Why urban farming may be an answer to declining farmland

Prof Alex Ariho (second right) explains to visitors how to start and manage an urban farm at Excel Hort Consult Urban farm in Biharwe,  Mbarara City. PHOTO | RAJAB MUKOMBOZI

What you need to know:

  • For example, in Mbarara City, the peri--urban and rural agricultural land is already shrinking due to increasing demand for land for residential/apartments, commercial houses and business facilities such hotels and rentals.

With increasing agricultural land loss in rural and per-urban areas through commercial, residential and industrial use, most of the agricultural land has been sub-divided to give way for urban development.

For example, in Mbarara City, the peri--urban and rural agricultural land is already shrinking due to increasing demand for land for residential/apartments, commercial houses and business facilities such hotels and rentals.

People are already beginning to demarcate agricultural land into 50x100ft plots for sale. This means that agricultural land will in the future be limited yet the population is increasing.

Whereas population and the demand for food is increasing, cultivable land is diminishing thus posing a great risk of food insecurity.  And in such a scenario investing in urban farming can be an option.

How to start and succeed in urban farming

Urban farming, like any other business, faces challenges right from the start, production and marketing and it is therefore important to first carry out research on how you are going to start otherwise you will end up making losses.

Research will help you to know what you are going to grow/rear, market and demand.  For example, on market research you need to talk to restaurants, groceries, visit markets and local food producers to find out marketing opportunities.

Prof Alex Ariho, an agricultural expert and director of Excel Agri-business Incubation Hub notes that to start urban farming you need to have a business plan.

“This will help and guide you through each stage of starting and managing your production such as financial needs, target market and sustainability,” explains Prof Ariho.

Get good soils

 Most of the urban soils are always contaminated with polythene bags, bottles and metals. So it is advisable that one carries out soil testing and possibly apply fertilisers or manure to ensure the soils are good enough to support your farming projects.

You also need to learn about better farming practices.

To succeed in urban farming you need to be equipped with some of the best farming practices such as pests and disease control and management and post-harvest handling. Here you can consult agricultural extension workers to give you advice on some of the best practices.

You also need to be aware of urban laws and regulations. In some urban areas there are restricted activities and zoning regulations. For example, you cannot be allowed to keep livestock in the central business areas.

Mr Robert Mugabe, the mayor of Mbarara City, says urban farming cannot be practiced without control.

“You cannot keep goats and cows to roam in the city streets, we will confiscate them, charge you and auction them. Urban farming is regulated, build structures for your animals and keep them there,” said Mr Mugabe.

Challenges

Like any other farming or business urban farmers face challenges in accessing funds. Urban farming ensures food security but also assumes a profit motive and this means it requires strategic investment which demands for some level of financing to ensure quality production.

Urban farming also faces competition so you have to ensure there is quality and sustainable production.

Before you start urban farming ensure that you put in consideration climate change effects and make sure you have a provision of water supply on your farm.

Other challenges include limited space, pests and diseases, poor soil quality.

Some types of urban farming include; Back yard gardens, roof top gardens and vertical gardens.

Decline

Kampala has expanded from a mere 7.14 percent of the landscape in 1989 to 55.10 percent in 2015. This occurred at the expense of agricultural land which within the same period decreased from 48.02 percent in 1989 to 16.69 percent of the landscape in 2015. In the case of Mbarara, built-up area increased from 6.37 percent in 2002 to 30.96 percent by 2016 and agricultural land decreased from 39.92 percent to 32.08 percent of the landscape.

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