All opinions expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
As COVID-19 strains urban food systems, cities can innovate to grow more locally and provide jobs for young people
Esther Ngumbi is Assistant Professor of Entomology in the Department of African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Across Africa, the third wave of COVID-19 infections is unfolding, with South Africa leading the new wave. This is of concern, especially for urban housing communities, where access to land, water and other resources needed to grow food sustainably is still a big challenge.
In addition, according to a report by the United Nations World Food Program, urban populations, especially populations living in slums, suffer the most when food systems are disrupted by lockdowns caused by the pandemic.
There is an urgent need for governments of African countries and all food security stakeholders to strategize to ensure that the third wave of COVID-19 across Africa does not lead to new waves of food insecurity, especially among the nearly 588 million Africans living in cities.
Empowering young city dwellers, who constitute the majority of the population, and investing in building a thriving and sustainable urban agricultural sector on the African continent is the way forward. In addition, young Africans living in urban areas represent an untapped resource which, if properly harnessed, has the potential to help build vibrant and resilient urban food systems. But if they are neglected as has been done before, they could become a destabilizing force.
In addition, urban food systems offer multiple avenues for innovation and creativity as they encompass many factors such as production, processing, packaging, distribution, retail, consumption and waste management. food. However, due to COVID-19, urban food systems have been disrupted and continue to be vulnerable.
The time has come for the African continent and its leaders can take advantage of this difficult time of the third wave of COVID-19 as an opportunity to reimagine African urban agriculture. Drawing on its creative, tech-savvy and enterprising youth, African countries can build resilient and sustainable urban food systems with the capacity to provide affordable food that meets cities’ demands for local, fresh, nutritious food. and healthy.
It is important to note that African countries should not simply seek to copy existing models of urban agriculture, but inspire new designs that use materials and resources available in African countries. Alternatively, African countries can strengthen existing urban growth models and prototypes that are already working. For example, in Uganda, vertically stacked wooden crate units are a local and convenient method of farming in urban towns. In Kenya and Ghana, bag gardens made from locally available and inexpensive sisal fibers represent a local and practical form of a vertical farm.
Along with the strategies, African countries should continue to create spaces where young people can access land to practice urban agriculture.
Other concrete measures that can help develop urban agriculture to meet food needs are to set up funds intended exclusively to support young people who venture into food crops to feed urban populations. African governments, the African Development Bank, organizations like USAID and private foundations like Mastercard Foundation and other foundations based in Africa can achieve this.
In addition to sources of funding, there is the need for training, retraining and access to training in urban agriculture. Those who venture into urban agriculture should further have access to agricultural extension and other services to ensure that they are running profitable urban agriculture businesses. Universities and non-governmental organizations can take this opportunity to train young people and offer other valuable courses. The training should also include topics such as creating a business plan for urban agriculture.
There is a need for African governments to build databases and create inventories of urban agriculture initiatives across the African continent. Other resources, including available materials, such as the United Nations framework on urban agriculture, are important.
Finally, the time has also come for Africa to create a center that is dedicated to imagining and supporting all the needs of urban agriculture for the continent. If the future is urban, why does the African continent not have a center exclusively dedicated to study, research and support for the needs of urban agriculture?
Governments of African countries, Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Tony Elumelu Foundation, Mastercard Foundation, Aliko Dangote Foundation, African Development Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and others stakeholders who have continued to invest in African countries can work together to launch and financially support this Center tasked with training and bringing together all the actors needed to continue to support growing African cities while consulting and advising African governments on the policies to be implemented to allow urban agriculture to thrive.
It is clear that urban agriculture will be relevant today and in the future. African countries must invest in building strong and resilient urban agriculture and food systems. Hurry up.