Agripreneurs, technology and innovation are transforming the landscape of urban agriculture

The recently held Brussels Development Briefing no. 50 on “Growing food in the cities: Successes and new opportunities” attracted over 140 participants to the ACP Secretariat on 10 April to debate the status, opportunities and challenges which face urban agriculture in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP).

The event, jointly organised by CTA, the European Commission (DG DEVCO), the ACP Secretariat and Concord Europe, saw leading practitioners, policymakers and entrepreneurs deliver their recommendations for sustainable urban agriculture ecosystems, with a focus on job creation, especially for youth and women, as well as improved food access, sanitation and nutrition in ACP countries.

Underpinning the discussions were the issues of rapid urbanisation, population growth, migration, employment generation and the changing rural-urban dynamics. These topics were introduced by Viwanou Gnassounou as being some of the leading priorities and concerns in ACP countries. The European Commission’s Leonard Mizzi, noted that 65% to 75% of populations would reside in urban areas by 2050. Subsequently, urban agriculture has been a priority in Europe through various activities and forums, including the Milan Expo in 2015 and the 8th Berlin Agriculture Ministers’ Summit during the 2016 Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA), which issued the Communique “How to feed our cities? – Agriculture and rural areas in an era of urbanisation”.

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Urban agriculture: economic gains and social benefits

A significant focus of the debate centred on urban agriculture as an economic activity and its contribution towards sustainable urban development. Henk de Zeeuw of RUAF explained that in most African cities, 20% to 30% of the population is involved in urban agriculture, and of these, up to 70% earn their income through this activity, which results in important multiplier effects.

Each dollar invested in urban food production will have 1.4 up to 2.6 [dollars] effect on incomes in food related enterprises: in transport, processing, compost production etc.
Henk de Zeeuw

Coumbaly Diaw, FAO subregional coordinator in Senegal overseeing a wide scale microgardens programme, added that in addition to the benefits for nutrition security among poor landless urban families, surplus produce from microgardens can be sold, providing much needed revenue for the women and children who are the main producers.

Apart from the economic benefits of urban agriculture, Axel Timpe from COST-Action Urban Agriculture Europe noted that dynamic urban farming business models are a key success factor for the European city farms studied under the COST programme. These businesses linked urban agriculture to social and environmental initiatives at the local level by way of “green infrastructure”, namely, “where [urban agriculture] aligns itself with urban planning and where it provides green infrastructure and public open spaces for the urban dwellers”.


Business success for young urban entrepreneurs

 Young entrepreneurs Angel Adelaja, CEO of Fresh Direct in Nigeria and Peter Chege, CEO of Hydroponics Kenya, emphasised the importance of innovation and technology, proximity to markets and consumers, and the need to be able to adapt production systems to local conditions. For Adelaja, human capital has been an important asset, and her networks and employees have been critical to the success of the business.

I realised it could scale if we could start targeting this as a job opportunity for urban youth from less privileged backgrounds especially with the high rate of urban rural migration
Angel Adelaja

After founding Fresh Direct with a small team of four including two young women, Adelaja provided them with training on hydroponic farming. Creating employment for young urban dwellers and migrants through training and skills development has also been a strategy Chege has adopted in scaling up his business, which has now expanded beyond Kenya into neighbouring countries.

High and low-tech innovations in Africa and Europe were shown to create increased income streams and access to nutritious foods through urban agriculture, but the availability of cheap, renewable energy remains a critical factor if urban agriculture is to be expanded at the commercial level and have an impact on food security. This is especially relevant for vertical farms and hydroponics entrepreneurs such as Richard Ballard co-founder of Growing Underground in the United Kingdom, which is powered through green energy sources.

The real game changer is when we have an abundance of cheap renewable energy and we can start to produce staples and all types of vegetables
Richard Ballard

Action needed to scale up urban agriculture in ACP countries

Given the strong and diverse examples of urban agriculture presented during the Briefing, Isolina Boto from CTA argued that follow up action was critical to ensure urban agriculture continues to bear fruit, particularly for youth and women. First, she highlighted the need to map, document and share successful urban farming business models, looking at the innovations, technologies and other enabling factors needed to replicate and scale them up. She also brought attention to new promising markets in Europe and Africa, such as agritourism, organic agriculture, and linkages to supermarkets, restaurants and hotels, underlining the importance of partnerships with the private sector in order to sustain future development of urban agriculture.

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