Africa’s city farmers can feed millions as they earn an income

All across Africa, populations are growing rapidly. Many people are vulnerable to malnutrition, limited healthcare and high rates of unemployment. As a result, people are streaming towards cities hoping to find jobs and earn an income.

According to the UN, in 2013, sub-Saharan Africa’s annual urban growth rate was 3.6% — almost double the world average. As this migration takes place, an increasing number of urban gardens and farms are taking root too.

This growth in urban agriculture is helping poor people cope with food scarcity and hunger. These urban populations are taking control of much of their own food production, growing crops or raising livestock in backyards or on vacant lots. This helps alleviate hunger and offers people a viable income as they find markets for their produce.

In turn, this reduces the economic burden on productive communities and opens up opportunities as urban informal markets gain traction. Across Africa, stories of resourcefulness in urban agriculture abound as people fight for a livelihood.

Much is being achieved through sheer necessity. Imagine what could be achieved with support, knowledge and resources. Roadside traders could be transformed into farmers as community vegetable gardens created along roads and rivers are converted into city farms, vertical window food gardens and horizontal pipe or water gardens.

Teaching young people to implement urban agriculture with modern methods would improve their yields and income potential and give them the confidence they are struggling to achieve through meaningful employment elsewhere.

A 2017 report from The Sustainable Development Goals Centre for Africa estimated the continent has 65% of the world’s arable land. However, food demand in Africa is expected to rise by over 60% by 2050 due to population growth.

Simple shifts in thinking can improve efficiencies and grow more environmentally friendly produce that is less prone to climatic changes. And urban farming does not need vast tracts of remote land to produce food.

Agriculture education organisations and e-learning platforms will play a pivotal role in bringing the required knowledge to these urban communities, via mobile devices.

To transform urban farming into a thriving sub-sector, more skills are needed. Agriculture education organisations and e-learning platforms will play a pivotal role in bringing the required knowledge to these urban communities, via mobile devices.

For example, the whole of Diepsloot in Gauteng, with a population of more than 850,000 people, now has permanent access to the internet. Adding access to short courses on crop production and skills development at the touch of a button, with the ability to continue to earn while people learn, will open exciting opportunities.

Achieving sustainable food security for both urban and rural citizens remains an important priority for African governments. The reality, however, is that food security depends not only on a tricky balance between knowledge, availability and affordability, but also on co-ordinated partnerships between the various stakeholders in the agricultural sector.

According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, market gardening in African cities has grown with little official recognition, regulation or support. And while fruit and vegetable production provides livelihoods for thousands of urban Africans, and food for millions more, some market gardeners are using more pesticides and polluted water to maximise returns.

It is becoming increasingly important to explore innovative approaches to successful farming. Urban agriculture is considered to be at the cusp of advancements within the sector and one that can contribute towards the provision of sustainable access to nutritious food.

Considering how our planet is changing, rethinking and redesigning urban agriculture and what it means is of paramount importance. The number of people migrating to cities makes the urban environment a potentially important food basket for sustainable food production and increased employment.

SA is no stranger to gross inequality and consistently has one of the highest Gini coefficients (measurements of inequality) in the world. Providing food security and sovereignty to marginalised urban “boundary” communities is key to helping free SA from its greatest burden of food and health inequality.

If we could educate people to implement urban agriculture with health and sustainability in mind, it would be a great step towards creating a more sustainable future in all countries throughout Africa.

• Blight founded Agricolleges International.