Urban Agriculture can be the pathway to Food Security in Nigeria
Olalekan Aduloju is a lecturer in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Faculty of Environmental Science, University of Ilorin, Nigeria.
The conditions shaping current urban food systems include population growth, urbanisation, changing diets and most recently, the coronavirus (COVID-19). In this period of global emergency, Adam-Bradford & Veenhuizen (2015) recount that over 1 billion people around the world live in unsafe and unhealthy conditions in slums, refugee camps and informal settings. This translates to the fact that this population represents 1 in 7 individuals that are permanently or spasmodically hungry. It must also be said that the poorest are experiencing extensive loss of income, thus increasing vulnerability to hunger. According to the World Bank (2013), poor households in developing countries spend proportionately more than 50% of their income on food.
Living and eating in cities today has become inextricably linked to globalized chains of food provisioning. The COVID19 emergency has disrupted many of these food chains, with farmers scrambling to mitigate the negative impacts. COVID-19 has held many nations hostage, with the impact shifting gradually from health to economies and food security. Agriculture in Nigeria is rain-fed and seasonal. The lockdown occurred during the planting season, and this portends a threat to food security in the months ahead. Furthermore, Urban agriculture (UA) which could be a safety net for the urban vulnerable is not a recognised urban land use in Nigeria and so has not been widely practiced as a food security strategy
The lack in abundant supply combined with high rate of demand for food during COVID-19 has been felt the most on thousands of traditional varieties of wheat, corn, potatoes, millet, beans, rice and even livestock, cultivated and reared for generations. Extant problems already associated with genetic uniformity of agriculture are making crops more vulnerable to disasters and have put the human food supply at risk. With COVID-19 in Nigeria, residents of large cities including Lagos have complained about the rising cost of food staples. The price of grains and cereals in particular have been affected. Rice, which is the first food staple to be hit is the primary food for half the people in the world Local rice, for example, now costs about 26% more, while imported rice costs 18.1% more, in the seven weeks since the outbreak of the pandemic. Other types of food affected include spaghetti (55.6%), tubers (158.35%), vegetables(88.03%) and eggs (5%). The reason for the price hike is not far-fetched. Logistical challenges as a result of restriction on interstate travels caused temporary scarcity. These logistical challenges also affected millions of rural farmers whose perishable produce could not be transported to the cities, thus resulting in spoilage and negative impact to already lean incomes.
These gaps point to the reason why Urban Agriculture must be embraced at the city level. It is an effective infrastructure used in contributing to urban food security. Many countries are ensuring that their cities can accommodate growing of food, thereby planning for food security challenges that will emerge from the complex interplay of growing population, depleting resources and unplanned emergencies (such as COVID-19). Historically, UA has proven to be beneficial during emergency crises. Examples include the “Dig for Victory” campaign in Britain during the second world war, and “Operation Feed Yourself” in Ghana during 1970s (Adam-Bradford & Veenhuizen, 2015). Other countries have devised means like backyard farming, river bank farming, streetscape farming and institutional and school gardening as UA approaches, especially during the times of food instability.
UA plays a significant role in many developing countries due to its formal recognition and has thus contributed significantly to food security and livelihoods. For instance, nearly 25 out of 65 million people living in urban areas of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia currently obtain part of their food from UA. It is estimated that by 2020, about 35-40 million urban residents in these countries will embrace UA as practitioners. This goes to show that UA will represent the future of many sustainable cities. In the case of Nigeria, there is no official recognition of UA in legal and sustainable development frameworks. As such, UA remains informal. This is despite the fact that livestock farming for example is embraced and practiced liberally within and around urban areas.
With the urban food security vulnerabilities enhanced by the COVID19 pandemic, it is clear that Nigeria must recognise, legitimatise and incentivise UA as a veritable response mechanism of urban residents, particularly the urban poor, to cushion the effects of poverty and serve as a safety net for food insecurity in times of crisis.
Adam-Bradford, A., & Veenhuizen, R. (2015). Roles of Urban Agriculture in Disasters and Emergencies. In d. Zeeuw, H, & P. Drechsel (Eds.), Cities and Agriculture: Developing Resilient Urban Food System (pp. 387-410). London and New York: RoutLedge Earthscan.
World Bank. (2013). Urban Agriculture: Findings from Four City Case Studies. Urban Development and Resilience Unit. Washington DC: World Bank.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development or the University of Lagos, Nigeria.