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By Jeffrey Moyo
Meager wages exacerbated the plight of many people, including Agness Samwenje, who lives in the densely populated suburb of Mufaokose in this Zimbabwean capital, and found that pursuing urban agriculture was a way to supplement her diet.
"There is a growing migration from the countryside to the city in Africa because people look for better job opportunities that, however, they rarely find and, end up turning to agriculture in open spaces to survive, because they do not have money to buy food": Mulubwa Nakalonga.
Samwenje, a preschool teacher who occupied a piece of land near a farm, told IPS: “This mini-garden helps me feed the family because the $ 200 I earn a month is not enough to feed everyone, since my salary is the only admission after the death of my husband four years ago, when I was left alone in charge of three children of school age ”.
"I spend little money on food because the crops in my small field complement the diet," he added.
For others, like Silveira Sinorita, a 34-year-old unemployed Mozambican, urban farming became a job they try to feed their families.
"By not having a job, I discovered that agriculture in this city is a solution to my difficulties in bringing food home because I grow my own potatoes, beans, vegetables and fresh corn, and I sell the surplus," Sinorita told IPS from the city Zimbabwean from Mutare, where he resides.
Forced by the growing lack of food, urban farmers in several African countries went beyond farming. In cities, such as Kampala, the capital of Uganda, or Yaoundé, in Cameroon, many residents raise animals, birds, dairy cattle and pigs.
Urban agriculture proliferates in many towns and cities in Africa, just as the United Nations (UN) urges all nations to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, following the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), more than 800 million people in the world practice urban agriculture, with which they cushion the increase in food prices and insecurity.
But the agency warns that the number of hungry people also increased to more than 1 billion people, with the "urban poor particularly vulnerable."
The problem is that urban agriculture in Africa often runs up against opposition from the authorities of the land-owning municipalities; specialists argue that it is a policy that does not make sense in the face of food insecurity.
“Poverty does not spare even city residents for the scarcity of employment on the continent and therefore urban agriculture quickly becomes a trend because people are forced to supplement their food, despite the fact that the activity it is prohibited in towns and cities, ”an official from the Department of Agriculture, Norman Hwengwer, told IPS.
Agriculture is prohibited on vacant municipal lands in Zimbabwe.
FAO also noted that commercial gardens bear the greatest threat due to the accelerated growth of the continent and because they are rarely regulated or supported by government.
In fact, in the research "Growth Potential: African Urban Farmers", conducted in 2011 by University College London PhD student Anna Plyushteva, argues that greater government involvement is necessary to overcome marginality and illegality, in order to achieve greater social and environmental benefits.
“Without regulation, urban agriculture can cause serious problems. Currently, informal farmers and their production are exposed to contamination from organic and inorganic products, posing a serious risk to public health, ”explains Plyushteva.
For Zambian development specialist Mulubwa Nakalonga, the more people migrate to cities, the more pressure they add to limited existing resources.
"There is a growing migration from the countryside to the city in Africa because people look for better job opportunities that, however, they rarely find and, end up turning to agriculture in open spaces to survive, because they do not have money to buy food", explained.
"Often when people migrate from the countryside anywhere in Africa, they cling to their heritage of agricultural practices by engaging in urban agriculture, which you can see many people practicing to avoid starvation," Nakalonga added.
In the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam, for example, urban gardens in some communities resemble those seen in rural areas, from where people migrate.
But some cities support urban agriculture initiatives. The South African authorities in Cape Town, for example, approved their first policy on the matter in 2007, focusing on the importance of the activity for poverty alleviation and job creation.
FAO projects there will be 35 million urban farmers in Africa in 2020, so it supports programs in some countries to capitalize on the benefits.
Indeed, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, FAO's Urban Horticulture Program harnesses the capacities of farmers who migrated to the cities.
The program began in response to the exodus from the countryside to the city after five years of conflict, and now helps farmers produce some 330,000 tonnes of vegetables a year, while providing jobs and income to 16,000 small-scale gardeners in towns and cities.
Farmers sold 90 percent of their produce in markets and supermarkets, according to the FAO, helping feed an urban population that is growing as people leave the countryside in search of safety.
Meanwhile, in Nairobi, various organizations and agencies have helped popularize the concept of “vertical farm in a bag”, which refers to vegetable gardens created by many people in cities using large bags filled with soil from which plants grow.
As hunger hits both rural and urban populations in Africa, more and more people believe that the solution lies in urban agriculture.