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Urban farming can stem poverty and food insecurity

By - | Published Sun, January 13th 2013 at 00:00, Updated January 14th 2013 at 14:09 GMT +3

By Bernard Muthaka

KENYA: Largely criminalised and facing accusations ranging from encouraging breeding of mosquitoes to acting as hiding places for thugs, urban agriculture is slowly emerging as a food security option, with reports indicating that up to half of the food consumed in Nairobi is grown in big towns.

Experts are accusing urban authorities and policy makers for at times opposing and generally underestimating the actual value and contribution of urban farming to poverty and food insecurity.

Population increase

“Urban agriculture is a potentially viable policy response to the complex challenge of feeding a burgeoning mass of urban residents amid decline in food production in rural areas,” says a new report published by the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF). The report quotes studies indicating that urban agriculture contributes substantially to food security and safety for approximately 50 per cent of city dwellers worldwide, while about one-third of Nairobi households earn income related to urban farming.

The number of people coming into towns is increasing rapidly, but most find themselves worse off economically than they were back in their rural homes.  A recent report from Tegemeo Institute says that a fifth of Nairobi residents are “ultra-hungry”.

It is estimated that by 2030, half of all Kenyans will be living in urban areas, with that growth expected to not only significantly increase household food demand in major towns, but also to cause a decline in rural agricultural productivity due to loss of farm labour.

Health nuisance

ACBF says that for years, urban agriculture has been considered a public health nuisance and an activity characteristic of rural and not urban economies. As a result, people who engaged in urban agriculture have not been supported and instead harassed, even in years of food shortages.

In the National Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture and Livestock Policy, which is still in draft form, the ministry of Agriculture acknowledges that urban and peri-urban farming is on the increase, but laments lack of policy guiding the practice.

One of the major challenges is the sheer number of laws in Kenya that have a bearing on urban and peri-urban agriculture, with at least 24 having something to say on the matter. 

Draft policy

These include the Local Government Act, Animal Diseases Act, Public Health Act, Land Control Act, Science and Technology Act and the Fertilizers and Animal Feedstuffs Act. According to the draft policy, some of these legislations indirectly support or hinder the growth and development of the sub sector.

The muddled policy situation has led to a lack of clarity about the legality of urban agriculture and ambiguity about its legitimacy as a permissible activity.

The general reluctance to facilitate urban farming is the association of the practice with various forms of pollution.

These include land pollution from careless dumping of manure and crop residues, excessive use and unsanitary disposal of pesticides and their packages, use of raw sewage containing industrial effluents, heavy metals and microbes.

 According to the draft policy, about 80 per cent of urban farmers use inputs with potentially negative implication on the environment and human health.  Urban farming has thrived amid legal uncertainty along roadsides, railway lines, among others.