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Growing green foods to achieve hunger-free city and sustainability

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cropped-upa21.jpgHunger remains a challenge in all cities, especially in developing urban economies. The hardest hit by hunger are children, refugees, unemployed youth and disaster victims. How to achieve ‘zero hunger’ has become a pressing issue on public policy agendas. The latest collective attempt to push an agenda that would bring millions of people as possible out of extreme hunger and poverty conditions was the global acceptance and endorsement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the last UN Sustainable Development Summit held in Paris, France.

One can think, design and initiate different interventions and approaches toward the elimination of hunger and poverty overtime. In African cities, undertaking agricultural activities forms part of natural resource management, which helps to put fresh food into the mouth. The activity is re-intensifying because it matches and responses to different skills and human-environmental needs in cities. Within peri-urban interfaces, in particular, cultivating green foods is life-saving as it cushions pro-poor households against sudden change in food prices. As important as cultivating green foods or keeping ruminants strengthen green cycle of cities, it is often neglected. Urban society sees green food production as a city-degrading activity. Public disregard for growing green foods created situations where past policies discriminated against urban agricultural practitioners for centuries. The consequence of this is the innovation and creativity required to sustainably grow and process green foods to complement broader sustainable urban development goals such as reducing hunger and poverty were nipped off.

Despite the suppressive attitude to cultivating food in cities, the activity is continuing. Interestingly, it is not entirely continuing as a subsistence means of growing foods but also there is evidence of rising commercial dimension in sub-Sahara African cities[1];[2]. Commercial production has taken giant steps at different levels of production, investment and profitability. In Greater Gaborone, for instance, ‘agriculture in and around the city is primarily commercial as opposed to subsistence-oriented[3]’. Brigss and Mwamfupe similarly identified ‘a growing importance of commercial production in urban environments’ of Dar-es-Salaam while, in Kampala, Maxwell’s[4] assertion that some urban producers cultivated food ‘almost entirely for urban markets’ remained valid. Maxwell discovered poultry keeping as ‘the most common form of commercial urban agriculture’ and estimated that ‘70% of all poultry products consumed in Kampala’ originated from city farms. Among other urban agricultural systems going on in Lagos, ‘commercial horticulture is also well established in urban and peri-urban areas, generating employment and income for thousands of people and supplying city markets with a wide range of fruit, vegetables and ornamental plants’[5].  I had personally interviewed or, in a group, witnessed productive nature of growing of green foods at varied scales in Ghanaian cities of Kumasi, Tamale and Accra, Nigerian city of Lagos, Senegalese city of Dakar, Togolese and Benin cities of Lomé and Cotounu respectively, The roles that farming green foods within city environments play in providing necessary conditions to achieve ‘zero hunger and poverty’ is what matters most rather than it being practised on subsistence or commercial basis.

SD1Is it denied that hunger is persisting? It is increasingly imperative to realize that hunger, in cities, is no longer a plain issue of no food is available to eat or little food to eat but a deadly ill resulting from landlessness, low energy to process raw materials, electoral violence, neighbourhood mistrust, using digital violence to isolate, in-work poverty and floods. The causes of hunger are unpredictable in a case like civil wars. This perhaps explains why in spite of pragmatic policy initiatives to reverse hunger problems the undernourished people increased from 824 million in 1990-1992 to 832 million in 2003-2005. Despite genuine commitment expressed at the Millennium Summit to halve hungry population by 2015, the global community rather saw a rise in undernourished people to ‘more than 1.02 billion people worldwide in 2009’[6];[7]. However, ‘global hunger had declined slightly by 167 million hungry’ people[8] thereafter.

By 2010, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Pacific regions all-together accounted for nearly 88% of the world’s undernourished population[9]. Malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa is further worsened as it is also a region where the ‘highest levels of urban poverty’ is concentrated[10]. The emerging good news is that a well-thought report by the UN/DESA indicates a significant improvement has occurred – a decline in extreme poverty by 21% in sub-Saharan Africa. The report clearly informs that generally ‘one in five people in developing regions still live below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day’[11].

In the context of the West African countries, various governments are responding by positively initiating economic policy interventions to improve Gross National Income (GNI) per capita (2011 PPP $) (see Figure 1[12], UNDP, 2015). Is there not any relation between GNI and urban household earnings? Can growing green food do good things for poor urban households in terms of earning incomes?seedincome

On the basis of what can be termed as “hidden hunger”, the tighter hunger-poverty relationship is frightening (see Table 1[13]). The solutions are not straightforward. But the reality is that growing green foods can create vital micro-opportunities to resolve part of the hunger-poverty ills previously caused by unforthcoming food interventions. Hidden hunger – lack of ‘one single micronutrient alone or a combination of micronutrients’[14], – affected over 2 billion people worldwide. Hunger deserves a proactive attention because it imperils health, reduces productivity and diminishes the hope of educational attainment. At the city-level, hunger is more and more not a problem for an individual but also for urban governments because starving people cannot pay regular taxes and actively participate in urban development processes, which therein fertilize massive exclusion from political, food and human rights and sustainability leadership and governance. Hunger, as a consequence of high food prices, could cause civil riots as it had happened in part of the world in 2007 and 2008[15]. Urban governments apparently need nothing about food insecurity-motivated protests and, as such, responsible investment into the growing of green foods will generate sustainable profits to free human lives from hunger.


[1] Briggs, J. and Mwamfupe, D., 1999. The changing nature of the peri-urban zone in Africa: evidence from Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. Scottish Geographical Journal 115 (4) 269-282.

[2] Doe, S.S.P., 2014. Advancing sustainability in developing world: multi-ingredients (dis)connecting people, policy and praxis from Ghana and Africa. Graduate Standards Press: Kumasi. pp x +135.

[3] Hovorka, A.J., 2005. Gender, commercial urban agriculture and urban food supply in Greater Gaborone, Botswana. In Mougeot, L.J.A. (ed.) Agropolis: the social, political and environmental dimensions of urban agriculture. Earthscan and IDRC: London. pp 137-152.

[4]Maxwell, D., 1995. Alternative food security strategy: a household analysis of urban agriculture in Kampala. World Development 23 1669-1681.

[5] FAO, 2012. Growing greener cities in Africa. First status report on urban and peri-urban horticulture in Africa. Rome, Italy.

[6] FAO, 2011. Right to food, making it happens: progress and lessons learned through implementation. Rome, Italy.

[7] UNDP, 2011. Human Development Report 2011. Sustainability and equity: a better future for all. [Accessed 01/10/2012].

[8] FAO, 2015. State of food insecurity in the world in brief. Rome, Italy.

[9]FAO, 2011.The state of food and agriculture (2010-2011), women in agriculture, closing the gender gap for development. Rome, Italy.

[10] UN-Habitat, 2008. State of the world’s cities 2010/2011: bridging the urban divide. Earthscan: London.

[11] UN/DESA, 2016. World economic situation and prospect 2016. New York.

[12] This figure is designed using data generated from HDR 2015.

[13]Table 1 is modified based on HDR, 2015; FAO, 2011[13]; FAO, 2012

[14] World Food Programme, 2009. World hunger series: hunger and markets. Earthscan: London.

[15] FAO, 2011. FAO in 21st century: ensuring food security in a changing world. Rome, Italy.

16. UNDP, 2015. Human Development Report 2015: Work for human development. New York.


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