Looking for food spaces in cities
The contribution of food growers to lightning and greening cities is widely undervalued and disrespected. Green cropping (sub-section of urban agriculture), in particular, continues to receive mixed responses from the media, academics and policy spheres in global South cities. This leaves complex vulnerability issues at the chest of marginalised urban dwellers who are involved in the practice. With regard to switching from carbon ills to sustainable urban conditions, their agro-food production practices are pushed to the periphery of urban policies. The green urban plots often suffer from policy disincentives. Their practice is irritating to the eye of many. Yet, the food croppers have remained persistent, resilient, and doing everything possible under difficult circumstances to demonstrate the relevance of what they do by putting fresh and healthy foods on the city markets. Leafy vegetables and Musa acuminata (previously Musa sapietums) are common. Nowadays, cash crops like cocoa, oil palms and mangoes as well as staple ones like maize and rice are farmed on rich loamy soils in the fringes of cities. Their green plots are keeping deprived city corners from social incompleteness and preventing endemic hunger. Although urban food growers have burning goal to do good things, climate change is becoming their biggest setback.
Issues demanding urgency
Changing climate is fast-aggravating living conditions in all cities, but more disturbing in coastal savannas than in the Guinean savannas. It is universally known among scientists that climate change is due to overdosed carbons. Where did predominant proportion of the carbons originate from? Of course, mainstream industrialisation and urbanisation! In recent times, the level of carbon in the atmosphere is alarming. Evidence of carbon impacts on savanna cities have clearly manifested in the forms of vulnerability-producing floods, fires, migration, poverty and reduced ecological jobs. Over 2.5 million people are displaced by rainstorms alone. Food insecurity induced by climate change is destabilising city slum corridors, and could have been worse if not green cropping.
Green cropping on open urban spaces is cushioning the burden of well-being cost on young people who are excluded from jobs or prone to hazards and disasters. The approaches to realising carbon-free cities are multifaceted; such as enhancing energy efficiency. But, cultivating and greening landscapes has increasingly become important in low-income societies. Greening is imperative in reviving damaged landscapes. Greening landscapes do not only favour decarbonisation in cities at microscales but also furnish multiple urban sustainability benefits, including adaptation to carbon shocks like floods and income insecurity. It also favours carbon assimilation, and reskills capacity of young people. In dryland cities, for example, cow-dung compensates for burning of fossil-fuel; it limits anthropogenic fires; lessens wood-cutting; and eventually cut CO2 emissions. And, converting cow-dung into compost prevents excessive evapotranspiration thereby giving roots to conservation and urban biodiversity assets to emerge. Enabling floral diversity to habour good birds and pollinating bees. In the topsoil, earthworms and microbes tend to flourish better and give bigger returns on land productivity. Conveying 225,520 metric tonnes of food harvested from urban plots to nearby markets or roadsides using non-fossil-fuel-powered (NFFP) transport system potentially palliates carbon escalation. This is because, in the processes of transporting the foods, the mileage is shortened and fossil-fuel consumption is avoided. Micro-climatic warning is nipped off. Also, food crops on urban plots do not make noise. As compared to other activities in the coastal savanna cities, green cropping is one of all-important activities that commensurate the skills and immediate needs of different categories of urban youth: neglected migrants, orphans, school dropouts and artisans. In urban areas where food prices are too exorbitant and equal access to social intervention is very limited or unforthcoming, green cropping is a first choice to avoid succumbing to deadly carbon ills. Thus, a strategy for fighting civil tensions! Think about organotivators! Many of the organotivars are microgardens for expanding the frontiers of sustainability sciences at the city level. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation catalogued how innovative microgardens are improving quality of urban horticultural and human-environmental systems in cities where humanitarian services are required.
The greening activity generates disposable income, greener jobs, strengthens the nutritional base of dependent households, and considerably injects varied foodstuffs into the urban food economy. For vulnerable groups such as pregnant women associated with urban food cropping households, the activity is immeasurable in terms of gaining access to reliable and nutritious meals. Greening landscapes promote sustainable eco-prosperity and green urban economic development.
Green cities need greener foods
The benefits of greening cities are abundant and verifiable from its practical context of nourishing natural urban ecologies and making human lives more meaningful. It is a hope-lightning, ‘ecopeace’ building, carbon-downsizing activity; and credited with the highest reputation of putting sustainable and safe diets on the table of those who would otherwise have nothing to eat for days and weeks. Almost 75-95% of cabbage, for instance, is supplied from green plots in and around cities. On this basis, it must be encouraged and re-defined so that everyone can see, taste and appreciate multi-functionality of cultivating and greening urban landscapes. Urban authorities need to develop new green policy framework that promotes socio-environmental sustainability as integral to the 2030 Agenda, New Urban Agenda and Paris Agreement. Green cropping must be valued as a low-carbon intervention for fully switching from unbearable carbon conditions to just and sustainable cities. Generally, urban agriculture deserves a new focus in urban development research and policy in emerging cities because it represents one of the core forces of a resilient, greener and sustainable future.
Where to begin?
Growing human pressures, and the processes of material consumption through conventional industrialisation and urbanisation that substantially ignited microclimatic warmings, are fast-forcing Accra’s Odaw River to disappear. Human-induced climate change has increased ephemeral conditions of the river, putting thousands of human lives at risk in rainy days. There are visible environmental changes, including polluted water, earthworm extinction and degraded flora, along the river that evidently authenticate this fact. Adverse changes in the river’s flow cycles have resulted in discomfort, insecurity and vulnerability among urban residents, especially troubled children, to microclimatic ills – floods and energy deficits are few to mention. The river is so relevant that greener and scientific solutions are urgently needed to avert its collapse.
Odaw River is a transcommunity water facility located in the Greater Urban Accra. It stretches beyond Achimota and then passes through Dr. Kwame Nkrumah Interchange before entering the Gulf of Guinean Ocean. As a shared eco-asset that connects different urban settlements, collective approach to eco-modernising and sustaining its resources for people and nature is suggested. A roadmap ought to guide this collective approach from the short to long run.
Getting all to participate in an improvement roadmap
One of the feasible things that can be done is forming and tasking an expert committee to design and oversee a Fund for Transformative Urban and peri-Urban River Eco-modernisation (FUTURE) or Green Urban Landscape Fund (GULF). Apart from the Fund, a clear roadmap that does not facilitate just ‘shallow’ dredging but instead greening to decouple pollution from the river’s ecosystems is not less important to recommend. The roadmap may include the following four key areas:
– Resolving the influence of changing institutional portfolios in disrupting the continuity and sustainability of eco-modernisation intervention;
– Geospatial mapping and modelling of the river properties to boost strategic urban policy framing and participatory monitoring of the river catchments;
– Seeding human values to inspire active youth involvement in the Odaw River affairs; and
– Institutional streamlining to establish and empower a scientific research consortium.
The roadmap must guide policy directions and have unrestricted spaces to accommodate all disciplines and every one, as much as it is feasible. Undoubtedly, the Parliament of the Republic of Ghana is an endowed institution with noble members who have vast expertise in public development policy and, as such, ought to impartially debate and re-join forces with professionally trained sustainability scientists to devise improved scientific schemes to save the Odaw River from rapid deterioration. Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency and other governmental and non-governmental institutions, including the National Development Planning Commission; Water Resources Institute of the CSIR; Ministry of Science, Environment, Technology and Innovation; Ministry of Food and Agriculture; Ghana Association of Industries; National House of Chiefs; Christian Council of Ghana/faith-based organisations; civil societies; NGOs; and those dealing with pressing issues that pertain to carbons, disasters, and migration can lend assistance in realising a vision of toxic-free Odaw River. In the process of resourcing institutional and civil society actors to mutually work together, a question, which will likely rise is ‘how can eco-modernisation of the river be profitably financed and the benefits fairly shared?’ Eco-modernising the river is science-driven and, of course, capital intensive. There are various urban development sectors that are competing for financial budgetary allocations thereby, perhaps, obstructing investment into inventing or transferring scientific solutions to clean the river. One can think of physical infrastructure, education and digitisation! All these sectors are necessary if Accra’s Millennium City and the 2030 Agendas are to be realised. But, most often funding has been skewed from sustainable eco-modernisation of the river ecosystems to carbon-emitting sectors that may become obsolete by the year 2250, while the values of water in the river, at the time, will still not diminish in terms of adapting to climate change risks. Indeed, sounding the mantra of “priority” to underestimate the importance of Odaw River is not a good thing. The truth is that eco-modernising the river fits, and can be expertly integrated into re-addressing majority of urban development-environment issues – climate change, energy, eco-tourism, wastewater, internal mobility. etc., and hence deserves a radical public policy attention in regards to financing green infrastructure. Embracing cleaner and greener models of industrialisation is another way to gradually do away with pollution of the river.
Keep dialoguing, learning and doing
‘People know every little about Accra’, as a former Mayor of Accra, Nat Nuno-Amarteifio, would not hesitate to say. Certainly, people walk across the Odaw River almost every day and yet might know little or nothing about its geoprofile and urban development-environment significance. Many people have turned their back on the river. The consequence of such attitude and the happenings of polluted waters have coalesced to influence people to create an image of how Accra is to look like in the future; and suggested that a new capital city is built. Assuming a new city is built; some experts and citizens are asking an intriguing question: “will you send a new set of Ghanaians to live in the new city?” Such a new city is a dream wished for. And, it is good to imagine and have dreams for in them is the adrenalin to persevere towards achieving sustainable human living conditions. But, a more realistic opinion that echoes well is that Accra is alive and can be sustainably transformed to become a desirable city through concerted policy interventions backed by the massive “will of the residents”. A “will” that does not destroy the Odaw River and other urban environmental resources!
In 2014, I participated in a colloquium organised by the International Growth Centre in collaboration with the Oxford University and the University of London’s LSE on the theme: ‘Building effective cities for growth’. At that meeting, Prof Ralph Tetteh Mills who happened to be a member of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences brilliantly discussed and alluded to the rapidly shrinking of “eco-assets”, including green open spaces in and around the Efua Sutherland Park, situated close to the National Theatre and the George Padmore Library. According to Prof Mills, such open zones are vital for building a sustainable city in which ‘walking and cycling are safe’, and the residents have chances to use the open areas that are easily ‘accessible and enjoyable’. On several occasions, the well-respected and late diplomat, K.B. Asante, had warned the Ghanaian public against ushering in a deserting city phenomenon.
Certainly, Odaw River and its eco-assets can be greenly eco-modernised to serve the purposes of generating recreational, eco-tourism, energy and money-making benefits to drive green urban economic agendas devoid of pollutions. All-inclusively engaging more actors in matters concerning how to do things differently to clean, green and sustain the Odaw River provides the enabling foundation to respect others’ views in finding innovative and sustainable solutions.