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Editorial (May 2013)

Urban market gardens provide employment, food and income as well as social and environmental benefits (© FAO/Olivier Asselin)
Urban market gardens provide employment, food and income as well as social and environmental benefits
© FAO/Olivier Asselin

Over the next decade, sub-Saharan Africa's urban population is forecast to increase by almost 45 percent - an extraordinary figure by any standards. For millions of Africa's rural-urban migrants, the challenges of city life are all too real. Yet urban agriculture, for years outlawed by municipal authorities, offers solutions to numerous urban problems, including poverty, food and nutrition insecurity, unemployment and waste management.

In the town of Soukra, 6 km from Tunis, urban farmers have introduced greenhouse cultivation for intensive food production. Crops are grown at ground level and in raised, suspended beds, micro-irrigated with rainwater harvested from the greenhouse roof. Lucrative flower crops are grown using filtered household wastewater. The full story can be found in Focus on urban agriculture, together with articles on the development of urban agriculture policy in Liberia, urban dairying in Kenya and micro-gardening in Senegal, among others.

For Tony Juniper, author of What has nature ever done for us? (see Books), urbanisation has led to ignorance of the natural systems on which our lives depend. As a result, politicians and thought-leaders increasingly see nature as secondary to the economy, rather than underpinning it. Through our unsustainable use of natural resources we are effectively cannibalising our own future, he contends, while also highlighting attempts from around the globe to get production in sync with natural systems.

For such activities to work at scale may require political and financial support. An exciting example is given by Farm Africa's Tsegaye Tadesse in My perspective. In the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia, forest-dependent communities will soon be earning payments for their participatory forest management through the UN's REDD carbon finance initiative. In the context of African forestry this is hugely significant, as the first example of communities earning REDD payments to support their forest management activities - activities that work both in their favour and in the interests of the forests. It is a model that deserves attention from forestry policymakers across the continent.

Continuing with policy-making, Points of View begins by asking why so many African governments have failed to meet the Maputo Declaration target of 10 per cent budgetary allocation to agriculture. Answers from delegates at the Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Africa conference, held in Pretoria in March, include, in brief: importing food is cheaper; politicians only think short term; investments in agriculture don't produce good returns; and a lack of appreciation that agriculture can be an engine of economic growth. The section goes on to explore the roles of donors, civil society and policy in triggering and directing investment in agriculture.

From verbal snapshots to visual ones, In pictures presents the lives of Afghanistan's nomadic herders, the Kuchi, who face challenges from population increase. Summer pastures are coming under greater pressure, but the Kuchi's movements have been restricted in recent years by insecurity, local militias and landmines, forcing them into a more settled existence.

Agricultural mobility, meanwhile, is one of the strengths of sack gardening, which is being adopted in Bangladesh by communities living in flood prone areas. Growing vegetables from the sides and tops of earth-filled sacks is providing food and income to landless families in as little as three weeks from planting. The technology is included in the GFAR-sponsored Research and innovation section, which highlights work being done to address nutrition and health challenges, in the run up to the 'hunger summit', scheduled to precede the G8 summit in June 2013. Also featured is the wonderfully acronymed Network for Nutrition and Food Security and Wholesomeness (NOODLES), which is working in the Old Quarter of Hanoi to identify the most critical contamination risks in street food, and to learn from good practices.

Groundnuts, like maize, are susceptible to aflatoxin contamination, but simple preventative measures are possible (© Twin)
Groundnuts, like maize, are susceptible to aflatoxin contamination, but simple preventative measures are possible
© Twin

Food safety also features in Developments, in the context of aflatoxin control. In Malawi, groundnut farmers have been trained in improved pre- and post-harvest practices to prevent the growth of moulds that produce the toxins. Use of hand-held mechanical shellers is one example. These speed up the shelling process and discourage farmers from soaking groundnuts in water to soften the shells, a practice which promotes mould growth. Another simple, but effective technology is reported in News: putting insecticide-impregnated nets around cattle pens has doubled or even tripled milk production for dairy farmers in Kisii, Kenya, has halved cases of mastitis (which can be spread by flies), and even cut human malaria cases by 40 per cent.

As always, we hope New Agriculturist offers a full and satisfying basket of information, including areas of concern, opinions and insights and exciting developments. Please increase our impact by re-tweeting our articles or liking them on Facebook. You can also find comment boxes at the foot of every article.

Date published: May 2013


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