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Cities feeding people: an update on urban agriculture in equatorial Africa


Much ink can be wasted on policy recommendations and policy documents if the political will to make them work is missing.

By Diana Lee-Smith
Environment and Urbanization
2010 International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). 483
Vol 22(2): 483–499. 2010
Diana Lee-Smith holds a Doctorate from Lund University, Sweden, and co-founded Mazingira Institute, an independent research body in Kenya where she has been involved in research, development and activist work on urban environment and development issues since 1978.


For several decades, a diverse literature has claimed that urban agriculture has the potential for hunger and poverty alleviation. This article reviews empirical data from equatorial Africa that touch on this assertion, updating the work on the subject published in the mid-1990s. Research, largely from East Africa but also including Cameroon in West Central Africa, appearing in several recent and currently emerging publications is assessed and compared. The article attempts to quantify the extent of urban agriculture in several cities based on the proportion of urban households involved, and assesses its statistical and qualitative relationship to urban food and nutrition security as well as its complex relationship to poverty.

The role of urban agriculture in closing eco-cycles is discussed in important new data from three cities on how organic solid waste is, or is not, being re-used. Recent efforts in policy-making in three East African cities are reviewed, prior to making a policy analysis. The article concludes that the scale and extent of urban agriculture is increasing with, or perhaps in excess of, urban growth according to available data, and that it is beneficial to human health as well as to hunger and poverty alleviation. Urban livestock production and land availability are particularly beneficial. Poverty alleviation through urban agriculture could be both better understood and supported by appropriate policy measures, since better-off households are currently benefiting more from urban agriculture than the majority of poor households. Nutrient cycling through urban agriculture is enhanced by small mixed crop–livestock farms, which are the “backbone of urban farming systems”. Recent policy measures emerging in the region suggest positive future direction.

Read the complete paper here.