Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Urban Cultivation In Accra: An Examination Of The Nature, Practices, Problems, Potentials And Urban Planning Implications

By Raymond Asomani-Boateng
Correspondence: Tel.: +1-517-355-4649; fax: +1-517-432-1671
Department of Geography, Michigan State University,
314 Natural Science Building, East Lansing, MI 48824-1115, USA
Reprinted with permission of the author.
Habitat International
Vol: 26 Issue: 4, December, 2002
pp: 591-607


The literature on urban farming in Sub-Saharan African cities reveals that most studies have been conducted in Eastern, Southern and Central African cities. A few have focused on West Africa, including Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, and Cameroon. In Ghana there is a paucity of information on urban farming. The purpose of this paper is to examine the status of urban cultivation in Accra, Ghana's capital, reviewing existing research, and to present new empirical findings on urban cultivation emphasizing on its history, nature, practices, problems, potentials and urban planning implications.

Keywords: Urban planning; Urban agriculture; Food security and Urban waste.

Article Outline:
1. Introduction
2. Urban farming in Ghana: an historical analysis
3. Existing research
4. Methodology
5. Findings
5.1. Who are the cultivators?
5.2. Land access, ownership and site selection
5.2.1. Crops cultivated
5.2.2. Extent of artificial fertilizer usage
5.3. Use of urban waste
5.3.1. Returns on cultivation
6. Problems of urban cultivators
7. Potential role of urban cultivation
8. Discussion
8.1. Urban planning and urban agriculture
9. Concluding remarks

1. Introduction

The literature on urban farming in African cities reveals that most of the studies have been conducted in Eastern and Southern African countries: Zambia ( Sanyal (1984) ; Rakodi (1988) ; Drescher (1994a) ), Kenya ( Freeman (1991) ; Lee-Smith & Memon (1994) ; Mwangi (1995) ), Tanzania ( Mvena, Lupanga, & Mlozi (1991) ; Mosha (1991) ; Sawio (1993) ), Uganda ( Maxwell & Zziwa (1992) ; Maxwell (1994) ), Zimbabwe ( Mbiba (1995) ; Drakakis-Smith (1995) ), and South Africa ( May & Rogerson (1995) ). Few have focused on West Africa: Sierra Leone ( Tricaud (1987) ), Cameroon ( Ngwa-Nebasina (1987) ), Guinea Bissau ( Lorenco (1996) ), and Nigeria ( Lewcock (1995) ).

In Ghana, there is a paucity of information on urban farming. The purpose of this paper is to examine the situation of urban farming, specifically, urban cultivation in Accra, Ghana's capital and the most urbanized area in Ghana; to review existing research; and to present new empirical findings on urban cultivation focusing on the history, nature, practices, problems potentials and urban planning implications.

2. Urban farming in Ghana: an historical analysis

British colonial administrators, while promoting urban vegetable cultivation in Ghana's urban areas, permitted neither the rearing of livestock and poultry nor the cultivation of indigenous food crops. In fact, La Anyane (1963) has revealed that the Europeans introduced vegetable cultivation into Ghana ( La Anyane (1963) ). Exotic vegetables and ornamental crops from Europe were purposely grown to feed the European settlers and to beautify their residences; the cultivation of vegetables was confined to the residences of European civil servants and merchants and the castles and forts which served as both the seat of government and the homes of the colonial administrators. The period between the two World Wars saw an upsurge in vegetable farming in Accra and in other cities along the West African coast. The colonial government encouraged city residents to grow vegetables to meet the demand of the allied forces stationed in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). With the defeat of Nazi Germany and cessation of hostilities, the subsequent withdrawal of allied forces from the Gold Coast led to a decline in vegetable farming; nevertheless it continued. However, the rearing of livestock, poultry and cultivation of indigenous staple crops was not permitted by city officials for health reasons, and this trend continued after independence in 1957. Officials of various Town and City councils were instructed to destroy any crops growing in the city, as well as and animals found roaming the streets, and the farmers responsible were prosecuted for compromising city health. The tankaase (health inspector) who ensured compliance was often very ruthless—one of the most feared city officials in the municipal establishment and in some instances was known to have culprits whipped before dragging them to court.

From 1972 to 1976, official responses to urban farming took a dramatic turn when the government began to tolerate farming in cities and towns in Ghana. This change in official attitude was brought about through a combination of factors. This was a period of harsh economic conditions, resulting from the devaluation of the Ghanaian currency, huge external debts and, later, drought. A major consequence was that supplying food for the country's population became a national issue. Food shortages, coupled with the exorbitant prices of food items, especially in cities and towns, became unbearable. A major event that worsened the food crisis was the National Redemption Council's (N.R.C.) government policy to repudiate all foreign loans and contracts—in what became known as the Yentua Policy (We shall not Pay). Under this policy the ruling government at that time refused to pay all outstanding foreign loans, nor would they honour foreign contracts that had been entered into by previous governments.

The international community responded with a boycott of credit and other forms of aid to Ghana. Food import, which had always been a major component of the country's food supply, was seriously curtailed. Drought conditions prevailed in the country, resulting in poor harvests. The impact of this isolation on the country's food supply was immense. To respond to Ghana's food problem, the government launched the Operation Feed Yourself (O.F.Y.) programme. Hansen (1987) described the O.F.Y programme as the most ambitious programme to respond to Ghana's food problem ( Hansen (1987) ).

It was a crash programme aimed at increasing both food production and promoting national self-reliance by encouraging Ghanaians in rural as well as urban areas to grow their own food. Though urban agriculture was not specifically mentioned, this programme had a spill over effect on urban farming. Urban farming activities were tolerated and stringent regulations and bylaws that curtailed urban agriculture were relaxed. It gave urban residents the opportunity to farm without fear of their crops and animals being destroyed by city officials. Urban residents were encouraged to farm any available space in Ghanaian cities in order to increase food supply.

3. Existing research

In Accra there have been only three studies on urban agriculture to date. A study conducted by Amar-Klemesu and Maxwell (1998) is the most recent and detailed work on urban farming in the Accra metropolis. This study provides a descriptive analysis of urban agriculture in the city, discusses the impact of urban agriculture on food security and nutrition, provides an environmental assessment of urban agriculture in Accra, discusses food contamination arising from vegetable production using untreated wastewater, and finally reveals changes in land rights and livelihood in peri-urban Accra. The authors reveal that while urban agriculture is predominantly a woman's activity in many Sub-Saharan African cities, more than 60 percent of farmers in Accra are men, and farming in the city is motivated by the need for cash income, food, and assets which can be readily liquidated into cash in emergency situations. They also note that there is relatively little evidence to indicate that there is a positive impact of urban agriculture on food security and nutritional status, and there is no positive association between urban farming and child nutritional status. Among the beneficial environmental impacts of urban farming is the potential to recycle urban waste, but the study does not indicate how this can be achieved. The study reveals that improper use of agricultural chemicals in densely populated areas creates run-off hazards. It also notes that vegetables irrigated with tap water have a lower bacterial count than those irrigated with wastewater, and a major source of contamination appears to be in marketing, handling and the distribution system. It also reveals that while low numbers of households within the city are engaged in urban farming, agriculture constitutes the backbone of the city's peri-urban economy, and the authors emphasize that urban sprawl is putting an enormous strain on agriculture as the primary livelihood of peri-urban farmers ( Amar-Klemesu and Maxwell (1998) ). This study recommends changes in land use planning to accommodate urban farming and to protect agricultural land from urban sprawl.

Cencosad's (1994) study, which focused specifically on urban market gardening in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area, reveals that 90 percent of the vegetables consumed in the metropolitan area are produced by farmers within the metropolitan area ( Cencosad's (1994) ). The study indicates that wealthy consumers benefit nutritionally from urban vegetable production. However, low-income migrant workers engaged in vegetable cultivation have benefitted in terms of livelihood. Within the metropolitan area, urban farming helps stabilize stream banks and keep drainage channels open ( Cencosad's (1994) ). It was also revealed by Cencosads study that virtually everyone engaged in market gardening is male, whereas women tend to dominate urban agriculture in other cities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Kufogbe notes that urban sprawl in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area is having a considerable impact on contiguous peri-urban areas, resulting in the conversion of agricultural land to residential uses, and suggests the urgent need to institute stringent measures to protect peri-urban agricultural land ( Kufogbe (1996) ). Beyond these research studies, little substantive work has been done on the nature, practices and problems of urban cultivation in Accra. This study has been done to augment the limited existing knowledge on urban cultivation in Accra.

4. Methodology

Urban cultivation in Accra was categorized into three farming systems on the basis of location, and used as units of investigation: household or home gardening, open or vacant-space cultivation and peri-urban cultivation. Household or home gardening takes place within and around homes, while vacant-space cultivation is done in open spaces, undeveloped community and residential lands, stream banks, road sides, reservations along drainage channels, wetlands, abandoned waste dumps, rights-of-way and airport buffers. Peri-urban cultivation takes place on lands just outside the built area of the city. On the basis of the above categorization 87 urban cultivators from the three farming categories—31 from household or home gardening, and 28 each from vacant and peri-urban cultivation (See Fig. 1) were randomly selected and interviewed. It must be emphasized that the actual number of farmers in the city is not known. Numbers given in official and unofficial documents and reports are mere estimates, which made it difficult to select any specific sample size. Since the interviewing process was voluntary, the author interviewed any willing participant.

Fig. 1 (Not available in this web edition.)

To supplement the interview efforts, the author visited ten locations of urban farming activities and observed, conversed with, and conducted focus-group interviews with farmers. These discussions provided the opportunity for participants to share their feelings, insights and experiences about their needs and problems. The type of data sought from the interviews included the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of cultivators, farming practices, land ownership, motives for cultivation and problems they face as farmers in the metropolis.

5. Findings

5.1. Who are the cultivators?

Male farmers predominate in urban food cultivation in Accra. Seventy-two out of 87 respondents were men. This finding is consistent with similar findings by Amar-Klemesu and Maxwell (1998) ) and Cencosad's (1994) ), and contradicts the findings of other studies conducted in other African cities by Tripp (1990) and Mvena, Lupanga, & Mlozi (1991) ) in Tanzania; as well as in Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia ( Sanyal (1984) ) which revealed that there are more women than men in urban farming in cities of these countries. Given the above findings in other African cities, the author sought to find reasons for the male predominance in urban cultivation in Accra. Informal discussions with some male farmers and female traders revealed an underlying reason for this phenomenon, which reflect the traditional role of men and women in Ghanaian society, where women dominate in petty trading activities. As one male cultivator remarked, I cannot compete with the women in selling foodstuffs, fish, meat and vegetables on the street, and even if I can, I will not feel comfortable in their midst. Besides, in most places in Ghana, women do not farm by themselves but assist their husbands; therefore, it is quite uncommon for a woman to farm by herself. The men also explained that farming in the city is very tedious and labour intensive, and requires a lot of attention; hence few women prefer to farm. The women traders explained that trading is far more lucrative and stable than farming. Some stated that their parents in rural areas have farmed their whole lifetimes but are still poor. “We do not want to follow their footsteps; we have to rescue them from poverty. Besides, farming takes place in the village, not in the city”. They also noted that since farming is subject to the vagaries of the weather and other factors, which cannot be predicted, it is therefore not a very stable for a livelihood. It is therefore not strange, as observed in this study, that only one trader engaged in urban cultivation as a part-time activity.

Seventy-one farmers were migrants from the major ethnic groupings of Ghana—Akan, Ewe, Adanbge and Northerners. The Akans are in the majority with respect to household or backyard cultivation. The Adangbes and the Gas predominate in peri-urban cultivation, while Northerners are in the majority in vacant-/open-space cultivation (See - Table: [ 1]). Various reasons could be offered to explain this phenomenon. The Akans are known to live in and own the majority of houses in the middle and high-class residential sectors of the city: that these are areas with enough space within and around homes explains why Akans are in the majority in household cultivation. Northerners, who are mostly found to live in high-density residential neighbourhoods without space to cultivate, tend to cultivate the open spaces and vacant land found in the built areas of the city. The Gas and Adangbes domination of peri-urban cultivation could be due to the fact that they are the original inhabitants of Accra and those who were not engaged in fishing were originally rural farmers farming in the villages on the outskirts of the city, and since the city has grown to engulf these villages, these farmers still cultivate for the urban market.

Table 1: Ethnic composition of farmers
Akan 21 4 6 31
Ewe 5 6 5 16
Mole-Dagomba2 8 0 10
Ga 2 3 7 12
Adangbe 3 3 8 14
Non-Ghanaian 0 4 0 4
Total 33 27 27 87
Source: Survey data(1998).

Equally important is the decreasing number of non-Ghanaian migrants involved in urban cultivation in Accra. Okrah's study of urban vegetable cultivators in Accra revealed that 90 percent of urban cultivators were non-Ghanaian migrants from the neighbouring countries of Mali and Burkina Faso ( Okrah (1984) ). However, as the present study has revealed, their numbers have shrunk considerably. Only four farmers of those interviewed were non-Ghanaian migrants. Ghana's economic crisis in the 1980s made it an unattractive destination for migrants from the countries in the sub-region. Furthermore, the implementations of the Alien Compliance Order policy by the erstwhile Progress Party government under Dr. Busia, which led to the deportation of illegal immigrants, explain the declining number of non-Ghanaians migrants in urban cultivation in Accra.

Most farmers had some form of education. Only 16 farmers had no formal education. However, 39 farmers had completed elementary school, 26 had high school education, and 6 had attained post-secondary education (See - Table: [ 2]). Differences exist in the levels of education of farmers from the three farming systems. Household cultivators tend to be better educated than peri-urban and vacant-/open-space cultivators. The involvement of people with fairly high education is an indication of how bad the Ghanaian economy is in terms of formal employment.

Table 2: Level of education of farmers
No education 2 9 5 16
Elementary 11 10 18 39
Secondary 14 7 5 26
Post-secondary 6 0 0 6
Total 33 26 28 87
Source: Survey data(1998).

More than 60 percent of farmers (53) were in the 15–45 age group. Twenty-nine farmers fell between 46 and 60, and five farmers fell between 61 and 75 years. Forty cultivators reported to have been cultivating between 3 and 10 years. Sixteen have been in cultivation for between 11 and 20 years and another 16 have been cultivating more than 20 years. Fifteen farmers reported having cultivated less than 3 years. To determine whether farmers intend to abandon urban cultivation, farmers were asked: Do you intend to quit urban cultivation? Forty eight farmers stated no, and reasons given included the fact that because the job market in the formal sector has deteriorated they do not contemplate quitting, and even if the job market is good they will not quit entirely but will cultivate on part-time basis. Others stated that because food cultivation supplements their income and household food purchases, they do not intend to quit now or in the near future. Eight farmers contemplated stopping cultivation because of the lack of security and availability of land. The remaining participants indicated they were not making any profit from cultivating.

Thirty-six farmers declared urban cultivation to be their full time job and their main source of a livelihood, while 51 cultivators listed it as their part-time job. All cultivators in the household-farming category were part-timers. The highest concentration of full time cultivators were found in the open-/vacant-space farming system, which recorded 21 farmers, followed by the peri-urban farming system, which had 15 cultivators. Thirteen peri-urban and seven vacant-space cultivators were part-timers (See - Table: [ 3]).

Table 3: Distribution of farmers into part-time and full-time activity
Farming SystemsFull-timePart-timeTotal
Peri-urban 15 13 28
Vacant-open space21 7 28
Household 0 31 31
Total 36 51 87
Source: Survey data(1998).

Full-time farmers cultivate large acreages of land as compared to their part-time counterparts. Most of these full-timers from the peri-urban farming system are commercial farmers whose main motive for farming is cash income. They specialized in the cultivation of pineapples, mangoes, oranges, spices and eggplant for local consumption and for export to Western Europe. Also revealed was that urban cultivators came from diverse occupations: police officers, civil servants, teachers, drivers, mechanics, carpenters, masons, security officers and students indicated that urban farming is not confined to a particular class or occupation in the city.

5.2. Land access, ownership and site selection

Fifty-two peri-urban and vacant-space cultivators did not own the land on which they cultivated. Only four peri-urban cultivators and none in the vacant-space-farming category owned the land on which they farmed. These lands belong to the central and municipal governments, corporations Ghana Railways, the Irrigation Department, Parks and Gardens, the Atomic Energy Commission, Civil Aviation and the University of Ghana. Some farmers revealed they do not even know the owners of the land on which they farm. Four farmers in the household category were owners of the house within and around which farming was undertaken; the remaining 27 household cultivators were renters but paid no fee for cultivating the land. Only one farmer in the vacant-space category paid money for the use of land. In the peri-urban farming system eight farmers were engaged in abusa and abunu tenancy arrangements (share cropping). The abusa system requires the farmer to give up a third of the total farm produce to the owner of the land as payment for the use of the land, while the abunu arrangement allows the landowner to receive half of the total farm produce for use of his/her land.

The study did confirm a significant correlation between farm sizes and farming areas. Household farm sizes appear to be smaller than vacant and peri-urban farming systems. The plot sizes of the sampled household cultivators are less than 1 acre. Most vacant (23) and peri-urban (15) cultivators farm sizes ranged between 1–3 acres while 13 peri-urban cultivators and five vacant-space cultivators farmed 4–5 acres. Asked about what factors they consider for choosing a particular piece of land to cultivate, 28 cultivators from both vacant and peri-urban farming systems indicated proximity to residence, 10 indicated proximity to water, another 10 stated rent-free-land, and eight indicated fertility and the suitability of the land for cultivation. The nearness of farming plots to farmer's residence is essential for a host of reasons. These farmers explained that since theft from their farms is a major problem, staying close to their farms offered them the opportunity to keep an eye on them. Most vacant cultivators have organized into groups and take turns watching their farms, especially during the harvesting periods. Farmers maintained it was very expensive to farm far away from ones residence: the transportation cost of getting back and forth is high, and in a city where there are high levels of traffic congestion one has to spend hours to get to his or her farm which reduces the man hours one has to spend on the farm.

Availability of water determines whether the farmer cultivates seasonally or year round. This explains why vegetable growers who need a lot of water for their operations, whether in peri-urban or vacant-space farming systems, are mostly located near streams and drainage channels, or in areas which could be connected to piped water, provided the farmer can bear the cost of extending piped water to his or her farm and pay for expensive water bills. Cultivating near streams and drainage channels makes it easier for the farmer to obtain much needed water for irrigation; at the same time, however, these farms are prone to floods during the rainy season, which destroys crops and results in substantial losses to the farmer.

5.2.1. Crops cultivated

Thirty-six cultivators in all three farming systems cultivated vegetables; the same number of farmers cultivated food crops. The largest concentration of vegetable cultivators (25) was found in the vacant-space-farming category, located near streams and drains. Vegetables grown were mainly exotics such as cauliflower, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, sweet peppers, French beans, peppers, beetroots and herbs. Indigenous vegetables grown included okra, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and green leafy vegetables like ademe, ayoyo, gboma, busanga. These are not grown purposely for sale but rather are staples for the gardeners, and cultivated for personal consumption, although any surplus is sold. Household and peri-urban cultivators mostly grew food crops like maize, plantain, cassava, and cocoyam. Fruits like pineapples, mangoes, paw paw, orange, coconut, and palm oil are mostly grown by householders (the trees are mostly used for shade) and on a commercial basis by peri-urban cultivators both for the local market and for export.

A few large-scale peri-urban cultivators engaged in some form of mechanized farming through the use of hired tractor ploughs. Two types of cultivation were identified, determined by the availability of water: seasonal and year-round. Sixty-two cultivators in the three farming systems cultivated throughout the year, while 25 were engaged in seasonal or rain-fed cultivation. Farmers who farm throughout the year cultivated mainly vegetables, which can be grown even in the absence of rain, provided there is water. However, farmers scheduled production to coincide with periods of high demand, although they nevertheless cultivate vegetables as many times of the year as they can, depending on the period of maturity of the vegetable crop, the ability to replenish the soil and, above all, the farmers energy.

5.2.2. Extent of artificial fertilizer usage

Fifty-seven cultivators from the three farming categories did not use artificial fertilizers; 30 did use common fertilizers like NPK, Ammonia Sulphate and Urea. Reasons given by those who did not use artificial fertilizers include the high cost involved (30), the negative side effects of using them over a long period of time (20), and the availability of alternatives (16); the remaining 21 farmers stated that the land on which they farm is fertile. The highest number of farmers who used artificial fertilizers was found in the vacant-space-farming category, followed by peri-urban farmers. Few farmers (4) in the household-farming category used artificial fertilizers. Out of the 30 farmers who used artificial fertilizers, 13 spent less than 40,000 cedis,1 8 spent between 40,000 and 100,000 cedis while the remaining spent 120,000 cedis and above.

5.3. Use of urban waste

Eighty cultivators from the three farming systems were aware that organic wastes could be used in crop cultivation; only 4 farmers stated they were not aware. Sixty-one farmers applied some form of organic waste. Twenty-six did not use organic waste. Organic waste commonly used included cow manure and chicken droppings. Farmers using organic waste were peri-urban (18), household (18) and vacant (25), respectively. Among the 26 farmers who did not use organic waste, 14, mainly from household, explained that the problem of odour and rodents prevented them from doing so. Five stated they did not know how to use it, and the remaining seven indicated that the land on which they farmed was already fertile. Among those using organic wastes, 54 used chicken droppings and cow manure, six used household kitchen waste, and one used both kitchen waste and manure. Treatment techniques included mixing chicken droppings with sawdust, allowing it to dry, and then spreading it on beds to be planted. Others co-compost cow manure with crop residues, leaves and shrubs and kitchen waste on site and use the compost on their farms.

5.3.1. Returns on cultivation

A significant number of household cultivators (21) indicated that they cultivated purposely for home consumption, while only one peri-urban and two vacant-space cultivators gave the same reason for cultivating in the city. Twenty-six peri-urban, 17 vacant-space and nine household cultivators stated they cultivate purposely for both sale and for consumption, while nine vacant-space farmers indicated they cultivate solely for cash income. Thirty-four farmers from the three farming systems were unable to provide figures on the amount of money they realize from the sale of their farm produce. Three peri-urban and 10 vacant-space cultivators refused to reveal their earnings from the sale of their farm produce for the simple reason that their earnings were being documented for tax purposes, since at the time of the survey the government of Ghana was in the process of introducing value-added tax in the country.

Twenty-seven farmers from the three farming categories (10 peri-urban; 7 vacant; 10 household) revealed that they earned approximately half a million cedis a year from the sale of farm produce. Seven peri-urban and four vacant-space cultivators earned between half a million and 1 million cedis a year. Six peri-urban and six vacant-space cultivators earned between 1 and 3 million cedis a year. Finally (2) peri-urban and (1) a vacant-space cultivator earned between 3 million and more than 4 million cedis a year from the sale of their farm produce.

6. Problems of urban cultivators

Like urban farmers everywhere, cultivators in Accra encounter a number of problems in their farming operations. Finding land was the most common problem mentioned by farmers from the three farming systems. The land issue has many dimensions. The first is the lack of tenure or security regarding the land on which urban cultivators farm. The absence of usufruct has created fear among farmers that they could lose the land on which they farm at any time. Discussions with some farmers revealed that since they do not posses tenure rights to the plots on which they farm wealthy individuals have subjected them to threats of eviction. The result is that they have been unable to protect themselves and their farms from harassment from these individuals. The general perception among farmers was that they were likely to lose their land at any moment, and this fear is heightened by the practice of selling land that has gripped the city lately. As one farmer, Alhaji Sandau, remarked “if land selling continues at such a fast pace, gradually all land in the city would be lost to housing; land is being sold to people who can plant houses rather than crops” (Pers. commun., 1998). This point has been confirmed by the chairman of one of the farming associations in the city, who reiterated: “if we don«t care, in the next ten years all of Greater Accra will be houses. Just last year we were farming here, but now they have come with bulldozers” ( Amar-Klemesu and Maxwell (1998) ).

The availability of suitable land at suitable locations (close to farmers« residences) for farming purposes is another dimension to the land issue. It is extremely difficult to find fertile land close to farmers« residences. To protect their interests, farmers have formed farmers associations to lobby the national and city governments to protect the land on which they farm from encroachment.

Farmers complained that it is very expensive to farm in the city due to the high cost of farm inputs. Agrochemicals like fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides are expensive. Consequently, some farmers have resorted to using cheap and banned alternatives like DDT. Some farmers, especially vegetable cultivators as alternative to chemical fertilizers because they are cheaper, are using cow and chicken manure and compost.

Farmers from the three farming systems as being another major issue mentioned theft. Vacant and household farmers complained bitterly about theft, which most of the time result in the loss of almost half of their produce. To guard against theft, farmers, particularly most vacant-space cultivators have formed watch groups and take turns to guard their farms against theft, especially during harvesting periods. Some farmers have constructed sheds in which they stay to guard their farms at night.

Drought and floods were reported as major problems. The location of farms in wetlands and along streams and drainage channels subject these farms to floods, particularly during periods of heavy rains, resulting in heavy losses to cultivators, while the occasional drought leads to poor harvests.

In the area of support services, farmers complained about their inability to obtain loans from the banks for farming purposes. Farmers had negative opinions about extension personnel and of the services provided by them. Extension officers were seen as very unreliable—are not available when needed, and when available concentrate on only a few farmers. They are also known to be very unfriendly and rude towards farmers. Those who are unable to access the services of extension officers and tap their expertise, particularly in the application of agro-chemicals, are forced to use their own instincts. Ultimately, farmers are applying these chemicals without any technical advice, with its negative consequence for the environment and for the health of farmers and consumers of farm produce. Since most of these farms are located near streams and creeks, the likelihood of pollution of these water bodies from these chemicals is very high.

Farmers who farm along drainage channels complained about harassment from the Accra Metropolitan Authority for using polluted water. These farmers have in some cases been threatened with eviction. As Nii Amartefio, a former mayor of Accra stated if it is revealed that farming in the city poses environmental and health risks to urban residents as a result of using untreated waste water or any organic wastes, my outfit will not hesitate to put such farmers out of business (pers. commun., 1997).

Most farmers pointed out that farming in the city is highly laboured intensive and tedious; it saps their energy and impacts negatively on their health. Added to these problems are injuries resulting from cuts and snakebites. These health problems require treatment, but since hospital services in the city and the country, in general, are so expensive, most farmers are unable to go for treatment.

The marketing of farm produce was reported as a major problem facing farmers, especially vegetable cultivators in the city. There are profound fluctuations in prices resulting from supply and demand inequalities. Usually, the market women who buy the majority of the produce offer ridiculously low farm gate prices, which are not commensurate with the effort of the farmers and, since they have no alternative, must reluctantly accept the low prices. Furthermore, by insisting on buying whole beds of vegetables, market women deny the farmers use of the beds until the crops are harvested. Most of the farmers have been putting pressure on the city authorities to grant them stalls at the various markets to sell directly to consumers.

Finally diseases, pests, bad seeds, the grazing of crops by cattle, sheep and goats and the use of farms as defecating grounds by some residents in the city were mentioned as some of the problems.

7. Potential role of urban cultivation

In spite of problems facing urban cultivators in Accra, urban agriculture could play a critical role in the city's development. The issue of food security has been recognized as a major urban problem in Accra and a host of cities in Africa. With Accra's growing population, coupled with the inability of the rural areas to provide enough food to feed the Ghana's urban population, urban agriculture will become critical. From the author's own observation, vegetable retailers from some rural communities in the eastern region of Ghana rely on vegetable farmers in Accra for their supplies. Apart from food, urban agriculture as an informal sector activity has the potential to offer jobs to a significant number of the unemployed in African cities. Urban agriculture is an easy industry to enter. Most urban agriculture activities, including poultry, micro-livestock, vegetables and ornamental plants, can be entered on a small scale with little investment and skill. The contribution of the sector in generating foreign exchange through exports of tropical fruits and vegetables, which are in high demand in Europe and North America, could be immense if the necessary policy framework were in place to support urban agriculture in Ghana. Some urban farmers in Accra have taken the initiative and have embarked on the cultivation of mangoes, oranges, bananas, pineapples and hot peppers for export to the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands. Grocery shops owned and operated by Ghanaian residents in Canada and the United States carry a host of tropical vegetables from Ghana, and urban farmers in Accra are known to be their major suppliers.

Urban agriculture could play a potential role in managing urban open spaces. The author observed in the course of this study that open spaces in the city, which are being cultivated, looked very neat and clean. However, areas that are not being cultivated serve as dumping grounds for refuse, defecation grounds and areas for dealing in drugs. In my conversations with farmers to try to find answers to this phenomenon, they revealed that they always keep these areas clean and often police their farms to prevent them from such nimby activities as refuse dumping, open defecation and dealing in drugs. Converting open spaces and unused land into farming plots can help clean up these areas and turn them into clean green spaces at no cost to city authorities, resulting in a reduction in municipal costs for landscape maintenance.

The rapid growth of Accra has been accompanied by ever increasing amounts of municipal waste generated in the city. Accra generates between 700 and 800 tons of municipal solid waste daily, and out of this 540 tons is organic and can be recycled into agriculture in the form of compost ( Asomani-Boateng (1999) ) collecting and disposing of these wastes constitute a critical problem facing city authorities. It is estimated that only 60 percent of the waste generated in the city is collected for disposal, and 35,000 houses in low and medium residential areas of the city do not have access to waste collection ( Asomani-Boateng and Haight (1999b) ). As a result, waste is left uncollected, and is dumped in drainage channels, streams and open spaces, creating serious environmental and health problems. Recycling organic solid waste into farming in the city will reduce waste volumes, improve the efficiency of Accra's waste management systems and improve the environment by getting rid of the city's major contaminant ( Asomani-Boateng & Haight (1999a) ).

8. Discussion

Urban agriculture in Accra and other cities in Ghana is an untapped and wasted opportunity, which needs to be exploited in the quest to achieve sustainable urban development in Ghana and other African cities. To promote the concept, it is imperative to examine the major issues facing urban agriculture. Access to land in suitable locations with a secure title for cultivation emerged overwhelming as a major problem facing urban farmers in Accra. In peri-urban areas, land has various competitive uses, such as residential, industrial and commercial which is shrinking agricultural land. In the face of such intense pressures, could agricultural land be preserved and protected? Can farmers afford to pay market rent to acquire land, notwithstanding the fact that farmers in the city pay virtually nothing for the land on which they farm? And if there is the need for intervention, what forms should intervention take, and whence should it come

Subdivision layouts prepared by customary and private landowners are devoid of public utility sites such as open spaces, community centres, school sites, health centres and markets. To maximize their earnings from the sale of land, every available space is subdivided into residential plots and sold; leaving spaces for public utility purposes is seen as an unprofitable practice. Added to this is the fact that owners only sell to the highest bidders, who are usually residential and commercial developers. Left on their own, will customary and private landowners be willing to provide land in the city for farming purposes? That a significant number of farmers, as shown in the study, farmed on private lands does not indicate that such lands have been earmarked for agriculture. The point is that for whatever reason, these lands are not ready for development, but in the course of time, when they are ready for development these farmers will have to leave the land. It is no wonder that urban agriculture in African cities has come to be viewed as a transitory activity or associated with what Keene has characterized as the “impermanence syndrome”, a belief that farming in urban areas is only an interim activity that will cease when the land is ripe for development ( Keene (1996) ).

From the above analysis, it must be emphasized that the promotion of agriculture in Accra will run into problems if urban farmers are expected to purchase land in suitable locations in the city for farming. Studies have shown that the extremely low incomes of households make it virtually impossible for a majority of urban households in African cities to purchase land. To promote farming in the city will require that the major suppliers of land (state, customary and private) work together to provide land in suitable locations for farming.

Central to the promotion of urban agriculture is the issue of competition between rural and urban farming. Urban agriculture is viewed by some as an alternative to, or in competition with, rural agriculture. Critics assert that large-scale promotion of urban farming will compete with rural farming, eventually depriving rural residents of their source of livelihood and culminating in the collapse of rural economies. This assertion is debatable, for one has to examine this point in the light of what is being produced and the quantities involved. Even though significant quantities of certain crops are grown, they cannot be seen to undermine rural production. Furthermore, most crops grown in urban areas are vegetables that are not grown on a large scale in rural areas. Besides, it is becoming increasingly clear that the ability of the rural areas to supply food to urban areas is weakening. Desertification due to bush fires and poor agricultural practices, and declining soil fertility is one problem; also the emphasis on the production of cash crops like cocoa, coffee, and palm oil to generate foreign exchange has seen farmers switching to the production of cash crops to the detriment of food crops. In war-ravaged countries like Sierra Leone, Angola, and Mozambique, rural areas have been turned into battlefields, fields have been mined, and rural farmers have been displaced, making it virtually impossible to farm in these areas. In such countries, urban farming would serve as a supplement to, or fill in the gap left by, rural food production.

8.1. Urban planning and urban agriculture

At the centre of the discussion is the issue of urban land use planning and urban agriculture in Accra. Urban land use planning and urban agriculture seem to be in conflict. Land use planning in Accra has failed to accommodate urban farming. Indeed, Accra is a metropolis in crisis when it comes to land use planning, primarily due to the flouting of planning regulations. Residential developments are taking place in environmentally sensitive areas (wetlands, flood plains, etc.), on proposed roads, and in waste dumps. In peri-urban areas of the city the situation is alarming. The rate at which agricultural land within this zone is being converted to residential use is high. Larbi estimates that between 1990 and 1993, roughly 2100 hectares of land per year was converted from agricultural to residential and industrial use. By 1997, this had shot up to 2600 hectares per year ( Odame-Larbi (1996) ). Colonial urban planning which has been widely adopted by contemporary African planners and city administrators never accommodated agriculture as a major land use for various reasons, and the distinction between Town and County is proof of this. Against this background, it has been shown that pre-colonial African cities incorporated agriculture as a major land use ( Winters (1983) ). Elsewhere in Europe, Ebenezer Howards Garden City concept addressed food production, distribution, collective preparation and consumption and waste recycling as integral to the city. The focus of the Garden City proposal was 5000 acres of agricultural lands which served as a green belt, and location and flow of raw and processed commodities, collective kitchens and dining halls, and recycling of food waste as fertilizer for farms ( Howard (1960) ). Ultimately, the links between food and other community systems were recognized, understood, and addressed in depth. The goal was to provide a liveable alternative to the filthy, overcrowded, and sprawling older cities, and also to enhance local self-sufficiency.

The mere presence of urban gardens in traditional African cities disqualified them from being classified as urban by colonial administrators. Morgans remarks about pre-colonial Ibo cities attest to this belief: the dispersed gardens and settlements of primitive cultivators are not concomitant with the rise of cities or the establishment of a stable administration over a large area... the arts and crafts associated with towns are simply not there in Ibo society ( Morgan (1954) ). There is no doubt that definitions of urban and urban activities have most of the time excluded agricultural land use and agricultural activities. Having said this, why have contemporary urban planners in Africa, who know quite well that urban agriculture was recognized as a major land use by pre-colonial indigenous planners, and accommodated in their urban land use plans, failed to come to terms with such a stark reality? If planning is designed to better the lot of humankind, and if it is a dynamic activity which responds to the needs of society, and desirous of enhancing the liveability of human settlements, then within the context of the urban planning, one can safely conclude that African planners have failed in pursuing these objectives by not accommodating, adopting, adapting and integrating what a significant number of urban residents in African cities have relied upon and continue to rely on, into the urban spatial system.

The need to revolutionalize urban land use planning in African cities, to accommodate urban agriculture is paramount. Urban agriculture has urban planning implications in that land use planning decisions are about the type, amount, and location of land. Simply put it is about “what”, “how much” and “where”. It is a question of site and size. Questions urban planners always have to deal with in designating urban land uses are “Is this use appropriate on this site”, “where is this use most suitably located”, “Are the uses located on the same site or adjacent sites compatible with one another”, and “how much land is needed for a particular use”. In promoting urban agricultural activities whether livestock, poultry, fish farming or cultivation of crops, one has to deal with above planning issues of “what” “how much” and “where”.

9. Concluding remarks

The neglect of urban agriculture in Ghana and most African countries means that its full potential has not been realized. Urban farming should not be viewed as a subsidiary and blighted activity on the urban landscape but rather as an important strategy for developing more productive, viable and sustainable urban habitats. Emphasis should move from mere tolerance on the part of city administrators to one of officially sanctioned and promoted urban agriculture. This will require promoting urban agriculture within the framework of the country's agricultural and urban development policies, in which emphasis will be placed on incorporating urban agriculture into city plans. Planners should recognize the fact that agriculture is as valuable as the use of urban land as industry, housing and commerce, and should, therefore, prepare land use plans and regulations, which accommodate agriculture. It will also require, among other things, addressing the issue of credit, marketing, inputs like seedlings and inadequate extension services which are major problems facing urban farmers in Accra and in most African cities.


The author would like to thank the Accra Metropolitan Department of Food and Agriculture and Accra Metropolitan Assembly for their institutional support during the fieldwork in 1997 and 1998. A number of people were helpful in the fieldwork, but special thanks are due to Dr. Sackey, Mr. Nimako and Ms. Comfort Oku of the Metro Department of Food and Agriculture. Sincere thanks to all those farmers at Dzorwulu, Adabraka, Roman Ridge, La, Abbosey Okai, Christian village and Korle Bu who participated in the study; it was wonderful to learn from you all. This study was carried out with grant from the International Development Research Centre of Canada, and I gratefully acknowledge this financial support.

1. Equivalent of 1US$ was 3500 cedis at the time of the survey in 1998.


Amar-Klemesu, M. & Maxwell D. (1998). Urban agriculture in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area. Nutrition Unit Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, University of Ghana, Accra, Ghana.

Asomani-Boateng, R. (1999). Planning and managing urban organic solid waste in an African city: Linking organic solid waste composting to urban cultivation in Accra, Ghana. Ph.D. Thesis, School of Planning, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Asomani-Boateng, R., Haight M., "Reusing organic solid waste in urban farming in African cities - A challenge for urban planners", Third World Planning Review, Volume: 21, Issue: 4 (1999), pp. 411-428

Asomani-Boateng, R., Haight M., "Assessing the performance of mechanised centralised composting plants in West Africa - The case of Teshie Nungua composting plant in Accra, Ghana", Warmer Bulletin, Volume: 69, (1999), pp. 4-6

Cencosad, (1994). Urban market gardens in Accra. Centre for Community Studies, Action and Development and the Mega Cities Project. Accra, Ghana.

Drakakis-Smith, D., "Third world cities - Sustainable urban development", Urban Studies, Volume: 32, Issue: 4–5 (1995), pp. 659-677

Drescher, A. W. (1994a). Management strategies in African home gardens and the need for new extension approaches. Section on applied physiography of the tropics and sub-tropics, University of Freigburg, Germany.

Freeman, D. B. (1991). A city of farmers: informal agriculture in the open spaces of Nairobi, Kenya. Montreal and Kingston, McGill-Queens University Press, Canada.

Hansen, E. (1987). National food policies and organization in Ghana. The State and Agriculture in Africa. T. Mkandire & N. Bourenane (Eds.) Senegal. Codesria Book Series London.

Howard, E. (1960). Garden cities of tomorrow (4th ed.), Faber.

Keene, J. C. (1996). An overview of two US programmes designed to keep farmers farming and conserving farmland in metropolitan areas: Agricultural districts and agricultural protection zoning. School of City and Regional Planning, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

Kufogbe, S. (1996). Urbanization and changing patterns of land use in the peri-urban zone along the Airport-Ayimensah transect of Accra, Ghana. London: Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

La, Anyane S. (1963). Vegetable gardening in Accra. Ghana Farmer. Vol. XIII No.1 February 4–10.

Lee-Smith, D. & Menon P.A. (1994). Urban agriculture in Kenya. Cities feeding people: An examination of urban agriculture in East Africa. IDRC, Ottawa, Canada (pp. 67–84).

Lewcock, C.P., "Farmer's use of urban waste in Kano", Habitat International, Volume: 19, Issue: 2 (1995), pp. 225-234 Bibliographic Page Full text

Lorenco, L.I., "How do urban poor stay alive? Food production in a squatter settlement in Bissau", African Urban Quaterly, Volume: 2, Issue: 2 (1996), pp. 22-29

Maxwell, D. G. (1994). The household logic of urban farming in Kampala. Cities feeding people. An examination of urban agriculture in East Africa. IDRC, Ottawa, Canada (pp. 47–66).

Maxwell, D. G. & Zziwa S. (1992). Urban agriculture in Africa: The case of Kampala, Uganda. ACTS, Nairobi, Kenya.

May, J., Rogerson C.M., "Poverty and sustainable cities in South Africa - The role of urban cultivation", Habitat International, Volume: 19, Issue: 2 (1995), pp. 165-181 Bibliographic Page Full text

Mbiba, B. (1995). Urban agriculture in Zimbabwe: Implications for urban management and poverty. Aldershot Avebury England.

Morgan, W.B., "Approaches to regional studies in Nigeria", Research Notes, Volume: 6, Issue: 2 (1954), pp. 10-18

Mosha, A. C. (1991). Urban planning problems in Tanzania. African Urban Quarterly 4(3&4), 23–30.

Mvena, Z. S. K. Lupanga I. J. Mlozi M. R. S. (1991). Urban agriculture in Tanzania: A study of six towns. Draft Report, IDRC (Project 86-0090), Ottawa, Canada.

Mwangi, A. (1995). The role of urban agriculture for food security in low-income areas in Nairobi. Leiden: African Studies Centre.

Ngwa-Nebasina, E., "Time and space utilization within an urban confine - The case of Buea town gardeners in the Republic of Cameroon", Geo Journal, Volume: 15, Issue: 1 (1987), pp. 77-81

Odame-Larbi, W., "Spatial urban planning and urban fragmentation in Accra", Third world Planning Review, Volume: 18, Issue: 2 (1996), pp. 195-215

Okrah, B. K. (1984). Backyard gardening in the agricultural development of Ghana. B.A. Thesis, University of Ghana, Legon-Accra, Ghana.

Rakodi, C., "Urban agriculture - Research questions and Zambian evidence", Journal of Modern African Studies, Volume: 16, Issue: 3 (1988), pp. 495-515

Sanyal, B. (1984). Urban agriculture: A strategy of survival in Zambia. Ph.D. Thesis, School of Planning, University of California, Los Angeles, USA.

Sawio, C. J. (1993). Feeding the urban masses: Towards an understanding of the dynamics of urban agriculture and land-use change in Dar-es-Salaam. Ph.D. Thesis, Clark University, Worcester, MA, USA.

Tricaud, P. M. (1987). Urban agriculture in Ibadan and Freetown. Research Report no.10, Food/Energy Nexus programme, United Nations University, Paris.

Tripp, A. M. (1990). The urban informal economy and the state in Tanzania. Ph.D. Thesis, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA.

Winters, C., "The classification of traditional African cities", Journal of Urban History, Volume: 10, Issue: 1 (1983), pp. 10-18

Search Our Site[new]

pointer Return to Contents' Page pointer

Revised Thursday, February 13, 2003

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture