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Urban Agriculture and its valuable non-food products. - Mazingira Safi Initiative
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When my father started growing vegetables outside our house in Nairobi, it was out of sheer love of farming. At the time, I didn’t know that what my Dad was doing was ‘Urban Agriculture’ since I hadn’t heard of the term before. I have many memories from this small urban farm. Memories of being taught how to grow spinach; of plucking fresh spring onions for cooking; and of being told to remove weeds as punishment for bad behaviour. At one point, my father mentioned how much money he had saved simply by growing food but more importantly, how he couldn’t find that quality of food in the supermarket. This is the appeal of urban agriculture.

Urban agriculture: what and why?

Urban agriculture (UA) is simply defined as the growing of food and rearing of animals within a city. Rural areas have long being known as the food baskets of Kenya. With their favourable climate, rich soil and plenty of labour, they have fed both themselves and the urban areas. However, this is changing for several reasons. One, the rural-urban migration as more people are moving to urban areas. Thus that the number of people growing food is reducing while those consuming food is increasing. Two, fewer land is being put under farming as rural areas develop. Three, climate change, causing a decline in food production, not forgetting to food losses and wastage due to post-production losses and consumer habits. As a result, Kenya is grappling with a food security issue. By 2050, the UN estimates that 6.5 billion people will be living in cities. That’s nearly double of what it is today. Therefore, ‘urbanites’ cannot continue to depend on rural areas for their stomachs to be filled. Like my father, we in urban areas must begin to grow our own food.

Urban agriculture in Kenya began the late 1980’s and 1990’s as a response to the rising food prices and unemployment, the same problems that we’re fighting today in 2019. If then, the population wasn’t as large in the urban cities as it is now, how much more should we practice it to feed our cities’ populations?  And while nutritious, affordable food will be a valuable product of UA, it is the non-food products that are worth the investment.

UA is a plus for the environment. The plants being grown create pockets of green spaces which are not only attractive but pleasant to look at when stuck in traffic or walking along the streets of Nairobi. They will also purify the air by taking up the Carbon (IV) Oxide and releasing Oxygen. It will also reduce the impact of climate change that’s associated with packaging and transporting of food.

UA is great for community cohesion. Food plays a major role in bringing people together. Having a community garden enhances this experience as people grow the food together. This way, they’re able to bond as neighbours. creating lasting memories (much better than the Nyumba Kumi intiative), relieve stress through the social interactions and by offering a ‘getaway’ space from the walls that enclose us in apartments. It also creates employment opportunities as people can sell what they grow to others.

UA will also change the people’s views of farming- especially the youth. With this, the government will reduce wastage of public resources on strategic meetings to discuss strategies on how to make agriculture attractive to them. By exposing children to farming earlier, you catalyze an interest in them to consider it as a career opportunity.

Value and taste of food.

Finally UA will enable people to appreciate the value and taste of food. Nothing taste better than spinach you’ve planted, watered and watched grow. The feeling is incomparable to purchased spinach. Also, the food you’ve toiled to grow will be increasingly hard to throw away, reducing food wastage at consumer level. This is because growing food brings us closer to it.

These four reasons make a case for UA. Our government should therefore make it bloom by providing vacant pieces of land for it, and making sound UA policies. The good thing about UA is that it doesn’t require a lot of space meaning that even individuals can do it. Technology on UA continues to show how we can use minimum space to maximize food production. The ball is indeed in our court, Urbanites. Let us invest UA out and reap its benefits.

Photo: Sage Magazine: La Sazon, Havana, Cuba.

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