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Urban farms empower Africa

Aid providers in Congo and elsewhere are discovering that lessons in farming can succeed where food handouts have not.

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The fields that ended hunger for Hen­riette Lipepele's family are squeezed between a trash-strewn dirt road and a cluster of one-room cinder-block houses.

They are not exactly pretty, at least not in the wide, pastoral way that one might imagine fields and farms. Ms. Lipepele's beds of sweet potatoes and leafy bitekuteku are narrow and not quite straight; the patch where she added bananas and sugar cane seems almost overgrown with competing greenery. The setting is hardly bucolic.

But these plant beds wedged into the Quartier Mombele – one of the unpaved slums of Kinshasa, the sprawling capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo – are examples of what many aid experts believe could save hundreds of thousands of people from hunger and malnutrition: urban gardens in the developing world's fast-growing cities.

For the first time, global population estimates this year show that more people live in cities than in rural areas. By 2020, according to the international Resource Centre for Urban Agriculture and Forestry, some 75 percent of the world's city dwellers will live in developing countries – many of them in poverty. Already in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, according to the UN, almost three-quarters of city residents live in rapidly growing slums.

These trends present a huge challenge when it comes to food and nutrition. Bringing rural-grown produce to people living in infrastructure-poor cities is difficult. In any case, many impoverished city dwellers do not have money for fresh groceries. Many aid workers worry about a wave of city-based hunger.

UN organizations and independent aid groups have started trying to find new ways to ease these stresses. And many see urban gardens as one possible answer.

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