Urban agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa
Follow us as we narrate a set of posts regarding vertical urban farming.
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Farming in a town is a common feature of sub-Saharan Africa.
In the mid-1990s as much as 40% of the urban population in Africa was involved in urban agriculture.
Studies have been carried out across the continent and from these, the following
Farming applies wherever land is available.
In built-up areas, this can be in one’s own compound, backyard farming or on-plot farming or on land
belonging to someone else (‘open space farming’ or ‘off-plot farming’), the owner being either the government or a private person.
Farming is particularly common on the outskirts of urban centres, on formerly rural land that has now become part of the urban center due to boundary extensions or peri-urban farming.
In these zones, both small-scale and large-scale farms are identifiable.
However with urban growth, the rural setting disappears and urban farms translate to alternative types.
Farming in town has increased enormously over the past two decades due to the economic crisis that prevailed in most African countries.
For the poor, increasing their food security is usually the main motivation for farming in
town, and for some it is even a survival strategy.
Nevertheless, many of the poor sell their produce, partly to pay for other basic household needs.
Also because some crops are perishable and because storage space is largely unavailable.
The sub-Saharan farming household
Commercial considerations is important among poor households, although the consumption of self-produced vegetables and milk is valuable.
However, the basic reason for farming remains as subsidizing the household income.
The majority of African urban farmers are women.
In most parts of Africa, women provide household food and farming is easy to combine with child care.
Women also often have lower educational levels than men, so it is difficult for them to compete
in a shrinking labour market.
Farming is sometimes the only option available in a situation of unemployment and poverty.
Several studies have found that the number of female-headed households is disproportionately high among urban farmers.
Recent studies also show that recent migrants do not practice urban farming.
A person should settle and have access to the right networks in order to be able to gain access to a plot of land.
The crops grown are mostly basic food crops such as maize, beans, cassava, sorghum, rice and yams.
By cultivating a wide range of vegetables, they are highly distributable due to perishability and because there is a ready market available.
Some urban farmers grow crops such as tomatoes, spinach and lettuce solely for commercial purposes but in general this is more common in western Africa than in eastern and southern Africa.
Tree crops are not common due to the uncertainty of land tenure that many urban farmers experience.
Urban farmers face various constraints such as irregular rainfall, drought, flooding, water logging, poor soils, pests and disease, and the destruction of crops by animals, all of which are no different from the problems faced by rural farmers.
Urban context issues
Other problems, however, are more specifically related to the urban context and particularly confront the poor who practice off-plot farming.
Examples include uncertainty regarding land tenure, theft of crops, lack of capital and inputs, the threat of eviction and the possible destruction of crops.
In many African countries, urban farming is illegal.
By-laws frequently date from colonial times and forbid all agricultural activity within the boundaries of urban centres.
However, as the practice has become increasingly widespread over the last two decades, a change in policy has occurred.
During the 1970s, policies were restrictive as harassment and crop burning were common of the local authorities.
In the 1980s, however, a gradual shift in attitude took place and nowadays, urban farming is
usually tolerated as long as it does not become a nuisance.
In crop cultivation, the crop height is important as criminals hide in it and mosquitoes breed in the axils.
In Dar es Salaam, the local authorities encourage the practice of urban farming in order to raise food supply levels.
The assumption exists that urban agriculture is an environmental hazard.
Livestock can cause noise, bad smells, traffic accidents (when roaming in the streets) and spread diseases.
Crop cultivation causes soil erosion and contaminated water goes for irrigation.
Crops are cultivated along roads are prone to air pollution.
With intensive urban farming the use of fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides affects the environment.
Thus causing pollution in not only the plants but also the soil and groundwater.
Sewage and urban solid waste recycling via compost is not a ‘silver bullet’ for urban crop production or environmental improvement.
Although environmental awareness is growing in Africa, such measures have not yet been put into practice.