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Urban cultivation

One key facet of informalization, widely present in African cities, is the expansion of "urban cultivation," which takes place through the proliferation of agricultural micro-enterprise (Stern, 1992a). As Drakakis-Smith (1994) points out, urban agriculture is extensive in much of Africa partially as a consequence of the limitations imposed on the development of an "informal economy of growth" or on the operations and livelihoods of survivalist enterprise. In policy circles a re-thinking is occurring on the role of urban agriculture in Africa and of its potential contribution to feeding the cities as a broader element of sustainable economic development (Rogerson, 1992b, 1993b; Mbiba, 1995). Indeed, Wekwete (1992, p. 131) is emphatic that "urban farming has become a critical variable in sustainability."

Although "urban agriculture" is a new concept in African development policy and planning, it must be acknowledged that the cultivation of "food crops within the overall boundaries of towns and cities is not new," although in the 1960s and 1970s it was forgotten or largely ignored by researchers and local policy makers (Rakodi, 1988a, p. 495). With the impact of economic recession, the effects of Structural Adjustment Programmes, and the crises of the 1980s and 1990s, the cultivation of food crops in public and private open spaces is now both more widespread and economically significant in many African urban areas (Sanyal, 1985; Tricaud, 1987; Drakakis-Smith, 1991, 1994; Lee, 1993a,b,c). At certain periods of the year, especially the seasonal rainfall peak, "many urban centres are transformed by armies of 'urban farmers' tilling the open spaces to produce flourishing vegetable gardens and fields of grains and fruit" (Lado, 1990, p. 257). It was revealed from surveys conducted in the late 1980s in Kenya, Egypt, Mali, and Tanzania that poor urban households spent around 60 per cent - and in some cases as much as 89 per cent - of their incomes on food (Mougeot, 1993a, p. 1). Moreover, price surveys disclosed that city dwellers paid 10-30 per cent more for their food than rural inhabitants did (Mougeot, 1993a). Accordingly, the "push" of worsening food insecurity underpins much of the burgeoning of agricultural micro-enterprises on the African city-scape, particularly since the late 1970s.

In contemporary Africa, urban cultivation is a widespread activity that is becoming a permanent part of the landscape in most large cities. In spatial terms the two main areas of cultivation are in home gardens (on-plot cultivation) or at the urban periphery (off-plot cultivation) (Drakakis-Smith, 1994; Mbiba, 1994). The most dramatic manifestation of self-production of food is, perhaps, the practice of keeping livestock fed on domestic refuse on the rooftops of buildings in Cairo; for the early 1980s, it was noted that Egypt's capital city had at least 80,000 households raising animals at home (Khouri-Dagher, 1986, p. 41). By the 1990s it could be observed by Freeman (1991, p. 2) that "urban agriculture is both prevalent and economically significant" across Africa. Likewise, another researcher describes urban farming as "a ubiquitous, complex and dynamic feature of the urban and socio-economic landscape in Africa" (Lachance, 1993, p. 8). During the era of late apartheid the spread of urban cultivation practices began to extend to the cities of South Africa (Rogerson, 1993c). Accelerating city growth after the removal of influx control measures, escalating levels of food inflation, and the reduced absorptive capacity of a sanctions-weakened formal economy together triggered the appearance of cultivation on vacant land fringing the formal African townships and especially around the country's mushrooming informal shack settlements (Rogerson, 1993c; May and Rogerson, 1995).

For the early 1980s Guyer (1987, p. 13) estimates between 10 and 25 per cent of the total urban population in Africa "may be involved in some sort of agriculture." Recent evidence suggests that overall participation rates may be considerably higher. For example, it was pointed out that in Kenya and Tanzania "two out of three urban families are engaged in farming" (Smit and Nasr, 1992, p. 142). In Tanzania, "every open space, utility service reserve, road, valley or garden in the towns has been taken up for planting of all sorts of seasonal and permanent crops, ranging from vegetables, maize, bananas, to fruit trees" (Mosha, 1991, p. 84). The rapid pace of growth in urban cultivation is evidenced particularly by data from Dar es Salaam, where in 1980 44 per cent of low-income earners had farms but by 1987 "70 per cent of heads of households engaged in some farming or husbandry" (Mougeot, 1993b, p. 3).

The widespread expansion in farming as both a part-time and a full-time occupation for African urban households has been tracked in several investigations. Broadly speaking, Sanyal (1986, p. 22) asserts that "insufficient income is a primary cause for the practice of urban cultivation" in Africa. Urban research in East and Central Africa suggests that the invasion of cities by subsistence cultivation is symptomatic of economic collapse in urban Zaire (Ngub'usim and Streiffeler, 1982; Streiffeler, 1987), Uganda (Amis, 1992; Bibangambah, 1992), and Tanzania (Mlozi et al., 1992). Kinshasa was described recently as "a giant garden plot - by every roadside, on traffic islands and roundabouts, cassava leaves sprout in lovingly tended rows" (The Economist, 1994, p. 59). Household survival in Uganda depends on multiple income sources, including urban farming (Amis, 1992, p. 6; Lee, 1993b, p. 10); in Kampala, where besides the city centre "most empty spaces are covered by perennial crops," it is observed that "one gets the feeling that the rural sector is overtaking the city instead of the reverse" (Bigsten and Kayizzi-Mugerwa, 1992, p. 1436). Even in Nairobi there is a considerable body of evidence to confirm that informal urban cultivation of open space is markedly on the increase in this so-termed "city of farmers" (Lado, 1990; Freeman, 1991). It has been remarked that "there are few areas of the city of Nairobi where the activities of urban farmers cannot be observed" (Freeman, 1991, p. 2). A similar march of urban cultivation has been noted in West Africa (Tricaud, 1987; Lachance, 1993). On the outskirts of Lagos, "the putrid jungles bordering the highways into the city have fallen under cultivation" by part-time farmers, including Nigeria's professional classes (Mustapha, 1991, p. 13). Gefu (1992) argues that the escalation in part-time farming in urban Nigeria represents a survival strategy for many urban wage-earners to supplement declining real wages in the wake of structural adjustment measures. Economic crisis and structural adjustment in Nigeria fostered the development of multiple modes of social livelihood, and many public servants moonlight as part-time urban cultivators (Mustapha, 1991, p. 13). Likewise, with a declining formal economy in Tanzania, the inability of households to live on a single income source has precipitated an expansion in urban farming (Mosha, 1991).

In southern African cities the phenomenon of urban agriculture has been widely documented. Lesotho's capital, Maseru, exhibits a diverse range of agricultural pursuits, with dairy cows, maize production, sheep- and pig-rearing, and vegetable and fruit production all being "prominent and conspicuous activities" (Mbiba, 1994, p. 192). Around metropolitan Durban in South Africa it was disclosed that 25 per cent of households were cultivating a garden for subsistence food production (May and Rogerson, 1995). In Harare, home gardens act as a vital source of subsistence food production for the city's poorest populations (Drakakis-Smith and Kivell, 1990; Drakakis-Smith, 1992a). Since the mid-1970s a substantial extension of informal "off-plot" cultivation has taken place in the shallow valleys occupying this city's periphery (Mazambani, 1982, 1986; Mbiba, 1994). Significantly, the expansion of cultivation in the urban periphery of Harare has been at the expense of the destruction of woodlands used for fuelwood (Mazambani, 1986). Thus, paradoxically, "increasing amounts of the food grown in the pert-urban area is [sic] being sold either through the petty-commodity market (as cooked or fresh food) or to government marketing agencies in order to obtain cash for the purposes of purchasing commercially marketed fuelwood or kerosene" (Drakakis-Smith, n.d., p. 9).

Despite a "spectacular expansion" observed in pert-urban agriculture in Harare (Drakakis-Smith, n.d., p. 8), urban cultivation reaches its most striking extent in the case of the "garden city" of Lusaka. In Zambia's capital city, nearly 60 per cent of low-income households are estimated as cultivating food gardens (Sanyal, 1985, 1986). The pace of expansion of urban agriculture in Lusaka has been so extensive that the city has been described as "the world capital of urban cultivation" (Sanyal, 1986, p. 7). In the words of Sanyal:

It was February and Lusaka looked abundant. The rainy season was just over and bright yellow sunlight touched the edges of dark green maize plants which had sprung up all over the city. There were maize plants outside the Lusaka International Airport, standing in contrast to the purple bougainvillea which had been carefully planted by the Department of Public Works to welcome the dignatories of an International Conference. Maize plants grew all along the edges of the Great East Road - the thoroughfare connecting the airport, the university, the National Assembly building and the central business district. Even outside the boundary walls of the elegantly designed Hotel Intercontinental, maize grew in abundance.

The abundance of maize plants was not only confined to the "official areas" of Lusaka. Hidden from the main thoroughfares of Great East Road and Great North Road, the squatter communities... looked lush and green with only small mud houses reminding one of habitation. There was maize in front of the mud houses and around the periphery of the communities: there were large banana trees around the rickety structures of pit latrines. Pumpkin leaves covered low fences that separated unfriendly neighbors; and tomatoes and ground nuts grew in front of the houses where women sat together washing dishes and lighting fires. (Sanyal, 1986, pp. 1-2)

The advance of urban cultivation and its growing significance throughout African cities has occurred much to the surprise and embarrassment of proponents of modernization, ranging from city officials to international aid donors (Sanyal, 1985). Contrary to popular opinion, this process of the "ruralization" of African cities is not the consequence of mass rural-urban migration. Sanyal (1987, p. 198) interprets the post-1980 upsurge of cultivation by the urban poor in Africa as an innovative response from below to the decline of formal urban economies; this response "reduces their vulnerability to the fluctuations of fortune that currently beset the economies of developing countries' cities." The findings of research on urban farmers in Nairobi and Lusaka demonstrate clearly that "urban cultivation is not practiced exclusively or even primarily by recent migrants" (Sanyal, 1985, p. 18). Instead, the majority of farmers originate from poor households that are fully entrenched in the urban economy. More than 60 per cent of Lusaka's farmers had been in the city for more than five years before embarking on plot gardens and nearly 45 per cent for more than 10 years (Mougeot, 1993b, p. 4). A profile of urban cultivators in Kenya shows that "average length of urban farmers' residence was 20.4 years, 85% had resided in the city for at least five years, 57.5% had been living there for 15 years or more, while 15% had dwelt there for more than 40 years" (Lado, 1990, p. 262). Cultivation taking place in Harare is primarily conducted by low-income families who grow food crops for domestic consumption and sale (Mazambani, 1982, 1986; Drakakis-Smith, 1992a; Mbiba, 1994, 1995). In Nairobi, the vast majority of cultivated plots "are creations of the very poor, and represent a major source of subsistence for the urban underclasses" (Freeman, 1991, p. 87). Research on urban cultivation in Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe underscores the vital role of women as major food producers (Rakodi, 1988a,b; Lado, 1990; Stren, 1992a; Mbiba, 1994, 1995). In particular, Stren (1991) records the findings of a study in which the majority of women urban farmers in Kenya said they would starve or suffer considerably without urban agriculture. In Lusaka, farming is a particularly important survival activity for groups of low-income women with limited schooling or marketable skills in the formal economy (Rakodi, 1985, 1988a,b).

Although for much of Africa the produce and revenues of urban agriculture constitute a much-needed source of income and nutrition for the urban poor, especially for the growing numbers of female-headed households, it must be acknowledged that "in some cities much of the food produced is not grown by the poor" (Drakakis-Smith, 1992b, p. 47). The participation of middle-income households in urban food production has been a notable finding of research undertaken in Nigeria (Gefu, 1992), Mozambique (Sheldon, 1991), and South Africa (May and Rogerson, 1995). Indeed, in Durban, participation in cultivation was evenly spread among seven different kinds of household, with the smallest proportions of farmers drawn from the poorest and the wealthiest groups of households (May and Rogerson, 1995). This situation suggests that the "ability of a household to produce food is inevitably a function of its control over basic inputs such as land, labour and capital, together with some influence with the urban authorities which usually have the power to prevent if they wish, much of this activity" (Drakakis-Smith, 1993, p. 205). Such findings underscore the complexities of urban farming in Africa (Drakakis-Smith, 1992b, p. 49). None the less, they do not support the proposition that urban agriculture in Africa is merely a last resort for the poor in urban areas, albeit subsistence food production admittedly does represent one important survival niche adopted by the most vulnerable urban households.

Across urban Africa, official reactions to urban cultivation have varied across space and time but have tended to be inhibitive rather than accommodative (Drakakis-Smith, 1993, 1994; Rogerson, 1993b; Mbiba, 1994, 1995). The advance of urban cultivation has occurred often in the face of negative actions by African local authorities. Despite its widespread occurrence for subsistence consumption, urban food and livestock production "is usually not appreciated by urban authorities and certainly not planned for and supported" (Lee-Smith and Trujillo, 1992, p. 79). Moreover, as Lee-Smith and Stren (1991, p. 33) observe, "neither land-use planning nor urban management are traditionally geared to coping with urban food production." Repressive attitudes towards urban agriculture appear to be particularly common in the former colonial-settler regions of east, central, and southern Africa. For example, urban authorities in Kenya perceive informal cultivation as part of the broader embarrassment of the informal sector, a blot on the city landscape, "a continuous but unwelcome reminder that programmes for development and efforts to project an aura of modernity and progress have not reached very far below the surface" (Freeman, 1991, p. 44). State repression in Lusaka took the form of destroying plants on the grounds that urban cultivation was a "health hazard" linked to an increased incidence of malaria (Sanyal, 1986, 1987). None the less, by the 1980s, as national indebtedness increased, a reversal in policy attitudes took place, with the Zambian state shifting to a position of urging people to grow their own vegetables and cereals. In Zimbabwe, urban managers consider uncontrolled cultivation to be "trivial or a nuisance," and periodic repressive measures are enacted to destroy crops (Mbiba, 1994, p. 200).

Benign neglect of urban farming is a common official stance in much of Africa; typically, regulations in Uganda ban cultivation in the city but in practice most farming in the cities is widely tolerated (Lee, 1993b, p. 11). Only in Mozambique, Zaire, Malawi, and Nigeria are there signs that official authorities have come out tentatively in favour of urban farming, introducing enabling measures to enhance the prospects for cultivation (UNCHS, 1991, p. 23; Assuncao, 1993, p. 35; Lachance, 1993, p. 8). A negative policy environment towards urban cultivation is regrettable, given that ecologically sustainable urbanization in Africa will be impossible without the activities and contributions of urban farming towards resource recycling, food production, and job creation (Rogerson, 1992b; Smit and Nasr, 1992; Wekwete, 1992; Drakakis-Smith, 1994). Nevertheless, important recent research on the environmental effects of uncontrolled urban cultivation in Harare points to the need for policy formulation to minimize the effects of variously a changing hydrological regime, soil loss, chemical pollution, and vegetative change (Bowyer-Bower and Tengbeh, 1995).

Concluding remarks

It has been argued in this chapter that the economies of large African cities can be interpreted to a large extent as a product of the simultaneous unfolding and impact of processes of globalization and informalization. These processes are producing a complex set of policy challenges that demand urgent attention at all levels of government. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that in the current context of global restructuring, economic development increasingly has become a localized phenomenon (Storper, 1992; Ettlinger, 1994). This points to potentially new and important roles for the local governments of Africa's large cities in confronting the economic challenges of the next decade.

As emphasized within the body of writings on "urban management," the conventional roles assumed by African city governments (and more particularly by urban managers) have centred around issues of prevention and control of development rather than the active promotion of economic development (see Stren, 1992b, 1993; Wekwete, chap. 15 in this volume). In the 1990s there is an urgent need for a redirection of urban management programmes "to provide the necessary framework in which urban economic development can take place, and to facilitate the provision of opportunities for the widest range of income generating activities" (Devas, 1989, pp. 5-6). Indeed, throughout urban Africa one essential future task for urban management is taking up the challenge of promoting local urban economic development and of attracting new investment to cities rather than acting to prevent such development (see Devas and Rakodi, 1993). Currently, however, there are only a small number of functioning initiatives for local economic development in urban Africa. By far the most advanced initiatives for planning local urban economic development exist in South Africa's largest cities Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. These have involved coherent sets of strategic interventions designed to improve the general economic performance of these cities as well as to enhance income opportunities for the urban poor (for details, see Rogerson, 1994b,d, 1995d). During the 1990s, the lessons of these ongoing South African initiatives may provide important pointers for other large African cities in tackling the policy challenges posed by "stalled globalization" and the march of informalization.


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