What Works: Feeding Cities

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This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question, and every week you can join the conversation!

Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. And while agriculture is usually associated with rural areas, over 800 million people worldwide depend on food grown in cities for most of their diet. Currently, the majority of urban farmers live in Asia, but as Africa’s cities continue to grow—by 14 million people every year—they are increasingly becoming centers for food production and innovation.

Over 800 million people worldwide depend on food grown in cities for most of their diet. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

In Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, women are not only producing enough food to feed their families, they are also able to sell the surplus and earn an income . With the help of the non-profits Urban Harvest and Soladarites, women are growing spinach and other crops in sacks full of dirt in which they poke full of holes and plant seeds. They are also growing gardens in abandoned plots of land, collecting and saving the seeds, and sharing them with other farmers in the area. In 2007 and 2008, when there was conflict in the city and all roads were shut down, preventing any food from being brought in or out, most of the families did not go hungry because they were growing food in sacks, vacant lots, or elsewhere.

In the settlements outside Cape Town, South Africa—where almost 40 percent of the over 1 million people living in the makeshift huts and abandoned buildings are unemployed—one organization, Abalimi Bezekhaya, is helping to create a community of farmers. Providing training and materials, Abalimi Bezekhaya helps people to turn school yards and empty plots of land into gardens. Each garden is run by 6 to 8 farmers who, with support and time, are soon able to produce enough food to feed their families. With support from the Ackerman Pick n’Pay Foundation, and in partnership with the South African Institute of Entrepreneurship (SAIE) and the Business Place Philippi, Abalimi Bezekhaya founded Harvest of Hope (HoH) in 2008. Now, HoH purchases the surplus crops from 14 groups of farmers working in Abalimi Bezekhaya’s community plots, packages them in boxes and sells them in Cape Town, providing an additional income for the settlement farmers and fresh produce for families in the city.

In Accra, Ghana, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), a non-profit organization working in Asia and Africa to improve water and land management for farmers and the environment, is working with farmers to increase harvests and improve sanitation. Many urban farmers use waste water to irrigate their crops and to clean their produce, causing a sanitation concern.

IWMI’s extension workers are meeting with urban farmers to discuss simple and affordable steps that can be taken to reduce waste water contamination during planting and harvesting, as well as when crops are taken to markets to be sold. Urban farmers in Accra are now irrigating with water collected in “waste sedimentation ponds”—ponds built specifically to allow sediment to sink to the bottom so farmers can irrigate with the cleaner surface water—and with simple containers of filtered water. Some are now also using drip irrigation from kits produced by International Development Enterprises (IDE), allowing them to use water more precisely and to conserve clean water (see also Slow and Steady Irrigation Wins the Race).

And these are just the beginning. Do you know of any projects that working to help farmers feed the cities?

Tell Nourishing the Planet what works and have your answers featured on the blog. Email me at Dnierenberg@Worldwatch.org or tweet your response to @WorldWatchAg.

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