Two years ago, Valerie Mukabaramba turned to growing crops in a marshland in her neighborhood of Gisozi in Kigali City's Gasabo district. She had been a hawker around the city for several years but life became increasingly tough for this mother of four.
She now grows sweet potatoes, maize and vegetables as the only source of food for family and income for other basic needs. "I have no other skills, yet hawking in the city is very risky. But I'm able to survive and get basic needs through farming," she said in a recent interview.
Mukabaramba does individual cultivation but also belongs to a cooperative that grows maize and beans in the same marshland. Last season, she earned Frw about 80,000 from maize and beans. "I wouldn't say that I'm in very good conditions, but at least I can get the basics from my field," she points out.
This is the story of an estimated 40,000 city dwellers who have taken to urban farming in Kigali City. Mukabaramba shares the same experience with her over 130 colleagues who belong to a cooperative that grows maize and beans in Gisozi.
Innocent Ndereyimana, another urban famer, says he never buys vegetables from market as he is able to grow his own on his plot in Nyanza of Gatenga sector, Kicukiro district.
Though urban area is mainly for commercial activities, factories and other off-farm activities, crop growing is now a dominant activity across Kigali city. Officials in the city say farming is one of the key economic activities being promoted by city authorities to improve the living conditions of the urban poor.
Engineer Innocent Uwurukundo, who is in charge of farming activities in Kicukiro sector, says the activities are conducted in swamps and inside plots of residential areas. Vegetable growing is the most dominant farming activity. They include onion, tomatoes, leeks, pepper, cabbages and carrots. Uwurukundo says they provide the farmers with some skills to enable them get a high yields from the small portions of land that characterize urban farming. For instance, a single tomato plant can yield about 20 kgs of tomatoes.
For the engineer, encouraging farming activities in the city is very significant in a sense that it provides residents of the city with fresh vegetables which is needed for a complete diet. "Vegetables grown here are fresher on our market than those transported from provinces," he said, adding that urban farming also reduces expenses for those who practice it.
On the other hand, urban farming in Kigali does not only provide products for eating, but also to keep the city green and fresh. Pascal Nahimana, the city's agribusiness expert, explains that the master plan of the city also envisages farming spaces where each residential plot must allocate at least 20% of the surface to farming activities.
According to the official, the recent strategic program of the city that has got support from FAO since 2003 up to June this year revealed that about 40,000 residents of the city rely entirely on urban farming activities in Kigali. Kigali City has a population of abut 1.2 million people. The objective of the strategic program was to integrate into the urban growth process that will guide the growth and development of Kigali city in a manner that makes the best sustainable use of available land, water and infrastructure to the best interest of its population and the environment.
The whole city of Kigali occupies 730 kmÂÂ². And only one third is said to be fully urban area while the rest is peri-urban. According to Nahimana, the urban farming in Kigali mainly focuses on vegetables & fruits, forests and city beautification. Although he can not tell the contribution of urban farmers contribute to the national economy, he noted that there is potential for commercial production.
For example, a five-ton truck of grass used to beautify the city and compounds costs Frw 150,000 while a single seedling of a palm tree is sold at Frw 25,000. Tomatoes grown in greenhouses also generate a lot of money.
Agriculture, according to the official, has been approved among five key activities of the city's master plan which is to serve as a guidance of all activities for 50 years.