Farming the cities, feeding an urban future

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

As people move from rural to urban settings in search of economic opportunities, urban agriculture is becoming an important provider of both food and employment, according to researchers with the Worldwatch Institute. “Urban agriculture is providing food, jobs, and hope in Nairobi, Kampala, Dakar, and other cities across sub-Saharan Africa,” said Danielle Nierenberg, co-director of the Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project. “In some cases, urban farmers are providing important inputs, such as seed, to rural farmers, dispelling the myth that urban agriculture helps feed the poor and hungry only in cities.”

The United Nations projects that up to 65 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, up from around 50 percent today. The rate of urban migration is particularly high in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where inadequate urban infrastructure struggles to keep up with the large influx of people. “Although most of the world’s poor and hungry remain in rural areas, hunger is migrating with people into urban areas,” said Brian Halweil, co-director of the Nourishing the Planet project.

Currently, an estimated 800 million people worldwide are engaged in urban agriculture, producing 15–20 percent of the world’s food. However, this activity occurs mainly in Asia, making it critical to place more worldwide emphasis on this vital sector. In Africa, 14 million people migrate from rural to urban areas each year, and studies suggest that an estimated 35–40 million Africans living in cities will need to depend on urban agriculture to meet their food requirements in the future.

“Urban agriculture is an important aspect of the development movement as it has the potential to address some of our most pressing challenges, including food insecurity, income generation, waste disposal, gender inequality, and urban insecurity“ said Nancy Karanja, a Professor at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and a State of the World 2011 contributing author.

Organizations such as Urban Harvest and others are working across the African continent to enhance urban agricultural efforts. In sub-Saharan Africa, the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO), a Florida-based organization, has helped farmers build gardens using old tires and other “trash” to create plant beds. And the group Harvest of Hope has helped organize urban Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs in Cape Town, South Africa, purchasing excess produce from city gardens and redistributing it in schools in the area.

These projects are not only helping to provide fresh sources of food for city dwellers, but also providing a source of income, a tool to empower women, and a means of protecting the environment, among other benefits.

According to Nourishing the Planet, urban agriculture provides three important advantages that are evident in successful projects across the African continent:

  • Close to home (and market). Produce from urban farms and gardens does not need to travel as far as produce grown in rural areas to reach the dining table, which helps to reduce production costs, post-harvest waste, and greenhouse gas emissions. This is also helpful in situations when supply chains from rural areas have been interrupted and cities are unable to receive food imports.
  • Empowering women and building communities. In Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya, Urban Harvest has helped women build “vertical farms” simply by using sacks of soil in which to grow vegetables. Using these gardening activities, the women share business ideas and technical know-how, empowering each other. The community gardens also act as a forum where community members can exchange ideas and discuss community issues and problems.
  • Improving urban environments. Faced with limited resources, urban farmers are adept at utilizing urban waste streams to strengthen their soil and grow their crops. Garbage is used as compost or fodder for livestock, and nutrient-rich waste water is used for irrigation. By re-using these waste products, urban farms help to reduce the amount of refuse clogging landfills as well as the amount of water used in cities. Community gardens also provide an aesthetically pleasing space and help improve the air quality in urban areas.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

 

ECOVA MALI: Building Home Grown Knowledge

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet. This is the first part in a series about our visit with ECOVA MALI.

It’s not a new concept—farmers learning from other farmers about different agricultural techniques—but it’s one that can be difficult to execute. Foreign NGOs often offer trainings, but they don’t always fit farmers needs. But at ECOVA MALI’s training center, 35 kilometers outside of Bamako, Mali’s capital, farmers are getting the skills they need to be better stewards of the environment, as well as better business women and men.

ECOVA was started by former Peace Corps Volunteers, Gregory Flatt and Cynthia Hellman. Along with Yacouba Kone, a Peace Corps program assistant and trainer for agriculture and natural resource management and Madou Camara, ECOVA’s Country Director, they’ve created a training center—and testing ground—for environmentally sustainable agricultural techniques. They want to encourage “home grown knowledge” by building local expertise. The facility, near the village of Terenabougou, uses local experts to teach farmers how intercropping, water conservation, agroforestry, seed saving, processing shea butter, and other practices can help both protect the environment and increase farmer income. ECOVA also instructs farmers about basic business, accounting, and marketing skills and provides small loans and “mini-grants” to allow farmers to buy tools and equipment they need and to start businesses.

ECOVA holds workshops based on requests from farmer communities—for example, they’ve worked with women’s groups from nearby communities, teaching them how to process shea butter. ECOVA hopes to eventually start training farmers about small-scale livestock production, including raising poultry and goats. Listen to Madou Camara talk about ECOVA’s farmer to farmer training method:

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. She has already traveled to over 19 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Gabon next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.

If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates. Please don’t hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Large Scale Land Investments Do Not Benefit Local Communities

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

This is the third blog in a series about the increasing prevalence of large-scale land acquisitions, or land-grabs.

In April 2010, more than 120 farmers’ groups and non-governmental organizations all across the world signed a statement declaring their opposition to the guiding principles endorsed by the World Bank, the FAO, IFAD and UNCTAD on “responsible” land investments.

The campaign, spearheaded by NGOs GRAIN, FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN), Land Research Action Network (LRAN) and La Via Campesina, calls for an immediate end to land grabbing, claiming that it “denies land for local communities, destroys livelihoods, reduces the political space for peasant oriented agricultural policies and distorts markets towards increasingly concentrated agribusiness interests and global trade rather than towards sustainable peasant/smallhold production for local and national markets.”

The groups also believe that land-grabbing will “accelerate eco-system destruction and the climate crisis” because many of the deals rely on industrial and “mono-culture oriented” production systems.

In an interview with Nourishing the Planet, writer and activist Raj Patel denounced land-grabs as “modern forms of colonialism, except with colonialism there was the argument that the colonizers were bringing civilization to the people they were colonizing. This time around, they don’t bother with that justification. There’s not even the pretense of bringing civilization – now it’s just about efficiency.”

Patel noted that when people tout these land deals as an effective means to end hunger, they often ignore the fact that many deals are not growing food at all, but instead pursuing the rapidly expanding biofuels market. “When you’re talking about turning arable land into zones of cultivation for jatropha, you’ve a hard time arguing that anyone’s belly is going to be fuller as a result,” he said. A 2008 report by the FAO and the International Institute for Environment and Development documents the displacement of households due to this trend in particular. One example the report cites is a multimillion dollar British jatropha project in the Kisarawe district of Tanzania that “has been reported to involve acquiring 9,000 ha of land and the clearing of 11 villages which, according to the 2002 population census, are home to 11,277 people.”

The issue of capturing water in these deals is also often not discussed, but it was mentioned in the April statement, as an example of the many factors that need to be included when assessing the value of the land being leased or sold.

In numerous deals, land under negotiation is described as “idle” or “unused” – a glaring misrepresentation of the indigenous people (including many pastoralists) who in fact live on and have worked the land for years. In an interview with GRAIN, Nyikaw Ochalla, a member of the indigenous Anuak nation in Ethiopia describes the government’s complete disregard for his people’s livelihoods. “There is no consultation with the indigenous population, who remain far away from the deals,” he says. “The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands. And they have no place to voice their opposition. They are just being evicted without any proper consultation, any proper compensation.”

“There are 1.5 billion small-scale farmers in the world who live on less than 2 hectares of land,” according to Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of The Oakland Institute and member of the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group. “Secure and equitable access to and control over land allows these farmers to produce food, which is vital for their own food security as well as that of rural populations throughout the developing world.”

The signatories of the April statement (of which Patel was one), demand true agrarian reform, which includes investment in research and training programs for small-holder farmers, overhauling trade policies, supporting regional markets, enforcing strict regulations to foreign direct investment, and promoting “community-oriented food and farming systems hinged on local people's control over land, water and biodiversity.”

When asked about alternative business models like contract farming, proposed by many intergovernmental agencies, Raj Patel concluded, “What we need is for people to decide what they want to do with the land. The alternative to contract farming on grabbed-land is if people were able to decide in a community forum, in which women had equal voice with men, what the fate of the land should be. That’s what food sovereignty is about. And anything less than that is really just crumbs from the table.”

To read the second half of the interview with Raj Patel, see Change is Possible in this Complex Food System. For examples of agricultural training programs in Africa, see Girl Up: Helping Girls around the Globe Help Each Other Working with the Root, and Improving African Women’s Access to Agriculture Training Programs.

 

 

There's more...

Innovation of the Week: For Pest Control, Following Nature’s Lead

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

It might feel counterintuitive, but the more varieties of vegetables, plants, and insects that are included in a garden, the less vulnerable any single crop becomes. Mans Lanting of ETC Foundation India wrote in LEISA Magazine in 2007 that the best method of approaching pest control is to learn to live in harmony with pests instead of trying to fight them. By harnessing the natural state of vegetation and pests, a farmer can create “a system in which no component can easily dominate” and in which soil and crop quality is greatly improved.

In other words, the tendency for traditional farming to give preference to specific crops, to plant in clean rows, to weed out any invasive plants, and to use chemicals to prevent pests and disease is actually creating a need for these pesticides and fertilizers. Soil fertility decreases when crops are harvested, and growing a single crop means that the soil is further stripped of nutrients with each season, requiring the use of inputs that, according to Lanting, lead to an imbalance in plant nutrition and increase vulnerability to pests and diseases. This introduces the need for pesticides, which cost more money and create toxic runoff that can damage the local environment.

The result is a self-perpetuating war against infertile soil and a burgeoning pest population.

Instead, Lanting recommends taking an alternative approach, mimicking the diversity that takes place in nature and creating a garden that relies on natural systems to provide nutrients as well as pest and disease control.

Farm biodiversity can be improved by integrating border crops, trees, and animals. Farmers can also include trap crops—crops that attract insects away from the main crop—which include Indian mustard, sunflower, marigold, soybeans, and French beans, as well as crops that promote insect predators such as pulses for beetles, okra for lace wing, and coriander, sorghum, and maize for trichogramma (small wasps). Visual barriers can be used to help “hide” crops from pests. The diamond backed moth, for example, has to be able to see cabbage in order to find it—and destroy it before a harvest.

Nourishing the Planet saw some of these techniques being implemented at Enaleni Farm, a demonstration farm run by Richard Haigh in Durban, South Africa. Haigh cultivates traditional maize varieties that are resistant to drought, climate change, and disease, and he practices push-pull agriculture, which uses alternating intercropping of plants that repel pests with ones that attract pests in order to increase yields. He also applies animal manure and compost for fertilizer. Haigh likes to say that his farm isn’t organic, but rather an example of how agro-ecological methods can work. (See Valuing What They Already Have)

Using these methods, a farmer will have a garden with at least 10 crops, creating an ecosystem that resembles one found in nature. The soil is more fertile, and the insects and diseases are distracted and preyed upon so that their impact is less concentrated. In a sense, a farmer needs to let the garden get wild in order to protect it from the wild.

To read more about chemical-free farming practices see: In Botswana, Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture and Wildlife Conservation, Malawi’s Real Miracle, Emphasizing Malawi’s Indigenous Vegetables as Crops, and Finding ‘Abundance’ in What is Local.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. She has already traveled to over 18 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Benin next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels. If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates. Please don’t hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Innovation of the Week: For Pest Control, Following Nature’s Lead

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

It might feel counterintuitive, but the more varieties of vegetables, plants, and insects that are included in a garden, the less vulnerable any single crop becomes. Mans Lanting of ETC Foundation India wrote in LEISA Magazine in 2007 that the best method of approaching pest control is to learn to live in harmony with pests instead of trying to fight them. By harnessing the natural state of vegetation and pests, a farmer can create “a system in which no component can easily dominate” and in which soil and crop quality is greatly improved.

In other words, the tendency for traditional farming to give preference to specific crops, to plant in clean rows, to weed out any invasive plants, and to use chemicals to prevent pests and disease is actually creating a need for these pesticides and fertilizers. Soil fertility decreases when crops are harvested, and growing a single crop means that the soil is further stripped of nutrients with each season, requiring the use of inputs that, according to Lanting, lead to an imbalance in plant nutrition and increase vulnerability to pests and diseases. This introduces the need for pesticides, which cost more money and create toxic runoff that can damage the local environment.

The result is a self-perpetuating war against infertile soil and a burgeoning pest population.

Instead, Lanting recommends taking an alternative approach, mimicking the diversity that takes place in nature and creating a garden that relies on natural systems to provide nutrients as well as pest and disease control.

Farm biodiversity can be improved by integrating border crops, trees, and animals. Farmers can also include trap crops—crops that attract insects away from the main crop—which include Indian mustard, sunflower, marigold, soybeans, and French beans, as well as crops that promote insect predators such as pulses for beetles, okra for lace wing, and coriander, sorghum, and maize for trichogramma (small wasps). Visual barriers can be used to help “hide” crops from pests. The diamond backed moth, for example, has to be able to see cabbage in order to find it—and destroy it before a harvest.

Nourishing the Planet saw some of these techniques being implemented at Enaleni Farm, a demonstration farm run by Richard Haigh in Durban, South Africa. Haigh cultivates traditional maize varieties that are resistant to drought, climate change, and disease, and he practices push-pull agriculture, which uses alternating intercropping of plants that repel pests with ones that attract pests in order to increase yields. He also applies animal manure and compost for fertilizer. Haigh likes to say that his farm isn’t organic, but rather an example of how agro-ecological methods can work. (See Valuing What They Already Have)

Using these methods, a farmer will have a garden with at least 10 crops, creating an ecosystem that resembles one found in nature. The soil is more fertile, and the insects and diseases are distracted and preyed upon so that their impact is less concentrated. In a sense, a farmer needs to let the garden get wild in order to protect it from the wild.

To read more about chemical-free farming practices see: In Botswana, Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture and Wildlife Conservation, Malawi’s Real Miracle, Emphasizing Malawi’s Indigenous Vegetables as Crops, and Finding ‘Abundance’ in What is Local.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. She has already traveled to over 18 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Benin next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels. If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates. Please don’t hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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