PHA Food & Farming campaign chairperson Nazeer Sonday said the demonstrations would be ongoing for the duration of the conference. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency
Cape Town - An international conference attended by about 200 international and local delegates focusing on agroecology was shaken by the last-minute boycott by the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) objecting to the attendance of the City of Cape Town and provincial Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning.

The PHA is at loggerheads with the two spheres of government over their stance on the development of the area, which they say is at odds with the aims of the conference.

A group from the PHA held a demonstration outside the conference venue, the Centre of the Book in Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town.

PHA Food & Farming campaign chairperson Nazeer Sonday said the demonstrations would be ongoing for the duration of the conference, which ends tomorrow. The agroecology for the 21st Century Conference aims to create a space to share case studies and on-the ground practices in agroecology, including agricultural methodologies, development practices and emerging visions of modernity.

Emerging innovative policies and institutions for agroecology, as well as constraints faced in achieving a more sustainable agricultural future will be discussed.

Sonday said he was not against the conference, but against the local government participants. “We are worried, in fact we are sure that they will hijack the conference and green wash other ecologists. We object in its entirety, to the hosting of City and the department speakers at this conference purporting to promote agroecology. In our experience of 10 years, they abuse the power of their office and talk green while not acting the right way. There is no sustainability, nor acceptable environmental practice that feature in their governance practice,” he said.

Sonday said they were getting an opportunity to inform conference attendees of the City and department’s alleged actions of working with developers against small-scale farmers.

“That department and the Western Cape Department of Agriculture’s SmartAgri policy is the opposite of agroecology, supporting agribusiness and maintaining the status quo around land, water and the food system in general.”

The City, the provincial Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning and some developers are in a legal dispute with the PHA over 3000ha of land used for horticulture.

“The loss of peri-urban farmland in this city and across the country is the biggest threat to food security; wherein lies the best opportunity to deploy agroecology and meaningful land reform.”

Mayco member for Spatial Planning and Environment Marian Nieuwoudt said it was the PHA that launched the legal dispute.

“The City’s legal team is busy preparing the answering affidavit. Given that the matter is before the court we will not comment until such time as the matter has been concluded.”

Conference lead organiser and UCT professor Rachel Wynberg said: “We worked with PHA and our ideologies are very similar.

“There was an open call for attendees and the City and provincial department said they wanted to do a presentation of their contribution.

“We can’t hold a conference without government as we need government to move forward in ecology.”

Wynberg said Sonday was invited to speak on the land issue, but he declined.

“Unfortunately they won’t have an opportunity to forge alliance with like-minded organisations; they would have benefited.”

Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell said boycotting the conference was not going to help.

“We need to find solutions to overcome poverty at the same time protect our planet. The planet is under threat and we need to realise that there is a fine balance in doing the two.

“The PHA need to realise that no single individual or grouping has the answers, we all need to work together. Let’s respect each other, talk to one and other and discuss solutions.”

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Cape Argus