Africa cities

Urbanization jeopardizes farms in African cities : The Salt : NPR

An urban farmer waters his plants near Bamako, Mali, where the government has set aside nearly 250 acres for market gardens.

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An urban farmer waters his plants near Bamako, Mali, where the government has set aside nearly 250 acres for market gardens.

donkey cart/Flickr

For many city dwellers in the United States, eating locally is getting a little easier. If you’re lucky, you can shop at a farmer’s market, sign up for a farmer’s produce box, or grow your own tomatoes and zucchini at a community garden.

For urban dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa, eating local is the norm, not the exception. Up to 40% of families there are urban farmers, and they produce fruits and vegetables not just for themselves but for millions of others – all within or near the city limits.

But one survey of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, published yesterday, found that these urban farms are in danger. As African cities double in population over the next few decades, horticultural land will be lost to housing and industry, the report predicts.

The survey, which is the first of its kind, looked at urban agriculture in 31 countries, where more than half of Africa’s urban population lives. The authors say governments must integrate urban agriculture into urban planning or cities risk losing one of their best sources of food.

For inspiration, Africa can look to China and many Latin American countries, which have integrated horticulture into their urban planning since the 1960s. Today, more than half of the supply in Beijing’s vegetables comes from the city’s own market gardens, the report notes.

In sub-Saharan Africa, urban agriculture varies greatly from country to country. Cameroon, Malawi and Ghana top the list, with between 25 and 50 percent of all urban households gardening.

In Malawi, 700,000 city dwellers have vegetable gardens to feed their families and earn extra cash, while in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, 11,000 families use bagged gardens (burlap or plastic bags transformed into planters) to fill their stomachs and pay their rent

Some schools in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo even have their own gardening programs, like the ones First Lady Michelle Obama requested here in the United States.

But the survey reveals that one type of urban agriculture trumps all the others when it comes to feeding the most people: “market gardening,” or farming on commercial, irrigated land in cities.

Market gardens are “one of the most productive agricultural systems in Africa,” the report says. They produce almost all the leafy vegetables consumed in five of Africa’s largest cities, where 22 million people reside.

Market gardens also generate local jobs, create urban green belts, and can even recycle city waste.

In Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, market gardening employs 13,000 people, while in one region of the DRC, market gardens generate 80,000 tonnes of produce or 65% of the region’s supply.

Land set aside for market gardens is creating green belts in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo.

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Land set aside for market gardens is creating green belts in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo.

Courtesy of DigitalGlobe

But the FAO says market gardens are most at risk from Africa’s growth spurt because they are generally not regulated or supported by governments. Many of them operate under “fuzzy” or illegal terms, and could lose their right to farm at any time.

Local governments must maintain and protect these urban gardens, the report says. And they could train farmers in environmentally friendly techniques, such as composting, drip irrigation and choosing better seeds.

Even with these growing pains, however, the success of urban agriculture in Africa is something city dwellers here in the United States can aspire to. Maybe one day, 40% of New Yorkers will get all their bagged garden produce hanging in their windows.