13 January 2013

Rwanda: To Fight Hunger, Urban Households Must Also Have Kitchen Gardens


One of the biggest challenges faced by mankind to day and in the days to come is to provide enough food for the rapidly growing population of the world.

It is a very daunting task especially in the wake of global warming and land degradation -the two factors that have conspired to render food production extremely difficult. Global warming presents two extreme weather conditions - very wet and extremely hot which call for careful planning in order to strike a balance.

Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations says that more than 80% of the current fertile farmland in sub-Saharan Africa will turn to "dustbowls" at the turn this century. This will certainly make the food situation even more complicate as more land becomes unproductive.

While the solution to this may be in dealing with the causes of global warming and how to mitigate its impact, there is also need to explore ways of efficient utilization of land for food production.

The decision by Kigali City Authority to include farming in the city's development master plan is something that all urban authorities here in Rwanda and Africa in general need to critically look at and perhaps pick a few lessons from.

There are many reasons why urban authorities should consider farming when planning infrastructure developments for the growing urban populations in Africa, but I will concentrate on one or two.

It is a fact that the rate at which people are migrating from rural areas to settle in towns in search of better life is very high. Cities are chocking with population as more people abandon farmland in rural areas fro town.

In many parts of the continent, trading centers are mushrooming and are speedily growing into big towns--spurred partly by commerce and again by young people abandoning villages.

Urbanization is therefore not only depriving countries the labor to grow food, but is also creating a huge population that does not produce food, but consumes much more.

Yet the reality is that most of these new urban settlers have neither the skills nor any formal education to secure employment. So, often they resort to odd jobs that fetch incomes not enough to guarantee a single decent meal in a day.

That is why urban authorities need to incorporate farming in there development plans. Urban households should have kitchen gardens to produce vegetables such as onions, tomatoes, cabbages. Instead of flowers, households living in small town plots can consider fruits such as pineapples, mangoes, oranges and bananas.

Using containers, it is also possible to plant passion fruits, carrots and potatoes on the verandas and backyards.

This ensures that people in towns produce some food and reduce the burden on the illiterate and ageing population in rural areas. Since urban people usually have some level of education, they have the capacity to comprehend and practice modern farming methods and be able to produce more using little space.

Around the city of Kigali, I have seen many women doing a wonderful job of tilling empty patches of land in the city suburbs.

The valley between Rugunga and Gikondo is indeed one wonderful area that can demonstrate how much difference urban farming can make in the lives of urban people and yet give the city a beautiful look. I cannot imagine how this valley would look like if this group of hardworking women were not using it to grow maize and cabbages.

Yet the food they harvest and the income they get, though not that much, is quite helpful.

Two weeks ago, this newspaper published a story of a woman, Valerie Mukabaramba , a former street vendor who turned to growing crops in a marshland in her neighborhood of Gisozi--a Kigali city suburb. In one season (three months), this woman earned FRW 80,000 from the excess maize and beans she had grown for her own consumption. To date, Mukabaramba does not regret the decision to quit the streets.

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