenient plots? Nobody is saying.

To continue with the press release:

 “The goal is to assist households to develop home (sic) gardens to supply most of the non-staple(sic)  foods that a family needs every day of the year, including vegetables and fruits, beans, herbs and spices and even animals and fish.

“The intention is also to assist the urban farming participants to establish cooperatives and facilitate the hosting of market days and informal trading activities, where a portion of harvested commodities are made available for supply, sale and distribution to the public’( existing hawkers who buy and sell vegetables and fruit from the City Market will no doubt welcome the competition).

And, finally:

“The City of Cape Town will also assist with starter kits and business development support and facilitation of commodities to retailers,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Urban Management, Alderman Grant Twigg.” 

No, that is not a misprint.

Now for a little arithmetic.

Let’s say that R3 millions of taxpayers ‘money could be distributed to all the 720 wannabee farmers. In which case it would be R4 166 for each one. That would buy quite a lot of seed, shovels, rakes and fertilizers.

Perhaps it will go to each of the 30 urban farms or R100 000 for each?  After all, each farm would require fencing and security, especially at night, if my neighbourhood is anything to go by, there are lots of people wandering about after the sun goes down?  Pretty good money for each vegetable plot.

Maybe the R3 million will be split between the 24 sub-Councils with each one getting R125 000. Maybe they will have to hire an urban agricultural consultant to advise them. It would not go far if that turns out to be the case.

And how much, if any, will the South African Institute of Entrepreneurship require for its services?  

Will these urban farms have to pay for the municipal water these urban farms will undoubtedly need in the summer months? Or will they get it free, unlike ratepayers? Or, will those urban farmers have to bear the cost of watering their veggies themselves?

So many questions.

I do not doubt the good intentions behind this “intervention”.  But will R3 million turn poor families into market gardeners in one year? And if it is possible, will it take only a year, with another R3 million needed next year, and the year after that? 

Remember, dear struggling ratepayers of the Mother City, it’s your money that is being used. 

I cannot remember being asked if it is a good idea. The City Budget makes no mention of it that I could find. To me, it looks like the Council is acting more like a welfare state every day.

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