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Extension Opinion No 14: Improving the viability of Urban Agriculture

Food insecurity is a pressing problem in South African cities. Research conducted by AFSUN found 80% of sampled households in low-income areas of Cape Town to be moderately or severely food insecure. At present there is no clear policy focus to address food insecurity in urban areas and no mandate for cities to address the constitutional right to food. 

A number of municipalities have attempted programmes to support urban agriculture as a response to food and livelihood insecurity. There are also many NGOs working to promote and support urban agricultural projects. However, the AFSUN survey found that less than five percent of surveyed households had accessed food by growing it in the past 12 months and fewer still had sold produce to generate income. 
Urban agriculture can be an important component of food and nutrition security and a viable livelihood strategy, as has been evidenced through the work of Abalimi Bezekhaya and others. However, at present, what appears to be an obvious solution is not that obvious to the food insecure. 

What is required to make enable urban agriculture to meet its potential as a source of food and livelihood security? Firstly, our research has found that farmers and potential farmers have found that institutional support is often poorly coordinated and lacks transparency. In addition, some of the institutional structures are not responsive to the realities of township life. Extension services therefore need to be more responsive, transparent and more clearly coordinated. 

Secondly, although there are aspirations to connect urban agriculture projects to local markets, the mechanisms to facilitate this are not currently clear within institutional support structures. In addition, urban agriculture advocacy tends to ignore the impact of the wider formal food system on the potential of a viable local market for urban agriculture products. In order for urban agriculture to meet its potential, it needs to be part of a planning and policy framework that considers the location and structure of informal markets, critically engages with the role of formal markets and their impact on urban food security, and questions of the ecology of food and the management of food waste, amongst others. The current support for urban agriculture as the dominant food security intervention in fact hinders its potential and that a more systemic approach asking broader questions about urban land use might improve the viability of this practice. 

Dr Jane Battersby-Lennard is  researcher at the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. For a more depth discussion of urban food security and the challenges facing urban agriculture click on the link to the ACC website below.

Click the image for a view of: African Centre for Cities
African Centre for Cities

Posted: 9/21/2012 (6:27:59 AM)


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