Urban Agriculture in East Africa: practice, challenges and opportunities
By Caleb Mireri
and Peter Atekyereza
On this web page we have placed the Abstract, Introduction and Conclusion. The complete original paper can be downloaded here. (PDF) Urban Agriculture in East Africa: practice, challenges and opportunities
This paper attempts to put into perspective urban agriculture in East Africa. The main themes of the paper are: definition of urban agriculture; characteristics of urban agriculture; role of urban agriculture in employment, income, and food supply; policy and institutional framework for urban agriculture; and urban agriculture and environment. The paper demonstrates that urban agriculture is an important feature of the urban land use system. Since the colonial era, urban agriculture remains outside the urban land use system. Therefore, the sector does not enjoy the much needed institutional support. Although Tanzania has integrated urban agriculture in the urban land use system, it remains officially excluded from Kenyan urban land use system. Despite the fact that it is not integrated into the urban land use system, it is an important feature of the urban economy. It is evident that urban agriculture makes important contribution to employment, income and food supply. It is an important source of income and food supply for the commercial and poor urban farmers respectively. Due to environmental degradation and heighten poverty, there are health risks associated with urban agriculture in hazardous areas or use of unsafe water. The urban economies can greatly benefit from urban agriculture, if all the governments of East Africa can develop a policy and institutional framework on the sector. This would ensure enhanced agricultural productivity and safety of the produce.
East African countries have registered rapid rate of urbanisation (6-8 per cent) during the last four decades. This has occurred against declining economic growth and weakening institutional and physical infrastructure. As a result, the urban centres have witnessed heightened poverty and massive growth of slum and squatter settlement. In the case of Kenya urban poverty is estimated at 60 per cent, while those living in slum and squatter settlements are estimated at 70 per cent in both Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Massive growth of slum and squatter settlement has contributed to environmental degradation.
Since the 1970s, urban agriculture has recorded significant growth. The following key factors have accelerated the growth of urban agriculture as a survival strategy by the poor urban farming families: rapid urbanisation, ineffective agricultural policies, crippled domestic food-distribution systems, constrained public spending and subsidies, wage cuts, soaring inflation and rising unemployment, plummeting purchasing power, and lax urban land use regulations or enforcement (IDRC, 1994). Globally, about 200 million urban dwellers are now urban farmers, providing food and income to about 700 million people (DGIP/UNDP 1993). The growth of urban agriculture has taken place in the face of socio-economic prejudices in form of planning standards and regulations that exclude agriculture from urban land use systems.
Although urban agriculture is tolerated in Kenya, town planning legislative provisions do not recognise urban agriculture as a legitimate land use that should be provided for in the urban areas. In the case of Tanzania, efforts have been made to integrate urban agriculture into the urban land use system, but little has been done to actualise the legislative provisions. Therefore, it has not been possible to harness the full potential of urban agriculture in employment, income and food supply.
The East African countries have witnessed high rate of urbanisation in the range of 6-8 per cent during the last four decades. This has been associated with economic stagnation, worsening poverty, massive growth of slum settlement and environmental degradation. Urban agriculture has during the same period registered rapid growth as an important source of food for the urban poor as well a viable commercial venture for the middle and high income households. During the colonial period urban agriculture was excluded from formal urban land use and could only be authorised under stringent conditions. Since independence, little has been done to integrate urban agriculture as an integral part of urban land use system. Although Tanzania has integrated the sector into urban land use system, the full effect of the initiative has not been realised. As a result, urban agriculture continues to suffer from official policy bias as well as socio-cultural practices that have been informed by colonial influence.
Practice of urban agriculture on road reserves, river banks and other hazardous areas may contaminate the produce with serious health implication. Also, urban agriculture competes with other urban land uses for scarce resources, for example domestic water supply. In addition, demand for water causes poor urban farmers to destroy conventional sewerage systems to access waste water for irrigation, which causes environmental degradation and increased infrastructure maintenance cost. Safe urban agriculture provides an important opportunity for the farmers to gainfully participate in national development. In order to realise the full potential of urban agriculture, there is need to develop a policy and institutional framework for the sector. This would enable urban farmers unlock critical technical and financial support services. Also, urban agriculture would be carried out in designated and safe places. This would be mutually beneficial to the farmer as well as the unsuspecting consumer who would be guaranteed of safe produce.
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