The promotion and support of urban agriculture has the potential to address pressing challenges of poverty and malnutrition among vulnerable populations in the growing cities of sub-Saharan Africa.
This type of agriculture presents an excellent opportunity for households to develop small and micro-enterprises because of the growing demand for food and food products in towns and cities.
At least 32 fellows from Kenya and Uganda will benefit from an on-going intensive exchange programme in the US to promote the success of horticultural farming within Nairobi and its environs.
The programme is on pilot basis. It seeks to addresses youth unemployment, production of high quality horticultural crops, engagement of women and the benefit of improved nutrition of the HIV/AIDS infected and affected persons.
According to Dr Diana Lee-Smith, an agriculture specialist with Mazingira Institute, at least 15 farmers will benefit from the programme.
Mazingira Institute is collaborating with the Nairobi and Environs Food Security, Agriculture and Livestock Forum (NEFSALF) in this initiative. They will learn techniques of urban agriculture and ways to address food insecurity.
“The team will meet farmers living in Denver, Colorado, Milwaukee, Wisconsin and others in the US cities who are dealing with intensive food production, social aspects and working with marginalized communities to promote food security,” she explains.
She says that the forum supports urban farmers through training and access to information. It also influences the local government to have positive policies on urban agriculture.
“Many countries do not want to adopt the system; the system is very positive and one can easily save on food,” she says.
The programme is sponsored by the US government and aims to bring together Americans, Kenyans and Ugandans working on food security.
Dr Lee-Smith says that given the increasing importance of urban farming, there is a need for policy intervention.
This will guide and regulate the trend, since targeted people are the urban poor who also form part of the rural landless.
She added that without the inclusion of Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture and Livestock Policy (UPAL), the social and economic benefits of UPAL on vulnerable groups cannot be fully realised.
“UPAL plays an important role in cities because it improves the nutrition status of households, generates income, provides employment and conserves the environment,” she adds.
Among the training offered at the Mazingira Institute are crop farming, livestock keeping, nursery, and greenhouse as well as poultry management.
“We train farmers to generate income and conserve the environment. The programme has had a positive impact on the lives of many people living in the slums and other parts of the cities,” she observes.
Lee Brudvig, the deputy chief of mission at the US embassy hailed urban farming, saying it will address food insecurity, which is escalating by the day.
“I am pleased to know that there is a draft policy on urban agriculture and livestock in Kenya, the demand for food is very high and the system enables people to produce their own food,” he explains.
He also added that food insecurity is a global issue affecting a wider number of people and developing countries need to adopt the system.
“Not many African countries have adopted the urban agriculture system. It is a positive move which will not only curb food insecurity but also provide employment to many,” he says.
Brudvig adds that community gardens are an important manifestation of urban agriculture in developed countries and often serve as platforms to educate and inspire urban residents.
Speaking from Milwaukee City, US, Kuria Gathuru, a beneficiary of the programme, said that the six-week exchange programme will be of great benefit to Kenyan urban farmers since they will learn more skills from their counterparts in the US.
“Food insecurity is a global problem although the approach is quite different as farmers will still lack information and skills to tackle the food menace in our own country,” he said.
Gathuru who is also an environmental scientist, says that most policies and regulations do not favour urban agriculture.
“Most developed countries have adopted the urban food system, in Africa, the system is not well recognised by the authority,” he adds.
He also added that most young men and women still do not take farming seriously.
BY RACHUONYO DUNCAN