Never waste a good crisis: How a Facebook group is reshaping our understanding of food
By Hannah Hopper, KHSA Assistant Communication Officer
The High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition notes in a 2019 report that a large-scale transition towards sustainable food and farming systems relies on the co-production and sharing of knowledge among communities and networks, among other enablers. The Cape Town Together (CTT) Food Growers Initiative based in South Africa is an outstanding example of this principle in action. I interviewed the founder of CCT Erica Inches to find out more about the platform and the role it plays in supporting the attainment of food security and a transition to a more sustainable agrifood system.
Erica’s deepened interest and involvement with food and farming systems started when she founded the Somerset West Community Action Network (CAN) during the first Covid-19 lockdown in early 2020. It was one of many CAN groups that formed in response to the crises that confronted many individuals and communities. The CANs aim to support under-resourced partners in responding to crises and to build long-term resilience that will also help to alleviate the effects of structural inequality in South Africa.
Erica quickly realised that the capacity of the CANs to make a difference was dependent on donations and thus unsustainable as a long-term developmental mechanism. She thought that co-learning and collaboration might be the answer to how to bring about systemic change.
In May 2020, she opened a WhatsApp Group to act as a broad and inclusive co-learning and collaboration platform focused on food production. This was the start of the CCT Food Growers Initiative. Members shared their knowledge on growing food, were able to ask questions and share seeds and seedlings, among other things.
Erica Inches, CCT Food Growers Initiative
As WhatsApp only allows for 257 participants in its group, the demand quickly outstripped platform capacity. In just one month, one group had multiplied into 13, and demand for access to the groups continued to grow as word spread of the usefulness of the information shared and the sense of collaboration within the groups. In response, Erica opened a Facebook group, which currently has 2 700 members.
People from varying backgrounds, professions and demographics have joined this group. Erica notes that, “This is the first time that I have seen people having complex discussions about land, water and food in a constructive and compassionate way”.
The Facebook group has inspired the emergence of replica groups in other parts of the country. Soon after it was established, similar groups were formed in the Northern Cape, East London, the East Coast, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Erica notes that these types of platforms are also surfacing in the United States and Europe.
When asked why she thought that CCT Food Growers Initiative had attracted such keen interest, Erica noted the timing of its launch, in response to the crises brought on by Covid-19.
“The Covid-19 pandemic put the world as we knew it on pause. This is Mother Nature’s way of sending us to our rooms to think.”
– Erica Inches, CCT Food Growers Initiative
The past few years have been a time of deep reflection and acknowledgement of the brokenness of many systems, particularly the food system. Erica notes that the platform has never asked for money, it does not market itself and it never uses ‘poverty porn’ – the use of images of poor people, particularly children, to evoke an emotional response.
Erica believes that people have joined the group purely because they want to learn, share and collaborate. The CCT Food Growers Initiative also does not have a leader, it is open source and encourages collaboration rather than competition. According to Erica, the saying in the network is that people are “joining the dots with the speed of trust”.
The CTT Food Growers Initiative highlights the power in connection. Due to our colonial history and the architecture of apartheid, in many ways we live in silos, isolated even from our neighbors. This platform emerged at the right time and created a safe space for co-learning and collaboration.
I left this interview inspired and hoping to see other social movements take up this template to tackle other systemic challenges in South Africa, and also hoping that the commitment to transforming our food system grows, overcoming the inertia that inevitably settles in when life returns to a post- Covid normality. Let us not waste this crisis.
Follow the CTT Food Growers Initiate on Facebook or Youtube.