Located in the heart of Addis Ababa’s Kirkos Sub-city District 9, spots of colourful vegetation stand out amongst the urban slums. “We were trained how to grow various vegetables on this little plot so that we get better harvests,” said 38-year-old housewife Mulu Abegaz. Abegaz has four children and has lived in Hadid Gebeya village for over 22 years.
“I don’t have words to express how urban agriculture is benefiting me. I don’t buy cabbage and potatoes from the market. Instead, I feed my children from my garden,” she said, smiling.
I feed my children from my garden.”
Growing food in cities for human consumption is one way to increase global food supply in the face of rising population growth and global food security concerns.
The capital city of Addis Ababa is rapidly changing from a traditional agricultural community to one that is competitive in the global economic market. Addis Ababa is the most populated city in the country, with a total of 3,384,569 inhabitants, according to the 2007 census. Current estimates put the population at over seven million. The majority lives in slums.
Due to the fact that rural Addis Ababa city immigration is increasing at an alarming rate, agricultural lands have been converted to industries, apartments or condominiums. Slums are rapidly expanding, even in the peripheries of the city. The population density is estimated to be near 5,165 individuals per square kilometre.
Tsedale Mengesha, a 51-year-old housewife has six children and has lived in the slums for nine years. She beautifies her plot with ornamental flowers and with food plants.
I have reduced some of my expenses by growing my own vegetables.”
“I have been growing cabbage, Swiss chard, chilli pepper and tomato on this little plot and I benefit from them. I have reduced some of my expenses by growing my own vegetables,” said Mengesha.
Peri-urban (farming in fringe parts of the city) and urban agriculture have the potential to provide food security for many people in Addis Ababa.
“We are working to secure food at the household consumption level in the city by initiating the people who are living in both government and private houses and supporting the communities to engage in urban gardening and animal development,” said Assegid H. Ghiorgis, Head of Urban Agriculture Division at Addis Ababa City Government Administration.
According to the UN Development Programme, some 800 million people, or nearly eight percent of the world’s population, are now engaged in urban agriculture worldwide.
Rural poor move to cities
In Ethiopia, like many developing countries, the increasing concentration of people in urban areas has put enormous pressure on food supply systems in both urban and rural areas.
The majority of migrants come to the city from the rural areas that are often plagued with drought and political instability. They contribute to the growing low-income Addis population, which lacks access to adequate food or the financial means to buy it.
According to Assegid, the city government offers support and monitoring to 96,411 people in the city who are engaged in urban agriculture at the household consumption level.
“We have 2,160 farmers within five city expansion sub-cities with a land of 4,444 hectares; thus, we are helping them by deploying agricultural extension experts, giving fertiliser and seeds. There were 80,000 tonnes of agricultural produce at the city level last year,” said Assegid.
Slight increases in food prices and available land for cultivation push many individuals and families into food insecurity. With this in mind, there is a growing movement of the city government to empower the efforts of farming within the city at household consumption level by a new organisational structure.
Dereje W. Mariam, a 43-year-old urban pastoralist and father of three, lives in the heart of Addis Ababa’s Kirkos-Hadid Gebeya village. He has two degrees in accounting and management and was a bank employee, but he resigned from his job six years ago and started to work in livestock production.
There is a scarcity of fresh milk supply in the city, and I can’t fulfil the entire demand.”
Dereje invested ETB 13,000 (about USD 435) of capital to start farming. He has 16 milk cows, his own home and a car. He earns between ETB 30,000 and 50,000 (USD 1,005 - 1,675) per month and creates job opportunities for six workers.
“I have covered my home consumption and more than 120 milk customers around my village. There is a scarcity of fresh milk supply in the city, and I can’t fulfil the entire demand, so, the government should give special attention to urban agriculture in order to solve food insecurity,” said Dereje. His future dream is to establish a huge dairy farm.
Urban farming in the capital
Urban farming is not new to Addis Ababa. It has been a major part of the urban scene from the very beginning of the city’s development as the capital of Ethiopia. Many of the city’s early residents cultivated crops, raised chickens, and kept dairy animals. Well-to-do households raised cows for milk for home consumption.
Annually, there are two harvests in and around Addis Ababa, providing an abundance of fresh produce. Carrots, different types of cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, celery and potato are the most commonly cultivated vegetable crops.
The availability of communal plots and farming cooperatives already has a history of contributing enormously to urban farmers’ ability to enter the market and make a living off their produce, especially when no other land was available to them.
The city has suitable soil, altitude and year-round small rivers that are tributaries of the Akaki River, which is the source of irrigation water for most vegetable growers in the city.
Urban agriculture needs clean water, soil and air, but our city doesn’t meet all three standards.”
Although the city’s urban and peri-urban agriculture has multifaceted economic, social and environmental benefits, stakeholders also raise issues of human health and environmental hazards because of the contamination of pathogens, bad smells from animal farms and deposits of heavy metals used in the agricultural systems, mainly due to intensive use of agrochemicals and using polluted irrigation water.
“Frankly speaking, urban agriculture needs clean water, soil and air, but our city doesn’t meet all three standards. We recently visited our polluted rivers with FAO and decided to conduct a detailed survey with its recommendations,” said Assegid.
Earlier this year, the office of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced the ‘Addis Ababa Riverside Project’, which aims to make the city green by developing and rehabilitating two river streams of the city.
The 1 billion USD project plans to enhance the well-being of city dwellers by mitigating river flooding and through the creation of public spaces and parks, bicycle paths and walkways along the riversides. The park will cover 23.8 kilometres and 27.5 kilometres along two rivers flowing from Entoto Mountain through Akaki River.
“We will exploit the Addis Ababa Riverside Project as an opportunity to expand urban agriculture and clean our rivers. We can cover vegetation with food plants, which can be used as both ornamental and fruit-bearing, like apple trees,” said Assegid.