Take your farm to town
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CTA. 1999. Take your farm to town. Spore 81. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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The world is moving to the town and is taking its agriculture with it. Urban farmers will contribute even more to our future than they did to our past, but who will take responsibility for them 'This food is like a reserve. It helps when money is...
The world is moving to the town and is taking its agriculture with it. Urban farmers will contribute even more to our future than they did to our past, but who will take responsibility for them 'This food is like a reserve. It helps when money is scarce. You can go and harvest your mayuni (cocoyams) and eat the leaves as etimpa (sauce).' This down-to-earth attitude of a low-income mother farming a tiny plot of low-lying land near a drainage canal in Kampala, Uganda, is typical of the majority of the world's 700 million urban farmers. More people are moving to towns than to rural areas. In Africa, 35% of the continent's population of 749 million in 1998 is urban, and it is growing at a rapid 8% each year. To face this challenge, conventional thinking strives to 'feed the city' by increasing production faster than population growth (see Spore 76, Selling to the city). Many forecasts view the city as a rapacious, collapsing mess, but there is also another scenario. In the past decade, urban agriculture has won the attention of agriculturists and policy makers alike. All over the world, case studies are sprouting like mushrooms in a stairwell grower. They describe how rich and poor urbanites develop new farming systems based on small livestock (rabbits, goats, guinea pigs, pigs), poultry (chicken, ducks, guinea fowl), vegetables, fruit, and herbs. They also discuss urban forestry, which yields fruit, nuts, fuelwood, and building materials. Urban agriculture is described by some as a more significant approach to development than innovations in the informal economy, bartering, or microfinance. The expansion of urban agriculture in Africa has been stimulated by economic structural adjustment programmes and the collapse of much of the formal economy. Some former civil servants in Harare, Zimbabwe, were driven to illegal urban plot farming to supplement their household diets and income. When they found they could earn 10 times their salary, they took up street farming full-time. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, more than two-thirds of all families were engaged in some form of town farming in the early 1990s, compared with only one-fifth in the late 1960s. Most urban agriculture is small-scale; in many countries it is dominated by women, the major exceptions being Brazil, China, and Senegal, where men dominate. Not just for women Urban agriculture improves the lives of women not only economically, through income-generation and substitution of purchases, but also nutritionally, through greater variety and freshness of foods. It also increases food supply because of higher yields of herbs and vegetables on composted areas and from hydroponic crops (the process of growing plants in water with added nutrients). There are environmental benefits, too: more vegetation improves air quality by acting as a sink for gas emissions from fossil fuels and through the cooling effects of evaporation. In low-income neighbourhoods, tree planting encourages environmental care and helps to cement community organisations. Compost, much used in urban agriculture, facilitates waste management. Hazards to health, and the status quo But there are health hazards in urban agriculture, which call for quick and comprehensive action. A leading proponent, Jac Smit of the Urban Agriculture Network stresses the dangers of uncontrolled food production in cities. There are risks of contamination from untreated human waste in compost, and from sump oil and heavy metals; tuberculosis from cattle; insecticide poisoning; plague spread by rats attracted to compost bins; groundwater and soil pollution from agricultural chemicals, and malaria from mosquitoes breeding in unmanaged irrigation pools. City managers and planners are faced with a new responsibility in their portfolio, one they find hard to understand. During the 1990s, the authorities in Harare, Zimbabwe, struggled with an upsurge in city farming, which affected about 10,000 ha of land or almost one-fifth of the city. Their response of banning and forcible removal became a cause célèbre for inhabitants seeking dialogue and partnership. The authorities have now largely relented. City governance must take urban agriculture into account by adapting local health and zoning bye-laws, and enabling support and extension services. In fact, the success stories in urban agriculture depend on close partnership between local authorities, extension workers, urban farmers and finance bodies, as demonstrated by such cities as Daloa, Côte d'Ivoire, and Accra, Ghana. The combined forces of survival and the market will prompt further expansion of urban agriculture. But it must be guided. Research is needed to develop simple, safe systems to decontaminate solid wastes prior to composting; to cleanse polluted soils; and to treat waste water by using, for example, algae to clear water and duckweed to remove contaminants. The need is for systems that can be appropriated, in terms of knowledge and finance, by those who gain most from urban agriculture: the urban poor. Hydroponics is one example; it relies on complex, but not necessarily expensive, water flow and storage systems, as well as refined input of nutrients. The scientist, whether based in a laboratory or a local community group, who develops a popular and transferable method of hydroponics will be remembered far into the next millennium for the significant contribution to food security. Urban extension services that provide financial and technical facilities, and cities that develop environmental management policies will also be remembered. Models in this respect are Uganda's Action for Development (ACFODE) women's network and the Zimbabwe Farmers' Union, which provide information on land rights and use as well as finance and technology. Rural and urban agriculture sometimes face the same issues of sustainability, gender, access to technology and finance, extension work, and producers' organisations. Each has special needs. The most pressing need for the urban model is: Who should be its institutional keeper, and which ministry should look after it? The agricultural community should cross the frontier to urban agriculture and do three things: embrace it, enable it, and ennoble it. Urban growth, exhaustion of agricultural resources, increasing food insecurity and worsening living conditions in cities are all reasons to inform politicians, development institutions, farmers' organisations and NGOs of the potential of urban agriculture. To achieve this, CTA is co-organising a meeting in October 1999 in Havana in cooperation with the Cuban Association of Animal Production (CAPA), the German Ministry of Development Cooperation (BMZ) and Foundation for Development Cooperation (DSE), the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and ETC-Netherlands. [summary points] The UA equation: six 'ifs' and a 'but' Urban agriculture (UA) can be a major element in ensuring ACP food security, if: priority goes to high-yielding vegetables, and to herbs, spices, and selected small livestock; popular, low-cost forms of advanced technology are accessible to the poor; health hazards from animals, wastes, and contaminants are recognised, researched, and removed; planners revise laws on land access and the use of derelict land; technical and financial extension services are available to all urban farmers; and gender roles are respected, especially where women urban farmers are in the majority. However, for the foreseeable future, rural agriculture will remain the major provider of nutritional requirements in the ACP countries. For more information: The Urban Agriculture Network (TUAN) 1711 Lamont St NW Washington, DC 20010 USA Fax: +1 202 986 6732 Email: /firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.agricta.org/Spore/spore81 Resource Guide to Urban Agriculture, CTA, 1999. 276pp. CTA working paper 8002, Free on request from CTA.
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