2nd Cape Flats Aquifer Seminar : Water, Farming and the Future of the PHA | FUTURE CAPE TOWN

“The Cape Flats Aquifer is a true opportunity to talk about the importance of the aquifer, and try to influence the government to implement an efficient strategy to protect natural resources”

PHA Aquifer Cape Flats Campaign

Future Cape Town recently attended a workshop in the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) where we learned about its aquifer and the role its farmers play in providing food security for the City of Cape Town.

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« The Philippi Horticultural Area as a farming cultivation is invaluable do to its location amidst the city of Cape Town and the demographic of surrounding population of almost 1 million. The main reason it is an agricultural miracle is the underground water source or aquifer. These aquifers make the PHA irrigation completely free and natural and builds resilience to the drought conditions being experienced. The area also stabilizes food prices in Cape Town, being 1⁄3 of the vegetable market, it has 5 time annual harvest.

The PHA is located on the western side of the Cape Flats and encompasses 3074 hectares of fertile agricultural land and a vast underground network of aquifers. The PHA has been Cape Town’s breadbasket since the 19th century and continues to produces one thirds of CT leafy vegetables. This area continually replenishes the underground aquifers to provide a constant, free source of water supply for the farms.  »

This presentation of the aquifer quoted from Philippi Horticultural Area : A City asset or potential development node? already gives the reasons why the Cape Flats Aquifer has to be protected.

Definition of an Aquifer :

Aquifers are bodies of saturated rock and sediment through which water can move, and they provide 99% of our groundwater. Humans rely on aquifers for most of our drinking water. However, we are not only depleting this supply but are its biggest polluters as well.

The Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) at present produces almost 50% of Cape Town’s fresh produce. This land of 3000 Hectares, produces 150 000 tons of vegetables and flowers per year, and employs 4000 to 6000 workers. As Nazeer Sonday implored at the seminar Urban Agriculture and Water ; the PHA is the breadbasket of Cape Town.

Aquifer PHA water Cape Flats


Nazeer Sonday is the chairman of the PHA campaign, a role necessitated by the encroachment of housing developments into the area which the City of Cape Town intends implementing. The council has  proposed two housing developments, which when combined eliminate one third of the 3000 Ha urban farmland. Read our extensive coverage on the PHA, here, here and here.

On the 26th of July took place the Second Cape Flats Aquifer Seminar to organise the protection of this natural resource as well as to protect the future of the Philippi Horticultural Area that involves many farmers and families.

Aquifer PHA water Cape Flats

The seminar highlighted the realities and issues which this encroachment will create for the City, and why it is essential that the City protect the area. Furthermore, the seminar showed that the area is an asset to the city both for water and food security, and presents an unique opportunity to the City to take hold of the concept of food and water security and work with the farmers and environmental systems which already exist in the area instead of destroying the aquifer and pushing the farmers out.

For the occasion, several specialists came to explain the importance of the Cape Flats Aquifer (CFA), the underground water body which exists in the southern part of the PHA.

Christine Colvin from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) explained the importance of the PHA aquifer for water security within the Western Cape, but especially within broader South Africa as our annual rainfall is incredibly low and cannot afford to destroy natural freshwater sources. She reminded that climate change is a global issue we face, and that has huge impacts on South Africa too. In a recent article, The Guardian points that El Niño -Unusually strong- coupled with record-high temperatures, has had a catastrophic effect on crops and rainfall across southern and eastern Africa. As a result, 36m people across Africa are facing hunger due to “the worst drought in decades at a time of record high temperatures”.

 Aquifer PHA water Cape Flats

Sylvester Mpandeli and Shafick Adams from the Water Research Commission introduced the issues that stem from water scarcity. They also explained the importance of a coordination with the public sector to maintain food and water security in Cape Town. According to them, groundwater, if managed correctly, has the potential to significantly add to the country’s water supply mix. But he regrets that from a groundwater governance point of view, municipalities lack the human resource capacity to effectively implement groundwater governance provisions. This is why the Cape Flats Aquifer is a true opportunity to talk about the importance of the aquifer, and try to influence the government to implement an efficient strategy to protect natural resources.

The PHA is not only about land, food and water. It’s also about the farmers and families who have lived there for many generations. People who have farmed the land for subsistence, to provide food for the City and who rely on the Aquifer but face difficulties which are going ignored by the City. It was at this point that Sarah Masanabo gave a speech about Women in agriculture in the PHA, and the challenges they face.

During the conference the chairman reminded that they were actually fighting against rules that they don’t even know. The PHA Campaign reclaims more transparency in the political process.

In an article, Nazeer Sonday urges the City of Cape Town to improve the democracy in Cape Town by organizing a true public participation that may  impact the final decision over the PHA. Civil society do have lots of knowledge by living and experiencing the area of living in their daily lives. This is why experts and politicians should take into account the ideas and suggestions of communities. Public awareness about food and water security has to increase, so that the resources can be valued and used sustainably by empowered stakeholders.

On the edge of a crucial year at an international scale, characterized by global summits about climate change, but also about bold governance, the Philippi Horticultural Area Campaign is really significant. This seminar initiated researches to be introduced to the City of Cape Town, and weight to balance their projects of housing development.

Aquifer PHA water Cape Flats

Image credits:

  • Rashiq Fataar
  • Frances Steere
  • Sophie Jésus

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