Activists bent on protecting the Philippi Horticultural Area: Advocate Murray Bridgman, Nazeer Sonday, Susanna Colman and attorney Glyn Williams. File photo: David Ritchie/African News Agency/ANA
Activists have labelled the provincial agriculture department’s R1 million study of the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) “an expensive PR exercise”.

Last year, the department instituted an independent study conducted by Indego Consulting into the importance of the farmland in the heart of the Cape Flats.

Yesterday, Economic Opportunities MEC Alan Winde said the study confirmed the area was a significant employment generator and agricultural asset to both the City and province, especially in light of the current drought.

Susanna Coleman, of the PHA Food and Farming Campaign, however, said the study had come years too late.

The voluntary campaign is legally challenging nine development permissions for four developments and a sand mine in the PHA.

Two large developments have been in the works for the land, with widespread opposition to a 472.36-hectare planned housing development, Oakland City.

According to the campaign, the City and the provincial department of environmental affairs and development planning is opposing the campaign's legal challenge.

Mayco member for transport and urban development Brett Herron said: “The parties to this particular case are in the process of exchanging pleadings, thus it would be premature for the City to comment on how we intend to respond to the application.”

The province did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

The campaign has maintained that the developments would threaten the livelihoods of emerging farmers and local food security, and seriously jeopardise a 630km² aquifer.

While commendable, the contents of the Indego Study were irrelevant, given that full development and mining permissions to destroy one-third of the PHA had already been granted by the City and department of environmental affairs and development planning, said Coleman.

“For nine years, the community has called for the protection of the PHA, and have been ignored."

Winde said the study had found 86% of the PHA was actively farmed, supporting 3 000 direct and 30 000 indirect jobs, and contributing about R484 million in direct turnover and R938m in indirect turnover towards the regional economy.

Winde said he supported efforts to increase the level of protection and management of the PHA to enable a competitive and flourishing agricultural node.

While vegetable production had declined by 20% over the past year in the Western Cape, production in the PHA had remained stable, demonstrating its valuable contribution to food security. Based on the findings of the study, a proposed socio-economic plan which seeks to preserve the area’s agricultural significance was developed.

“This plan is currently undergoing stakeholder engagement,” Winde said.

The short-term focus, according to the study, is to provide policy and planning certainty regarding the protection status of and land use within the PHA through all the legal and planning instruments available.

It envisages enhanced agricultural production and competitiveness, addressing the safety and security concerns of PHA farmworkers, environmental management and regulation of the PHA core horticultural area and its “buffers”, as well as proactive management of the Cape Flats Aquifer.