Urban agriculture has immense contributions to food security, but should be climate smart, urban agriculture experts underscored at the inaugural edition of the African Conference on Agricultural Technology (ACAT) held in Nairobi, Kenya from October 30, 2023 to November 4, 2023. The conference was organised by the non-profit Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).
The meet was attended by agricultural researchers, policymakers, industry leaders and innovators from around the world to discuss agricultural productivity in Africa.
Urban agriculture can help increase access to fresh, nutritious food for city residents, said Margaret Gill, emeritus professor at the University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom. However, if not managed properly, urban farming can exacerbate climate change by emitting methane from decomposed wastes from urban farming plots, she said.
“Besides, urban farming and gardening can affect water resources in cities and the use of pesticides. The cultivation of non-native species can threaten local biodiversity as well,” Gill said. Therefore, cities should adopt climate-smart and biodiversity-friendly practices, taking the region and local bio-geographical and climatic conditions into account, she added.
Urban agriculture has to embrace environmental-friendly practices, like planting drought-tolerant plants, to cut back on the consumption of irrigation water, which is usually scarce in urban areas, the professor said.
“In the face of rapidly progressing climate change, urban agriculture would play a critical role in ensuring food security, dietary diversity, community cohesion and well-being and ecological benefits, such as hydrological functions, air quality and soil quality, said Henry Gordon-Smith, founder and chief executive of advisory services and technology firm Agritecture.
But proper management of water and energy as well as access to agricultural technologies are among the burning issues in making urban agriculture climate smart and effective, he pointed out.
Gordon-Smith also brought up hydroponics as a modern agricultural technology that boosts urban farming productivity as access to land plots is limited and climate conditions are not favourable for farming without the use of greenhouses. It also helps tackle the issue of soil scarcity.
“Traditional agriculture is responsible for 75 per cent of the world’s fresh water consumption and hydroponic technology could save up to 90 per cent of the water consumed,” he said.
Urban agriculture also involves livestock development, which in turn is associated with climate change, Gordon-Smith added. The sector requires the utilisation of natural resources and has its own impact on the global greenhouse gas emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, he said.
In most parts of the world, urban communities keep livestock at their homes, said Gill, mentioning India and Scotland as instances. Mitigation strategies to reduce emissions from the livestock sector are highly needed, as the increasing demand for livestock products is driven by population growth across the world, she said.
Urban agriculture requires many efforts related to mitigating pollution, climate change and efficient use of water and energy, said Renalda Bernard Mlay, founder of agricultural company Renie Fresh in Arusha, Tanzania. It also requires substantial capacity building efforts and application of appropriate technologies.
Urban and peri-urban ariculture offers a fundamental strategy for building the resilience of a city’s food supply, given that 55 per cent of the world’s population resides in urban areas, while 79 per cent of all the food produced is destined for consumption in cities, said Sylvia Horemans, member of board of trustees of AATF and chief executive of agricultural company Kamano Seed, Zambia.
“A staggering 800 million people worldwide are involved in urban and peri-urban area activities, while 266 million urban households are involved in crop production in developing countries,” she said. “According to the United Nations, by 2050, an estimated 68 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas, with the most significant growth expected in small cities and towns in Africa and Asia,” Horemans stated.
The rapid urbanisation places immense pressure on food supply chains and underscores the need for innovative solutions, she said. “The impact of global trends in population growth and urbanisation is compounded by other vulnerabilities, including climate change and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
These factors collectively contribute to an overall increase in food insecurity, malnutrition, and the rise of diet-related non-communicable diseases, she said, emphasising the importance of stable food production, shorter and simplified food supply chains, and distribution tools that can adapt to changing circumstances.
(This piece was originally published by Down To Earth)