Urban Agriculture: That small space matters
As the effects of climate change and increased economic challenges continue to impact the world’s most vulnerable, it becomes more and more important to search for alternatives to everyday activities. In the last ten years the population of city dwellers has outnumbered that of rural areas. The rationale for migrating into the city stems from a belief that employment opportunities are more easily obtained. While there may be some truth to this, it makes other things more challenging, such as the cost of living. But there are ways to address these challenges at the individual, household and even community levels. In relation to food production and security, the introduction of urban farming is playing a significant role in access to food all around the world.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), urban farming is defined as “the growing of plants and the raising of animals within and around cities.” The production of vegetable crops is ideal for smaller areas, as the time from planting to harvest is relatively short. It also provides lower-income residents with a source of fresh, nutritious produce – and for a fraction of the cost. This alternative to food supply is a cost-effective means to supplement dietary needs without completely abandoning local suppliers.
Urban farms can be found in two forms: individual plots/patio gardens and community gardens. The former focuses on small, backyard plots that can contribute to a single household. These smaller gardens can also take shape in the form of patio gardens, or container gardens, in which small planters are used to grow a variety of crops. The latter is far more encompassing – having benefits to the community as a whole. The larger-scale plots promote not only healthy food choices, but also social benefits, as members of the garden are encouraged to interact with and support each other.
While community gardens played a major role in the origin of agriculture approximately 10 000 years ago, they remain popular today. The use of urban farming has seen successes all over the world. Cuba’s organopónicos are some of the most notable. Used as a model for many urban farm policies around the world, these plots began when locals saw a need to take control of their own food production at the end of the Cold War. The organopónicos are found as both individual and community plots, with the latter being most prominent.
However, despite the benefits of either form, urban farming is often met with some resistance. These negative opinions are often related to the potential health risks that can arise when plots are not well maintained. This backlash also tends to be focused on farms with livestock, rather than subsistence crop production.
Urban farming is also alive and well in Kampala. While it may not be happening in the middle of city center, there are certainly plots throughout the capitol. The majority of these urban ventures are intended for subsistence, rather than for market. According to research conducted in 2002 by the Stockholm Resilience Centre – a research branch of the University of Stockholm, which focuses on the governance of socio-ecological systems – an estimated 49% of households in Kampala were participating in some form of urban farming. Ugandan urban farms appear to be split between those that focus on crop production, only, while others have both vegetable gardens and livestock.
In 2006, seeing the demand for this type of agriculture, the local government created a policy to address the health and safety concerns associated with urban farming. This legislation is known as the Kampala Urban Agriculture Ordinances and is governed though Kampala City Council Autholity (KCCA). This requires residents of the city to obtain a permit in order to engage in this practice, whether they are doing so on a subsistence or commercial basis. However, patio gardens do not fall under this ordinance. This means that residents of Kampala could plant a few crops for individual or household consumption.
Urban farms are an essential part of the agricultural practices of the future – especially as the population of the city continue to grow. Their presence does not mean that rural or larger scale farms will no longer be needed, but rather that these micro farms can help to supplement the diets of households during times of need. Be it a tomato plant or two, a container of beans, or onions, it is possible for anyone to grow a few staple foods that are nutrient rich with little economic impact.
This availability of fresh foods not only helps the financial security of a household, but the overall health of its members. When people consume fresh, healthy foods, their overall wellbeing improves. Health people are productive people, which means the benefits of food production – even at this simple, small scale – can have lasting impacts on urban Ugandans.