The future of urban food lies in partnerships built today

Author: Marcela Guerrero Casas

The recent Urban Food Futures workshop in Cape Town convened by TMG and Food Agency Cape Town (FACT) confirmed how crucial partnerships are to improving food security

Participants at the Urban Food Futures workshop held in Cape Town in November 2022.

The recent Urban Food Futures workshop in Cape Town, convened by TMG Think Tank for Sustainability and the Food Agency Cape Town (FACT) highlighted the crucial role that partnerships play in the city’s food ecosystems. 

The two-day event was attended by a cross-section of academics, government officials and other non-governmental organisations, as well as participants from Nairobi, Kenya and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso where the Urban Food Futures programme also takes place.

Many participants underscored the need to lobby for changes at all levels: from the global through to the most localized levels. Cape Town’s emerging ‘urban nutrition hubs’, recently launched by the Food Agency Cape Town (FACT), are a new initiative to watch, as they aim to transform community kitchens into spaces for community development more broadly.

Linking on-the-ground activities to broader processes

The right to food as a basic human right is the driving motivation behind the TMG’s Urban Food Futures transdisciplinary action-research programme. Workshops like these, aim to catalyse concrete action by identifying the main gaps so that global promises meet local realities and needs.

Linking with the national, provincial, and local spheres of government for action is critical in South Africa. Gareth Haysom from the African Centre for Cities outlined the country’s multi-level food governance structure, and participants reviewed the food security interventions being made at each level, along with the gaps and often invisible efforts being made.

Both the City of Cape Town’s Food Systems Programme and the Western Cape Government’s Nourish to Flourish programmes are examples of how local and provincial government processes can link, with both programmes sharing a deliberate commitment to listening and building on what is happening on the ground.

Informality as a solutions space

Informality plays an important role in many of Cape Town’s and Nairobi’s communities. Mukuru, one of Nairobi’s largest informal settlements, for instance, has only six formal schools against 182 informal ones, which echoes similar conditions in Cape Town. The concept behind FACT’s newly launched urban nutrition hubs, which aim to increase the scope and reach of Cape Town’s community kitchens, emphasizes the bottom-up, highly informal networks which community kitchens and other players operate through. In fact, one of the programme’s pillars focuses on informal trade. 

Nomonde Buthelezi from FACT presents on the ‘urban nutrition hubs’ recently launched in Cape Town.

Kitchens were identified as key service providers which help to achieve communities’ right to food, as well as sites for building social cohesion, providing education, and advocating around other issues affecting residents. FACT has, for instance, provided training for kitchen workers to become counsellors for Gender Based Violence (GBV). 

Currently, community kitchen organizers in both settings largely volunteer their time and resources, which is unsustainable and deeply unfair. The workshop saw a resounding call for community kitchen organizers to be appropriately valued and compensated.

Learning from people’s lived experience

Connecting with physical spaces for a first-hand understanding of people’s lived realities and experiences was a key theme at the workshop. Some innovative local examples were shared:  FACT’s Kitchen Dialogues enable people to visit community kitchens in Cape Town; the Food Learning Journeys convened by the Southern African Food Lab (SAFL), DST-NRF Centre of Excellence and the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership (EDP) have explored local food systems in Worcester and Langa, and FACT’s exchange with colleagues in Nairobi. This last one led to the adoption of the ‘community kitchen’ model and its implementation in Mukuru, where the idea had not been tested before visiting Cape Town.

The workshop ended in a ‘food jam’ where everyone took part in preparing a group meal. This symbolically cemented the key message of this event: that only through collaboration can we find answers to the complex issues around food security. The value of bringing all those voices together not only brought a diversity of perspectives and skills around the table but provided nourishment for building authentic relationships and friendships that remain key to improving the food system.