Urban farming is the answer to many of our problems

Tuesday December 10 2013

By Andrew Ndawula Kalema

The people who run Kampala city can be zealous about their work, if the swiftness used to impeach the Lord Mayor is anything to go by. It was quite impressive. Within no time, the “guillotine” to chop off Erias Lukwago’s political head had been manoeuvered into position. This is the kind of zeal Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) needs to improve service delivery.

If the city “garbage engineers” were to do their work with the same gusto, Kampala would be a much cleaner city to live in.
Again, if KCCA was as zealous about promoting urban agriculture, some of the petty criminals terrorising the city would instead be feeding it.

Food for thought
The world over, urban agriculture is playing a crucial role, providing much needed employment and food security for people who otherwise would be unemployed or starving.
Here is some statistical food for thought. Half the world’s population lives in cities. Uganda is not yet there but we are catching up very fast. Just look at the speed at which towns like Mukono, Gulu and Arua are developing.

About 800 million people are involved in urban agriculture world wide and contribute to the food security of the urban communities where they operate.

Low-income earners in urban centres such as Kampala spend between 40 and 60 per cent of their income on food. To feed a city the size of Kampala, you need at least 3,000 tonnes of food every day. About 250 million of the world’s hungry people live in the cities.

Meeting needs
No one appreciates the role urban agriculture can play in our economy better than the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), whose mandate is to ensure no one goes hungry.

FAO defines urban agriculture as “an industry that produces, processes and markets food, largely in response to the daily demand of consumers within a town or city, using land and water within the same urban and peri-urban area, applying intensive production methods, using and reusing natural resources and urban wastes to yield a diversity of crops and livestock”.

In a nutshell, urban agriculture is about meeting the nutritional needs of a city, from within that city, with the use and reuse of that city’s resources.

Looking at the benefits, as outlined by FAO, it is surprising that urban authorities in Uganda are not zealously promoting urban agriculture.

Far from ideal
For years, Kampala city authorities have talked about urban agriculture’s potential to create jobs and improve food security. But so far, very little has been done to harness this immense potential.

Many residents have spotted the goldmine and are already enjoying the economic benefits of proximity to a lucrative market. Seeds of Gold has featured several success stories of backyard farmers in different parts of Kampala and its suburbs.
According to statistics, half of Mpererwe residents, a suburb in Kawempe Division, about 10 kilometres from City Hall, get part of their income from engaging in urban agriculture.

However, anyone who has visited this area will testify that the Mpererwe model is far from ideal. Livestock and people live in close proximity under very unhygienic conditions.

Cows, goats, chicken and ducks freely roam the streets, feeding straight from garbage heaps, spreading diseases and causing traffic jams. This is what happens when people are left on their own to do what they think is right.
Deploying law enforcers to confiscate or poison the roaming animals will not solve the problem.

Instead, the authorities should educate these budding urban farmers on how to grow crops and rear animals within limited space, using the abundant and often free resources around them.

Without clear guidelines on what agricultural activities can be safely carried out in different parts of the city, are we surprised that people are tethering pigs on their verandas and growing vegetables next to public toilets?

Encourage youth
Urban authorities in neighbouring Rwanda and Kenya are already at it with some degree of success. In Kenya, Nairobi city authorities have come up with a project to encourage the youth in Kibera, one of the biggest slums on the continent, to engage in urban agriculture.

They have been trained on how to recycle rubbish into manure, which they use to grow vegetables like tomatoes and supply to the supermarkets. In Kampala, hundreds of women and youth are earning their living from propagating ornamental plants, which they sell at roadside nurseries.

They use discarded buveera and mineral water bottles as potting material. They use the rich silt that collects in the drainage channels during rain storms as potting medium. They use free water from the drainage channels to water their plants.

Gainful employment
Along Press Road, opposite Mukwano Industries, you will find an entire family surviving on selling potted plants to both hobby gardeners and professional landscaping. They are part of Kampala’s informal recycling system.

But like most other people engaged in informal business in Kampala, they are constantly being threatened with eviction. Their crime is operating in the wrong place; a road reservoir.
Ironically, their customers include KCCA, who buy from them plants to beautify the city.

One of the challenges facing our leaders is high unemployment rate among the youth, especially in urban areas.
Many of them underemployed as street vendors, boda boda riders, taxi touts or completely unemployed. Engaging them in urban farming is one way of getting them back into gainful employment.