Book review: Food Sovereignty and Urban Agriculture: Concepts, Politics, and Practice in South Africa

reviewed by Eirene Tentua and Zahrotul Firdaus

9 May 2024, 7:41 a.m.

Siebert Anne, Food Sovereignty and Urban Agriculture: Concepts, Politics, and Practice in South Africa, London: Routledge, 2022; 174 pp.: ISBN: 9781032022697, £130.00 (hbk)


The global food crisis, massive urbanisation and environmental challenges have increasingly shown the importance of food sovereignty and urban agriculture. As emphasised by Sampson et al. (2021), food sovereignty has become crucial for addressing unequal food access, maintaining environmental sustainability and strengthening local economic independence. Urban agriculture has emerged as a critical element in building food sovereignty in the continually evolving urban landscape, ensuring adequate food availability and local control over food production. However, there are significant challenges to achieving food sovereignty and developing urban agriculture, including limited land, government policies and access to capital and technology (Fantini, 2023). Therefore, it is crucial to strengthen the role of primary sectors, such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry, in food sovereignty strategies, as they provide raw materials for the food industry and play a vital role in maintaining regional ecological and economic sustainability.

In line with these issues, the book Food Sovereignty and Urban Agriculture: Concepts, Politics, and Practice in South Africa, authored by Anne Siebert, comprehensively explores this subject matter. Dr Siebert, specialising in food politics, social movements and rural–urban dynamics, delves into the mobilisation of urban food producers in response to food access and land inequality. Through a case study of George, South Africa, this book illustrates how urban agriculture addresses historical segregation and enhances access to nutritious food. With six chapters, this book offers empirical insights that underscore the significant contribution of urban agriculture in achieving food sovereignty.

The introductory chapter discusses the importance of food sovereignty in urban areas. It began by critiquing the dominance of corporations in the global agri-food system, leading developing countries to depend on food imports. The main focus is on food sovereignty, particularly in the context of urban agriculture initiatives in South Africa, to understand their impact on social and political change and their role in addressing food system inequalities. This chapter introduces the ‘urban food perspective’ framework, which considers the economic and social dynamics that drive migration from rural to urban areas. In South Africa, the fourth pillar of food sovereignty, emphasising local control over fisheries resources, becomes crucial given the importance of fisheries resources to coastal communities. Empirical research conducted between 2015 and 2017 concludes this chapter by revealing the challenges and opportunities related to food sovereignty in South Africa’s urban areas and integrating critical urban theory.

The transformation of South Africa’s agri-food system, which has been integrated into the global market and industrialisation, is detailed in Chapter 2. This chapter addresses land access inequality in South Africa, aggravated by ineffective agrarian policies. The challenges include climate crises, rising food prices, the COVID-19 pandemic and worsening disparities. Emphasis on food sovereignty is growing, championed by grassroots alliances such as the Surplus People Project (SPP) and the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign (SAFSC). A case study of the ‘Kos en Fynbos – Food for All’ (KEF) initiative in George, South Africa demonstrates local empowerment through small-scale ecological food production in various urban communities.

Chapter 3 depicts perceived space and the associated marginalisation in everyday life. It discusses the response of the KEF initiative to food security challenges and social inequality in poor communities. The initiative begins with a collaborative approach to mobilising communities to build food security. KEF members come from diverse social and economic backgrounds, many from poor communities around George. KEF addresses socioeconomic challenges through urban agriculture and cross-sector collaboration. Various urban agriculture practices and the micro-history of the three main KEF areas (Blanco, Pacaltsdorp and Thembalethu) are also outlined. The final part of this chapter examines the adverse changes in the food landscape and their impact on public health.

Chapter 4 explores the concept of food sovereignty and strategies of the KEF initiative to tackle urban inequalities and transform the agricultural food system. First, it emphasises the group’s efforts to create alternative food policies to enhance self-sufficiency and prioritise local production and consumption. Second, it highlights the commitment to preserving traditional knowledge and values amidst changing nutritional patterns, bolstering cultural heritage and community resilience. Third, this chapter explores the KEF’s approach to addressing the challenges posed by rapid nutrition and food consumption changes, stressing the critical evaluation of development projects and stakeholder engagement. Finally, it stresses the significance of upholding local values and traditions in navigating nutritional transitions.

In Chapter 5, the practical implementation of food sovereignty principles is examined through initiatives such as the KEF. This involves prioritising environmentally friendly local production, fostering community solidarity and critically engaging with the existing agricultural food system. This chapter addresses the need for cooperation between rural farmers, urban workers and consumer organisations to advocate for significant change. However, it also identifies challenges such as limited access to land and food insecurity, along with the need for broader political actions to address these issues. Community dialogue and participation are vital for establishing a comprehensive urban food system. Overall, the chapter emphasises the importance of collaboration between rural and urban struggles, along with the necessity for strong political actions to promote food production and sovereignty.

The final chapter examines the urban agriculture initiative KEF in George, South Africa, focusing on the hurdles that food producers face in a restricted food landscape. It emphasises coalition potential with social movements to address labour vulnerability and environmental degradation, promoting food sovereignty through collective action. Urban agriculture has been highlighted as pivotal for food security, offering fresh produce and bolstering community self-sufficiency, notably during the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussion of the political aspects of urban agriculture stresses the need for supportive alliances and their role in resisting dominant food systems. This chapter advocates equitable and sustainable urban South African food systems, urging collective efforts to prioritise community well-being and alternative food production visions.

By combining conceptual, political and practical aspects, this book provides a comprehensive understanding of the challenges and opportunities of the urban agriculture sector. It presents multidimensional perspectives and case studies on complex issues surrounding food security, agricultural politics and best practices in urban farming. Through this analysis, readers can better understand the role of urban agriculture in enhancing food security, reducing inequality and advocating food sovereignty. However, a potential weakness may lie in the overly specific focus on the South African context, making some concepts and findings challenging to apply directly elsewhere. One suggestion to address this is to broaden the scope to include more examples from various countries on the same continent so that readers can see how the discussed concepts can be applied more widely. Thus, this book remains a valuable resource for anyone interested in understanding and supporting the development of urban agriculture and food sovereignty.


We thank the Indonesia Endowment Funds for Education (LPDP RI) for funding and supporting our master’s studies at IPB University.


Fantini A (2023) Urban and peri-urban agriculture as a strategy for creating more sustainable and resilient urban food systems and facing socio-environmental emergencies. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 47(1): 47–71. Google Scholar

Sampson D, Cely-Santos M, Gemmill-Herren B, et al. (2021) Food sovereignty and rights-based approaches strengthen food security and nutrition across the globe: A systematic review. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems 5: 686492. Google Scholar


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Urban Agriculture in shared spaces: The difficulties with collaboration in an age of austerity by Rebecca St Clair, Michael Hardman, Richard P Armitage, and Graeme Sherriff

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