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Urban Agriculture: A Response to Food Insecurity?
Author: Nyumbaiza Tambwe
The United Nations Population Fund-State of World 2007 considers 2008 as the year of new departure in human history in that half of the globe’s population (3.3 billion) will be living in the towns and cities. The report outlines the fact that most of these urbanites will be in developing countries and they will be poor. In Africa and Asia particularly, urban population is expected to double between 2000 and 2030. While Asia’s urban population is projected to increase from 1.36 billion to 2.64 billion, Africa’s urban population is expected to increase from 294 million to 742 million.
As a consequence, satisfying urban dwellers’ basic needs in terms of health, food, education, housing, water and other needs could be challenging. Even though cities and towns benefit from most of the local and foreign investments, urban areas experience high rates of unemployment, food insecurity and poverty, which continue to exacerbate.
To alleviate some of these problems, a large number of urban residents in developing countries, particularly in Africa, resort to urban agriculture for food, income generation, and employment. City dwellers convert open spaces (backyards, parks, garbage deposits, power lines and railways, roads, and peri-urban zones) into gardens and farms as a means of reducing urban poverty.
Taking Lubumbashi city (the second largest city of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as case study, this paper seeks to explore the potentiality of urban agriculture as source of income and food. The paper uses a sustainable livelihoods approach based on alternative theories of development. The livelihood perspective argues that individuals and households diversify assets, incomes, and activities in response to the pressure of push and pull factors. In the context of economic crisis, urban agriculture may become a response to food insecurity if economically viable, and adaptative to urban dynamics and capable of recovering from shocks and trends.
Specifically, the paper analyzes three categories of farming households and comes to the conclusion that agriculture within and around Lubumbashi city is more of a survival strategy than an entrepreneurial one for the majority of farming households. Only less than a quarter of selected farmers have been able to move out of food insecurity and poverty. The majority of farmers are food secure just for a short period of time (that is at the harvest time, three to four months). The paper shows that farmers who practice urban agriculture as their primary activity may become food secure if supported by the state and development agencies. Poverty that characterizes the majority of farmers, competition for land, and rapid population growth constitute a real threat to the expansion of agricultural activities within and around the city.
Data has been collected by means of semi-structured interviews, in-depth questions, observation and informal conversation, as well as primary and secondary sources. One hundred farming households have been selected and interviewed between November 2004 and March 2005. The analysis of the collected data required the use of SPSS for quantitative data and the interpretation for those of qualitative nature.
The paper attempts to establish a relationship between urban agriculture and food security. In other words, it seeks to examine the impact of agricultural activities taking place within and around the city of Lubumbashi on household level. The paper uses the sustainable livelihood approach based on the theories of alternative development. Instead of identifying all strategies used in urban areas, the study focuses on urban agriculture because of its potential as source of food and income. On methodological level, using the non-probability sampling, the city was divided into its seven administrative wards. As each ward is administratively divided into areas, each area was taken as reference for the selection of informants. A quota sampling of two farmers was given to each area regardless the fact that the number of urban farmers or gardeners was unknown. By selecting at least two farmers in each area of each ward, this means that all Lubumbashi wards were representative in the sample. Also most of the socio-economic categories of people living in this city were represented. Gender as well as a third criterion of selection completed the two-mentioned criteria. More than a half farmers selected was women. With 41 administrative areas, a total of 100 farming households were selected.
The body of this paper is structured as into five main sections. The first section explains why the city of Lubumbashi has been chosen as a study site. Secondly, a brief review of the anthropological literature on household strategies is presented with a focus on the household economy. Alternative development literature considers the household as the starting point in the process of production and consumption. The third section as a practical section examines two major components of food security to see whether urban agriculture permits food to be available and accessible to farming households living in the city of Lubumbashi. The section deals with three farming households representing the major categories of farmers. Fourthly, the paper identifies various types of strategies used by individuals and households to address the question of food insecurity in the city of Lubumbashi. Finally the fifth section emphasizes the role played by women in the household as caregivers and managers. Here, particular attention is drawn on the reinforcement of women’s role in the household and the burden it implies.
Lubumbashi city: study site
The choice of Lubumbashi as a study area is due to its weight in the economy of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Commonly called the capital of copper, Lubumbashi lived for almost one century at the rhythm of the giant mining company, Gécamines. The majority of companies in Katanga province functioned on the orbit of Gécamines. This was the case for example of the railway company (Société Nationale de Chemin de Fer du Congo) which was created to transport Gécamines minerals, from Katanga to Angola and from Katanga to Tanzania.
Considering the dominant economic weight of Gécamines, its collapse in the 1990s deepened the economic crisis in the country. It must be added that Gécamines fall affected primarily its labour force: more than 11 000 workers were retrenched. Secondly, this resulted in the fall of all companies operated on its orbit.
The post-Gécamines era is characterized by a high rate of unemployment in Lubumbashi, low income for people working in government and parastatal services and the rise of informal economic activities. The rapid population growth and poverty in the city worsen the living conditions of urbanites. Therefore, there is a necessity to find out how people cope with the economic crisis in the context of a state that is unable to play its traditional role (public services, protection of citizens, and so on). Instead of identifying all the strategies used by the poor as recommend the sustainable livelihood approach, the attention in this paper focuses on the one that emerges “urban agriculture”.
The household: economy and polity
By considering the emergent urban agriculture, this paper opts for the theories of alternative development, which constitutes a move away from large-scale model of development theories. The reason is that the Congolese state as well as its market economy is too fragile, too weak to be taken as major factors from which development may be originated. Large-scale theories consider the state and the market economy as the key players in development. In his analysis of state in the developing countries, Evans (1989:562) classifies Zaire (former name of the Democratic Republic of Congo) in the category of predatory states. The major characteristic of predatory state is that state administration lacks coherence and efficiency. This constitutes a handicap to the promotion of economic and social development. Predatory state is politically dominated and economically exploited by small political power elite. National resources are abusively used by the clic (team of major political players) in power for their own interests. To quote Evans (1989: 569-70):
The majority of urban poor find refuge in the household. Contrary to the neoclassical economy, which considers the household only as a unit of consumption; the household in the alternative development literature is regarded at the same time as a unit of production and a unit of consumption. As unit of production, the household is involved in market and non-market income-producing activities. Based on Polanyi (1977), Friedmann (1992), and Martinussen (1997), the most important socio-economic institution of the civil society is the household.
Additionally, the household is also a polity. As a polity, the household is a unit that makes decisions on a daily basis concerning the use of household resources and other matters that affect their lives and livelihoods. As acknowledged by Freidmann (1992:46), conflicts may arise within the household over questions of power-who does what kind of work, who controls what portion of whose income, whose voice should count in the last instance in decisions.
The Friedmann’s model of household economy distinguishes three major sources of monetary income in the household: (i) formal work, (ii) informal work, and net family transfers. Similarly with regard to the sources of income, the author distinguishes three kinds of expenditures, namely (i) consumption proper (food, clothing), (ii) investment in household durables (including housing, furnishing), and (iii) investment in the capacities and skills. Finally, Freidmann’s model envisages that the state provides social services such as health care, land donations, subsidized bus transportation, school lunch programs, and police protection.
Components of food security
According to Rukuni and Eicher (1988), the concepts of food policy and food security came of age in the early 1980s. It was firstly defined as “the ability of food deficit countries to meet target consumption levels on a year-to-year basis” (Alberto 1981 cited in Rukuni and Eicher 1988:133). In 1986, the World Bank and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) formulated the most accepted definition of food security. According to this definition, there is food security when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient and safe food preferences for an active and healthy life. Various levels of food security have been distinguished: national, regional, and local. For example, a food secure household is a household in which all members have access at all times to enough food for an active and healthy life.
Two major components of food security appear in the above definition: food availability and food affordability. Availability of food means that sufficient safe and nutritious food is either domestically produced or imported from the international market. Food may be available on the market, but it must be accessible to the population. For food to be accessible, individuals and households must be able to afford the food prices on the market.
The opposite of food security is food insecurity. Food insecurity is described as a condition in which people and households lack basic food intake to provide them with the energy and nutrients for fully productive lives. Food insecurity becomes chronic from the moment it translates into a high degree of vulnerability to undernourishment and this is related to poverty, existing mainly in poor countries.
Domestic Food Production
In 2002-2003, Lubumbashi residents produced only 13,214 tons of maize, which represented just 4.8 per cent of their real needs (see table1.1). In fact, Lubumbashi city at that time needed 274,340 tons of maize to feed 1.2 million inhabitants. Although the provincial maize production estimated 369,078 tons (see Annual Report of the Provincial Agricultural Service, 2002-2003) may cover the demand in maize in the city, it must be pointed out that Lubumbashi population constitutes only one-quarter of Katanga province’s population (5 million inhabitants). Theoretically, Lubumbashi dwellers alone consume 74.3 per cent of the total maize produced in the province. Actually, the maize production is shared by Lubumbashi population and the rest of Katanga population. More than that, the neighbouring provinces are also served from the same production. That is the reason why Lubumbashi city imports maize from Zambia, South Africa and Tanzania to compensate the emptiness left.
According to the United Nations Development Program (2006:3), 80 per cent of Congolese live under conditions of extreme poverty (less than US$ 1 a day), 71 per cent suffer from food insecurity, 57 per cent have no access to safe drinking water, and 54 per cent of Congolese cannot benefit from basic health services. From the above data, it can be deduced that food insecurity in the city of Lubumbashi results more from people’s lack of access to food than from lack of available food. With a salary of US$ 10 earned in the public sector (by a nurse in public hospital, a teacher at the primary school or a police officer), whatever the quantity of food produced and its availability on the market, this category of population cannot afford it. At the period the interviews were carried out, a bag of maize (50kg) cost at least US$ 40. Low purchasing power or lack of money to buy the available expensive food makes the majority of Lubumbashi residents unable to obtain sufficient, nutritious, personally acceptable food through normal food channels. This confirms the argument developed by a number of researchers such as Reutlinger and Selowsky (1976), Sen (1991) and Rukuni and Eicher (1988) that poverty is the major cause of famine and hunger in the world. While Reutlinger and Selowsky challenged the assumption that higher rates of economic growth, food production, and market forces bring about an improvement in nutrition in the Third World within an acceptable time frame, Sen challenged the prevailing view that famine was caused primarily by a food production shortfall. As a result, people resorted to food production as one of the strategies to supplement their low income and to generate income. While for the majority of Lubumbashi farmers, urban agriculture is just a secondary activity, for others it is a primary activity and for a very small category of farmers, urban agriculture is a source of enrichment.
Urban agriculture as a secondary source of food: the Ngoy household
Ngoy household represents the majority of farming households interviewed (77%) for which urban agriculture is a secondary activity. Therefore, food production is a supplement to the low income earned by the household. The urban poor practice several activities for their survival. And urban agriculture is one among many others.
Married and a father of six children, Ngoy is a 49-year-old man, and is working at a Chinese’s store. His wife (Kakazi Ngoy) sells vegetables on the market which are grown on the backyard garden. With US$ 15 earned per month, Ngoy complained to be unable to feed his family:
Low household income is one of the reasons invocated by urban poor to explain their engagement in food production. To supplement the low salary earned and to reduce the severity of economic crisis, Ngoy encouraged his wife in 1993 to use the vacant land surrounding their yard in order to grow vegetables.
Our yard does not have enough space to grow vegetables. But around the yard, there is vacant land to be used for agricultural activities. So, I asked my wife to use it for the growing of some vegetables. Our neighbours have been doing so for a long time. She accepted because it was the only way to survive.
As it appears, low income households exploit any vacant land in the city in order to produce food. Since vegetables are grown around the yard, Ngoy household does not buy vegetables anymore. By contrast, instead of buying bitoyo (local salted fishes) and ndakala (small fried fish) as main condiment in the household, Ngoy household has adopted vegetables as the main accompaniment. By replacing fish with vegetables, the Ngoy household standard of life is declining. Vegetables are generally consumed to accompany fish and not as a substitute.
By alternating the growing of vegetables all over the year, farming households aim to secure their members from bad harvest due to a climate change or bad harvest of one crop. Alternating crops is like diversifying crops on one garden or farm. The advantage diversification of crops is to reduce the risk of shortage as a downturn in one activity is offset to some extent by the continued production of others.” Explaining the reason why his wife alternates the growing of vegetables on the same garden, Ngoy stated:
Ngoy household as well as many other households in this category are self-sufficient in vegetables. They have different kinds of vegetables they cultivate. When there is a surplus of production, the surplus is sold.
My wife sells vegetables on the market. Sometimes people come to our house to buy vegetables. When she sells well, the family can afford two maize meals a day. Generally, we eat once a day.
The growing of vegetables or their selling does not solve the problem of malnutrition. Instead of sleeping on an empty stomach, urban farming allows poor household members to get one or two more meals a day. Despite the contribution of vegetables in the household’s diet, Ngoy acknowledged that his household’s living conditions have not yet improved.
Urban agriculture as a primary source of food: the Kilambe household
Kilambe household represents the 3 per cent of households selected, which were able through urban agriculture to feed their members for the entire year, and also the 6 per cent who did so for only six months. It must be added that the majority of the households interviewed were food secure only during the harvest period (3 to 4 months). Households falling into this household category are those who practice urban agriculture as the primary activity for food production and income generation.
I decided to grow vegetables on the back of our yard in 1993. There was food shortage in the city, particularly maize flour. The scarcity of maize flour was coupled with the scarcity of money because of the monetary reform, which occurred that year. It became tough to feed our big family. I undertook to grow vegetables on the backyard to get fresh vegetables (sweet potato leaves and amaranth, marrow leaves and, I even sold part of my vegetables.
The growing of vegetables in the backyard permitted the household to reduce the severity of food insecurity and, at the same time to reduce the expenditures on foodstuffs. But urban agriculture remained for this household a secondary source of food for as long as Kilambe’s husband was still working at TabaCongo. But from 1999 when Kilambe’s husband lost his job, urban agriculture became the principal source of food for the household. The backyard garden’s experience helped Kilambe to grow maize crop at the periphery of the city. She stated:
What started as a survivalist activity (on the backyard) has transformed into a real economic activity which produces not only food but also income, and therefore implicated much more members of the household (husband and children). Also, as much more space was needed for the extension of the agricultural activities, the periphery of the city offered the space needed for maize farming. While the main objective remained feeding the household members, the quantity of maize produced (12 sacs) allowed Kilambe to sell part of her produce.
Although the growing of maize brought a lot of benefits in terms of food and money, the Kilambe household did not abandon cultivating vegetables. On the contrary, the household rotated different types of vegetables, such as amaranth, cassava, marrow and sweet potato leaves and cabbages. Diversification and rotation of crops allow poor households to get food all over the year and to reduce risks of one crop production. As she acknowledged:
The expenditures on foodstuffs have been drastically reduced, which means that as the household allocates less money to buy foodstuffs, the surplus money from food selling can be allocated to other needs of the household.
Even though Kilambe recognizes that her maize farm supplies the essential of food to the household, this is not enough to feed every member of the household at all times. Instead of three meals per day (breakfast, lunch and dinner), for example, the Kilambe household members get two meals a day.
To sum up, Kilambe household grows food crops as a strategy to fight against hunger. In order to increase the production, the household incorporates all members at a certain age, diversifies and rotates crops. Food production in the Kilambe household has reduced expenditures on food stuffs, but what is produced is not yet enough to cover all household needs. Additionally, household means being limited, therefore, a survival urban agriculture is the dominant type of farming practiced in this category of households.
Urban agriculture as source of enrichment: the Kadony household
Kadony household is part of the very rare farming households primarily engaged in food cultivation for commercial reasons. This household is an example of success in the practice of cultivation which started in the city to be extended later on in the rural areas.
Kadony is a senior lecturer at the University of Lubumbashi. He is married and a father of several children, Kadony engaged in the growing of maize, peanut, cabbages, onion and sweet potatoes for several reasons, namely; to supplement the low salary earned, to supply food to his household, and to finance his doctoral research. As he stated:
Considering the high level of profitability of peanut crop, Kadony household decided to produce much more. The result was far above his expectation.
After the academic issue was solved, Kadony household decided later on to buy a second hand car as a unit of production for the household. The $US 3000 used to buy the car came from the selling of peanuts. Since then, the household does not experience food shortage.
In the three sources of household expenditures envisaged in Freidmann’s (1992) model of household economy, the buying of a car is a durable investment even though it is not directly affected to commercial use. In a case of crisis, the car may be sold and the money may help the household to move out the crisis. The acquisition of a second hand car increased the social status of the Kadony household.
By buying a car for commercial purpose from the selling of agricultural products, the Kadony household like many households in this category increased the productivity of his farms by expanding the activities and hiring workers.
The food secure Kadony household shows that urban agriculture can move a household out of poverty, and more importantly this activity can become a sustainable livelihood strategy. However, very few households may be included in the category of the Kadony household.
To show how important urban agriculture is for his household, senior lecturer Kadony has been expending his agricultural activities outside the city.
It can be deduced from the above statement that the sustainability of urban agriculture is mostly dependent on the availability of land as agricultural activities expand, and also on material and financial support from government and development agencies.
Household strategies to food insecurity
From the three categories of households, it must be retained that urban households respond to food insecurity by using various ways. These vary from incorporating household members into food production to reducing the quantity and quality of meals. The multiplicity of strategies reduces the impact of food insecurity on the household. The table that follows illustrates both viable and survivalist as household strategies to food insecurity.
Table 1: Summary of household strategies to food insecurity
Source: author’s fieldwork 2004/2005
Source: author’s fieldwork 2004/2005
The above table indicates that farming households use their members with an objective to increase the production. Kilambe for example, recognized that the engagement of her husband and children was helpful to triple the maize production from 3 bags (50kg) in 2000 to 9 bags in 2001. The increase permitted the household members to get two maize meals a day. Households often move from backyard to the periphery of the city or use land in the surrounding villages to expand their activities. The size of a plot determines the production.
The diversification of crops as well as the rotation system was practiced. On one plot two or three crops were grown. Maize crop might be the main crop, but was often associated with two other crops such as, beans and vegetables or peanut and vegetables. In the rainy season, households grew specific types of vegetables such as amaranth, beans, cassava leaves and sweet potato leaves, while in the dry season cabbages were the most cultivated.
Also, crop like peanut was specifically grown for commercial reasons irrespective of the quantity produced while vegetables were primarily grown for home consumption, but could also be sold. Maize crop was produced for both reasons: home consumption and income generation. Sweet potatoes played a major role in Lubumbashi residents’ diet during the period of food shortage.
On nutrition level, households were able to eat two to three maize meals a day during the harvest period. Three to four months later, only one maize meal was affordable by the majority of the households interviewed. When the household could not afford more than one meal a day, the time to eat the only one meal was late in the night (around 22:00).
The predominance of vegetables in Lubumbashi residents’ diet as the principal condiment was also one of the strategies used to reduce the impact of food shortage and high food prices in the household. As already pointed out, some foods (meat, fish, chips and omelet) were eaten only at special events (birth, marriage and death). The elimination of these expensive foods allowed poor households to survive.
To sum up, while some household strategies are viable and therefore sustainable (incorporating all household members, diversifying crops), others are just survival for (food reduction, replacement of maize meal by other kinds of meals such as beans and sweet potatoes, and the predominance of vegetables as substitute to fish and meat.
Gender in food and income generation
In the context of economic crisis characterized by growing unemployment and low income in public administration, the household plays a major role in the supply of food and income generation. The dominant presence of women in urban agriculture can be explained by the fact that women are often considered as caregivers and managers of household.
In the absence of salary or with a very little salary earned by their husbands (see Kilambe and Ngoy households), women are the ones who are supposed to generate an income and provide food to their households. They undertake, therefore, multiple tasks from planting food crops to selling agricultural products on the market. As stated by Van Esterik (1999), women’s sense of self is based on their ability to feed their families. This is to say that women loose their power and identity when they lack access to food.
Instead of losing their power and identity as caregivers and managers of the household, women are ready, in addition to their domestic chores, to undertake agricultural activities to supply food to their household members and to generate income. Two selected women of Bongonga area gave the following reasons to justify their engagement if food production:
Most of the women interviewed have recognized that their production was not enough to cover all the food needs in the household. Nevertheless, in the situation of food shortage, the only one maize meal consumed on daily basis is a sacrifice made by a woman. Whatever the quality or quantity of food consumed in the household, a meal means not only food, but also capacity for a woman to keep her family members alive and to prevent them from begging.
By participating to the production of food in the household and becoming the central producer and provider, the woman reinforces her status in the household. In the meantime, men are losing their position of head of the household. Women tend to decide on the way production must be used.
Women reinforce their status in the household not only by supplying food, but also by deciding on the allocation of the household income. As noted before, the reinforcement of women’s status in the household undermines men’s status. Sometimes this brings conflict in the household where men like to keep their position as head of the household. One of the respondents said;
Change of women’s status in a context of patriarchal system can be source of conflict. Since women have been having more power to decide, men feel powerless and tend to leave all the burden of the household to their wives. They explain their behaviour by the fact women want to rule the household, so they have to take all the responsibilities. A teacher did complain as follows:
The significant contribution of women to reduce food insecurity at household level has the advantage to reinforce their status, but on the other hand it constitutes a burden on their shoulders. Loss of control over household income makes men powerless. As a consequence, family pressure is now more directed towards women than towards men. As one woman supported by World Vision International/Congo declared:
Urban farming has become more central for the survival of households that some women work so hard they even sacrifice their own health. Petit’s survey (2001) conducted in the city of Lubumbashi showed that women’s contribution to the household income was very insignificant when the giant mining company (Gécamines) and other companies operating in its orbit were paying their employees. Unfortunately, the more economic crisis deepened the more women’s contribution to their household becomes central survival means particularly in food supply and income generation.
In the context of economic crisis with a weak state, the household economy is already becoming a response to food insecurity. The practice of cultivation in the city of Lubumbashi has rendered almost all selected households self-sufficient in vegetables through the techniques of diversification, rotation, and alternation all along the year.
Temporary food security (harvest) has also been observed concerning maize. During that period, two to three maize meals a day become possible. But it must be added that only very few households became food secure for the entire year (the Kadony household). The case of Kilambe household is in between the Kadony and the Ngoy household. While through urban agriculture Kadony household succeeded to move out of food insecurity, the Ngoy standard of life continued declining. Kilambe did not necessarily move out of food insecurity, but his condition was not declining. This category of households may become food secure and move out of poverty if a financial support is given to them. Therefore, the role of the government and development agencies is crucial. The case of urban agriculture in Great Gaborone (Botwsana), which through grants received from the government became an entrepreneurial activity, is illustrative (Hovorka, 2004).
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