PEDI’s response to COVID-19

We didn’t enter the food system to be on the front lines but that’s where we find ourselves—farmers, food distributers, and markets alike. 

In order for most of the population to stay home and “flatten the curve” there must be a few fearless who choose to continue to grow and distribute food to them; If not us, then who?

It would be easy to decide it’s too dangerous for us and our beloved clients, farmers, and those we live with—those we know dearly—to go out of the perceived safety of our homes and face illness, crime, and possibly death to deliver what the president has determined is an ‘essential service’. It would be easy to protect ourselves and the loved ones sharing our homes, whether in the suburbs, city, or townships, by simply staying home. This would mean relying on people we neither know, nor will ever even really see, to grow and distribute our. Ignorance in this case is both bliss and a submission to the industrial food system we have known for two generations. In essence we would be saying let the industrial-corporate food system be the savior of this crisis so we can stay safe in the comfort of our homes. If their staff die in this duty, so be it.

PEDI has decided to continue to source and sell vegetables from urban small-scale farmers because of the simple fact that people need to eat, and people will need an income. We are nowhere near the peak of SA’s epidemic, and as we are going into winter the outlook for us is surely worse than the northern hemisphere going into summer. We will also have people spreading colds and flus at the same time as coronavirus, making an at-risk population more vulnerable. Many people will all get this virus and get sick. The question is when, and did we do something to help people weather the crisis.

A home in the townships will not be a safe space for people either. People will get the virus from their child who goes to play in the street for one minute, from the one who goes shopping, or the ones who got the virus on Thursday and will only get sick in 2 weeks, meanwhile everyone in the house can already be infected. Many peoples houses and shacks do not have the luxury of “social distance” or 2 meters of space for each person. The time they spend on the farm can be safer in regards to transmission than being in a household 24/7 with no social distance.

I believe those of us who are in food production and delivery have a duty to continue distributingfood to Cape Town so that people are healthy and fed. If we can do that then crime will be less, as “Philippi Development Initiative NPC” operating as people don’t have to take resources from one another. People will also be more able to fight off this virus. We are on the front lines now with police and doctors whether we want to be or not.

What level of risk is accepted is up to each one to choose.

It’s up to us to do our best to keep all possible supply chains active and strong as long as we can. At PEDI we feel that whoever wants to keep trading should be able to do so, even if that decision is based on earning money to support their family through this time. The middle class has financial resources to scrape through this time; most in the townships do not.

The situation is not unlike that of the medical community. Doctors and nurses don’t say that it is too dangerous, and pack up to go home. They say they signed oaths the help all in need, even if it means they too could get sick and die. Similarly, soldiers in war enter knowing they may die, but that they are doing their duty to protect people or a country. So here farmers and markets find themselves at the front lines as well. While we didn’t sign a Hippocratic oath, or pledge allegiance to a flag, we grow and sell food because our unsung oath is to nourish people and our communities. Our communities need us more than ever, especially in the coming weeks. If we can keep people fed, especially the poorest among us, then we can keep more people healthy, and free from crime longer.

It should be clear we’re not forcing anyone to join us. The elderly, or those with a compromised immune system, are the ones we want to stay safe and stay healthy at home as long as they can. If others fear for those they live with and who depend on them, they should focus on caring for them as long as they can. For all the others of us who are farmers, wholesalers, packhouses, agribusinesses, value-adders, markets, drivers, and home delivery services, Cape Town needs all of us now. This is our duty and service to South Africa.

Will we sit back and leave our food systems to people we don’t know and therefore are not concerned about? Or will the few, the bold, the community of alternative local food systems be the brave souls to provide the most basic and essential service any human has to another—sustenance? If the holistic and transparent food systems rise to the occasion, then they stand a chance to change the food system moving forward. This is a time of immense disruption that will reshape the food landscape. It’s up to us to help redefine it.

We will not sit at home and wait for some other brave soul to bring food to us. We will be some of those brave souls bringing food to others.PEDI Response to the COVID-19 Crisis

PEDI’s Plan of Action

PEDI has decided to cease supplying our wholesale clients starting Monday for the duration of thepandemic. We will focus on distributing food to those in the Cape Flats communities via donations through FoodFlow for produce bags, and from any other organizations or institutions that wish to support farmers and food security.

We will continue to support any and all emerging and organic farmers that feel like us the duty to keep the alternative food system working toward the greater good. What is grown in the Cape Flats will be eaten in the Cape Flats by those who will need the nutritious, organic produce the most. This will help feed the hungry, nourish the sick, and continue the livelihoods of the farmers around us.

FoodFlow are currently mobilizing donations through WebTickets. Last week for their first week they sent 218 produce bags to 4 Department of Social Development sites (National Government).

The DSD then delivers the bags to their network of families and community projects in need. They have steady donations coming in and will continue to expand to more partners and donation sites moving forward.

UCOOK has also committed to ramping up major funding to support both farmers and food relief, and would partner to purchase and distribute food during this crisis. They are already mobilizing large donations of non-perishable foods that we could add to the produce bags. We may also create a “basic needs” care package. Discussions will be on-going.

We would like to see more organizations and institutions partner to send donations of goods or funds, and to disseminate relief packages to their networks in the Cape Flats.

To the ends of storing and distributing food for more relief—we have space, staff, and security personnel and controls to run a food relief program efficiently and as safely as possible. We are open to other funding possibilities to increase the scale of such relief efforts (donation or loaning of mobile cold storage or delivery/transport options; donation of other items to meet basic needs; other produce supply options).

PEDI will work with their partners in the Philippi Market Operating Company and Urban Catalytic Investment to work ahead of schedule to expand our use of the warehouse, and to utilize funds earlier for this emergency response. We will seek to make upgrades to the facility as soon as possible.

PEDI’s other project teams will join us in scaling our efforts. 11 people from Egbert Wessel’s ‘Safe and Clean’ team, and 5 from Roger Jaques’s Vermicomposting team.

PEDI has its essential services certification through the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (Ent. # M1998023565). As such it can officially continue its work to produce, sell, and deliver food. We have issued permits to our staff to continue working and will issue permits to farmers as well.

We have worked to put our packhouse standards in place to ensure that it is food safe. We haveinstituted stricter hygiene protocols with PPE on site such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, aprons, and soaps. Staff health is closely monitored. We are awaiting delivery of a remote thermometer to check staff temperatures as well.

PEDI will be mobilizing safe transport options for staff to get to and from work, similar to what UCOOK has implemented for their staff. This will keep them off the sidewalks and out of public transit, minimizing the threats of transmission and being accosted.

We will collaborate with professionals on developing a “COVID-19 Post Harvest Handling

Protocol” so that farmers are applying the most appropriate GAPs to prevent transmission of the virus between the farm and packhouse. We are also considering a holding period of produce toallow potential viral loads to decrease.

This is our thinking and approach now, and as with the ever-changing nature of this health crisis, we will be flexible in changing and adapting our plan to the conditions around us.