Nelly Bassily | June 2, 2008
Like any other farmer, Karim visits his vegetable plot every morning. He tends to his lettuce and other crops, irrigating them with water from a nearby stream. But there’s a busy road just metres from where Karim works the land, and power lines overhead. He’s one of a growing number of urban dwellers turning to agriculture in the wake of rising food prices.About 200 people farm alongside Karim. Any vegetables they don’t eat themselves are sold at a local market. Karim is proud to say that their produce feeds many people in Ghana’s capital city of Accra.
Mark Redwood is an expert in urban agriculture with Canada’s International Development Research Centre. He says there is a direct link between the rising cost of food and the number of people practicing urban agriculture. By growing crops on rooftops, in culverts, or under power lines, people stand a better chance of feeding their family, regardless of market prices.
In cities across Africa, people are increasingly seeking out small patches of land to grow their own food. Jessica Mbano lives with her family in Glen Norah, a densely populated suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe. She says she didn’t used to farm, but when food prices began to soar, she needed a way to feed her family. She now grows maize on a small plot near her home.
In southern Namibia, Ottilié Abrahams is part of a civil society organization that promotes backyard gardening. The organization has existed for more than 20 years, but interest in their programs has never been higher.
Ms. Abrahams insists that it doesn’t take a lot of land to improve family food security. A door-sized plot, about one metre by two metres, can be used to grow six or seven types of vegetables, such as cabbage, carrots, radishes, bush beans, and spring onions. These vegetables can be planted in rows just 15 centimetres apart.
She recommends fertilizing and watering crops with household waste. Organic kitchen scraps, dead leaves, and ash all make good compost. Vegetables can be watered with bath water or even dishwashing water. You can also collect rainwater to irrigate the garden, using a barrel or other container.
Urban farmers who produce a surplus also benefit from nearby markets. The rising cost of oil is a driving force behind high food prices. But those who sell their crops close to home avoid transportation costs and enjoy better profits.