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The importance of the aquifer

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Cape Town’s breadbasket is under threat and many people don’t realise it, say the environmental campaigners fighting development on Philippi farmlands.

The land, dubbed the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA), produces most of the city’s vegetables, and campaigners, such as Mariette Daubenton, who heads up Christ Church Constantia’s “green team”, argue that if it is swallowed up by urban sprawl it will ramp up food prices and squeeze the poor because it will cost more to haul the same produce from farms outside the city.

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The 3 000ha Philippi Horticultural Area has been producing 80 percent of Cape Town's fresh produce.

This Saturday the church is holding a meeting where scientists and other experts will talk about the importance of the Philippi farmlands and the Cape Flats Aquifer.

Ms Daubenton said her team had also been involved in the campaign to stop a mall being built on the shore of Princess Vlei. Now they want to stop development of the Philippi farmlands. “We discovered that people do not realise that 80 percent, 100 000 tons, of their veggies come from the PHA. About three-quarters of that produce goes into supermarkets and costs are kept down because of Philippi’s proximity to the city centre. And they don’t realise that the area is under threat,” said Ms Daubenton.

Ms Daubenton explained that the aquifer augments the Table Mountain Aquifer Group, which stretches to Port Elizabeth in the east and the Cederberg in the north.

“If we tap into this and use it, if it is monitored, our veggies would be much cheaper,” she said.

But a greater concern is that if the City allows development to go ahead it will be harder for the aquifer to replenish itself and the water will be contaminated by sea water and turn brackish. This was already happening, Ms Daubenton said, because of major developments on the Cape Flats in recent years.

Nazeer Sonday has a one-hectare organic farm in Philippi and is leading the fight by farmers and concerned citizens against development, which he says will be a disaster for both the aquifer and farmers. He is due to speak at the meeting on Saturday and said that farmers’ water allocation around the major dams had been halved while golf courses and exclusive estates were being allowed to use water as if there was no crisis.

“Seedling farmers in the PHA are struggling with dropping water levels and rising total dissolved salt levels in the Cape Flats Aquifer. If the most productive section of the aquifer is built up, it will have disastrous consequences for the farmers on the rest of the land, because the aquifer will not be able to recharge. We won’t survive it. If the water runs out, so does the food.”

Mr Sonday said the City was processing developments of 50 000 houses, two shopping centres, a prison and a private school.

Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said the City had two large-scale developments under consideration for the southern part of the PHA:

* Oaklands comprising about 14 000 houses, public facilities, conservation areas, business and industry on about 479ha. The application for rezoning was approved by the Council’s Interim Planning Committee and it is now at the appeal stage.

* Uvest, where there are two applications, one for about 96ha of housing, community facilities and open spaces; the other is for a small commerical node, including a private school, on a smaller parcel of land. Mr Herron said neither of the Uvest applications had been decided upon.

UWC hydrogeologist Yongxin Xu will also speak at Saturday’s meeting. He said the aquifer, which covers some 630 square kilometres, held enough fresh water to supply the city with 30 percent of its potable water needs almost immediately, but most of the system was already covered by tar and concrete.

“The last remaining area that has not been developed yet is in the PHA.”

Other speakers will include: Susannah Coleman, who will address legal challenges; Sylvester Mpandeli, of the National Water Research Council, on his speciality of water and agriculture, food security and drought; and Dr Bongani Ncube, of the Water Institute of SA, who has a special interest in water, agriculture and food security.

“People need to get the correct facts; that’s why we’re hosting the information session,” said Ms Daubenton.

* The meeting will be held on Saturday February 18, from 2pm to 5pm, at the PHA campaign centre. To get there, travel down 5th Avenue, Grassy Park, which becomes Schaapkraal Road. Follow it until you get to the “Rainbow Cafe” on the left, the campaign centre is behind it. For more information and to RSVP, contact Mariette at 082 830 2353, or [email protected], or Nazeer Sonday at [email protected] or 072 72 434 65.

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