A future employment trend - the urban farmer
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CTA. 1991. A future employment trend - the urban farmer. Spore 33. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/45509
The principal aim of urban agriculture is the provision of fresh produce for city markets. These days one possible option for victims of the economic crisis can be market gardening. However, because market gardening often develops somewhat...
The principal aim of urban agriculture is the provision of fresh produce for city markets. These days one possible option for victims of the economic crisis can be market gardening. However, because market gardening often develops somewhat haphazardly on the periphery of the larger towns, pushed out from the centres by the advance of the concrete jungle, the sale and distribution of produce is often difficult. Agriculture continues to A flourish in many towns despite the relentless and rapid expansion of urbanization. Even in the very heart of the cities one can see rows of carefully tended vegetables on river banks, railway embankments and on waste ground. Similarly, there are few patches of land where there are no chickens, sheep or goats and sometimes cattle to be seen. Urban agriculture is, for various reasons, of vital importance for those who live in towns. However, it has been considered part of the informal sector and has not been the subject of very much serious study. During the colonial period and in the years following independence, local government did everything possible to eliminate urban agriculture for what were termed 'hygienic reasons.' For example, in the 1970s, the mayor of Bafoussam in west Cameroon had all the maize cut down and all animals seized for the sake of public health. Nowadays a more easy-going approach is adopted and, in most towns, urban agriculture is no longer treated as illegal. One opinion in Kinshasa is that the market gardeners actually contribute to the cleanliness of the city and it has even been said by some that they help prevent erosion and landslips on the hillsides although this may be disputed. In Lome the view is held that provided the town is clean, there is nothing wrong with this piecemeal agriculture: 'provided that there is no sorghum because it grows too tall and makes everything dirty'. In other circumstances bananas and plantains may be a malaria hazard because of the water trapped in leaves providing breeding opportunities for mosquitoes. Similarly, the authorities in Bamako have not permitted straw-producing cereals since the end of 1989 because these attract mosquitoes and may also provide cover for criminals. As a result, many millet and sorghum plots are no longer cultivated. Ever-shrinking land But although the nutritional importance of market gardening outweighs the disadvantages, the authorities still prefer to see building land extended rather than agricultural land cultivated and market gardeners may be removed from their plots. In the Congolese capital the growers of the Talangai growing centre (centre maraicher de Talangai), the biggest of the city's 17 market gardening areas, were removed from-their land to make room for a new brewery. Many market gardeners have simply given up because they can no longer find suitable land. The situation is little better on the other side of the river in Kinshasa in Zaire. Here, the State helped to establish cultivated areas 20 years ago but now these are being turned into building plots. Some city authorities may tolerate market gardening but they do not always support it. There is no state guarantee for those who work public land; most do not pay rent nor do they have title to their land and their situation is precarious. Those who use privately-owned land are little better off: and owners do not find it hard to choose between the small sums they get in rent and what they can make if they sell off the land for building: the price of building land in Brazzaville is now six times what it was 15 years ago. One by one the small allotments are disappearing under concrete. Such urban allotments that do still exist command even higher rents even though at one time landowners allowed such land to be used rent free in order to keep the weeds down, and were happy to accept a few kilos of vegetables in return. Now rents are astronomical. 'I now pay 8000CFA francs per month for a 20m by 30m plot, 'says one Lome grower, 'whereas before I paid 2500CFA per month.' Market gardeners try to cultivate land in several localities in order to reduce risks. In Bamako, for example, it is preferable to have gardens beside the river as well on an 'owned' plot. Gardeners also have allotments in different parts of Kinshasa, on land owned by the Radio-TV, by schools and so on. One woman has 20 vegetable beds in four different areas. Many growers have to move to the edge of towns in order to get sufficient land to make a living, despite the fact that prices are better in the centres. In town centres, the demand for vegetables is high and the number of mouths to be fed grows daily. Growers find an easy market for their produce, without the need for transport, storage, or middle men. If production and consumption are geographically close many advantages will accrue to the grower. They themselves are also city dwellers and will therefore know their customers. They can also deliver their own produce to local hotels and restaurants. For those on the periphery there are transport costs and these reduce income. However, there is another risk for the city-centre grower: theft is a major problem and allotments have to be kept under constant surveillance. An essential part of the city diet City-grown vegetables make up a large proportion of what is sold in urban markets. This fresh produce is a vital part of the diet of city-dwellers. The so-called 'European' vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes and lettuce) are consumed mainly in the towns and these are the vegetables most commonly grown, especially in the Sahel where there are also sweetcorn and groundnuts. In wetter regions leaf vegetables are grown (cassava leaves, amaranths, sorrel), as well as sweet potato and beans. Fruit (bananas, pineapples, mangoes, guavas) is much less common on town allotments. Perennial crops such as these require greater security of tenure and this is increasingly hard to achieve. However, flowers and pot plants have become extremely popular in recent years. Intensive vegetable cultivation, Bamako PASMAKIN, a support project in Kinshasa for growers' associations, comprising 6000 growers working 700ha, produces 30,000 tonnes of vegetables a year, some 15% of the city's consumption. In Bamako market gardening is extensive enough to supply the needs of the population, and there are even surpluses of cabbage and salad crops at certain times of year and these are sold elsewhere. Over-production naturally causes prices to drop. The professional growers do not make large profits but they do get a living from what they sell. The most successful are those supported by NGOs, who can make improvements using irrigation channels and motorpumps and can also enclose their ground. A PASMAKIN grower expects to earn as much per month as the head of a local government department. Sales, however, represent only a part of vegetable production. Much is consumed by the growers themselves, both professional and amateur. On plots owned privately, the gardens are essentially food-producing but some women grow a mix of traditional vegetables, spices for sauce, and often medicinal plants. In Nairobi, Kenya, this type of cultivation provides a means of survival for those who have come from the rural areas to the city. And all over Africa production of this kind helps vary the diet of the city-dweller. Public employees and wage earners who have fairly large plots, not yet built on, grow produce for their own needs, and thus reduce their purchases to a minimum. They tend their gardens at weekends, or others do it for them. Those who have the most land sell off some of what they grow as additional income. This state of affairs can become permanent if their earning capacity is small or irregular, but more usually they do it to meet large expenses, at the start of the school year, for example. Many will admit that without this it would be hard to make ends meet. Thus market gardening is more and more thought of as the answer to the economic crisis, and the hardships brought about by structural readjustment (see Spore 32). An insurance against unemployment For the young unemployed in the city and for those on short time in the public sector, market gardening or small-scale pastoralism is sometimes the only way forward. For those with some start-up capital and who are competent financially the results can be worthwhile, bringing them in more than some wage-earners get. Gardening means hard work, but it can pay. Almost every African town has been in the course of change for some years, with rapid and extensive new housing block development. But although the growers often have to leave the town centres their numbers do not diminish. And the fact is that crisis has forced other social groups back to the land. Many of these, seeing the potential, have grasped the opportunity before being pushed into it. Some have created large businesses (more than 5000 sq metres), employ outside labour, and use motorpumps, fertilizer and insecticide. Market gardening also gives rise to other activities. For example, people sift compost on the Bamako rubbish tips and deliver leaf mould on their carts. Growers with large areas to cultivate bring it in by the lorryload. Slaughterhouse remains and animal droppings are also used as fertilizer. Most growers don't have the means to buy expensive fertilizer, though it is vital if yields are to be worthwhile. All this puts a question mark over the hygiene of the vegetables. As well as the frequent misuse of insecticides, there is a disregard for the elementary rules of hygiene. In Yaounde salad plants are often watered with water that is full of rubbish and blackened with sump oil. Or water may be contaminated with sewage. Limited - pastoralism The other aspect of urban agriculture is pastoralism, although it is not as widely practiced as market gardening. City authorities frown on the noise, smell and dirt and, in Lome, the health department prosecutes anyone who does not adhere strictly to the law. Pigsties are kept outside the centre in the suburbs, and large poultry enterprises with several thousand birds tend no longer to occupy residential areas because of noise and dirt. Only small-scale stock-keeping goes on in big towns, apart from the domestic fowls (chickens, guinea fowl or ducks) kept by families for their own pots. Some officials and businessmen who have a ready and sizeable market keep units of 200-30() chickens. Rabbit-keeping is increasingly popular in some countries such as Togo and Cote d'Ivoire. Fish-farming in the small pools beside the rivers is highly profitable, as long as thieves don't remove the fish during the night, as they have from the tilapia farmers in Kinshasa. Cattle, however, are forbidden In most city centres; for example, in Bamako the keeping of ruminants has been banned since 1982. In general, though, sheep and goats remain. Small ruminants in general are not really part of a profit-making business, and have a more ''social'' function, like a savings bank for unexpected heavy expenses. When things are going well their numbers increase but they drop when times are hard. Few city-dwellers have more than ten small animals and fatten them up to sell for festivals such as the Tabaski. As with market gardening, only more so, few statistics exist on urban livestock, though such figures as there are speak volumes: in Bamako there are approximately 130,000 fowls and 15,000 small ruminants; in Bobo-Dioulasso there are 30,000 goats and sheep. This makes up a sizeable herd, which lives on privately owned land and helps feed the city. Agriculture seems incompatible with urbanization, yet it flourishes and grows. It is part of city life and part of the livelihood of city-dwellers. But there are problems: there is great competition to sell produce and growers are often disorganized and unstructured. If this were to change, they would be able to realize a far bigger reward for their labours.