As the econ­omy flails un­der the pres­sure of a weak rand and loom­ing in­ter­est rate hikes, and as gro­cery prices sky­rocket while the planet’s cli­mate cri­sis comes home to roost, ur­ban agri­cul­ture is more than just a trend, writes ur­ban ge­og­ra­pher and eth­nob

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he idea of farm­ing in the city might seem ab­surd to some peo­ple, but this global move­ment is far from a new trend. It has emerged for a num­ber of dif­fer­ent rea­sons through­out his­tory – and in to­day’s geopo­lit­i­cal cli­mates, it has its own sig­nif­i­cance.

Fu­ture cities will have to in­no­vate and adapt to the many en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges we face. Due to high and in­creas­ing ur­ban­i­sa­tion, with more than 50% of the planet’s peo­ple al­ready liv­ing in cities, ur­ban ar­eas have a key role tol play in en­sur­ing our fu­ture sus­tain­abil­ity. Glob­al­i­sa­tion of food pro­duc­tion, and of trade and cul­ture, has seen dra­matic changes to our food sys­tems, farm­ing prac­tices and di­ets.

En­gag­ing in ur­ban agri­cul­ture – which high­lights un­cer­tain­ties about food avail­abil­ity, af­ford­abil­ity and qual­ity – may be one of the most im­por­tant acts you can do to­day.

The Cuban suc­cess story

Cuba of­fers well-known ex­am­ples of suc­cess­ful gov­ern­ment-led ur­ban-agri­cul­ture ini­tia­tives.

Although a ma­jor suc­cess story, Cuba’s was not an easy tran­si­tion.

Af­ter the end of the Cold War, Rus­sian al­lies were cut off from re­ceiv­ing re­sources. Cuba was hit hard, and food scarcity be­came a real threat due to the lack of petro­chem­i­cal inputs (used in con­ven­tional, in­dus­trial agri­cul­ture as fer­tiliser).

The so­cial­ist repub­lic re­sponded cre­atively to this emer­gency, mo­bil­is­ing and sup­port­ing or­ganic ur­ban agri­cul­ture and us­ing ev­ery inch of space for food pro­duc­tion. The use of pub­lic spa­ces re­vived ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties and liveli­hoods, and main­tained food and nu­tri­tional se­cu­rity in sanc­tions-hit Cuba.

What about SA cities?

Here, sub­sis­tence agri­cul­ture is in de­cline, and farm­ing is highly in­dus­tri­alised, com­mer­cialised and cen­tralised.

With our rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion, there is a move­ment away from farm­ing and tra­di­tional foods. But tra­di­tional crops are a big part of our food se­cu­rity, as most of them grow wild and are adapted to the dry con­di­tions of south­ern Africa.

With the move­ment to­wards pro­cessed, fast foods, the knowl­edge around what we grow and eat is be­ing eroded.

We need to find ways to re­vive in­ter­est not only in farm­ing, but in the types of farm­ing (tra­di­tional and agro-eco­log­i­cal farm­ing prac­tices) and what is be­ing farmed (sup­port­ing agro-bio­di­ver­sity).

We need to cel­e­brate and con­serve the eco­log­i­cal and cul­tural her­itage of the coun­try, and pro­mote di­etary diver­sity and nu­tri­tional se­cu­rity.

It is there­fore vi­tal to fo­cus on food sovereignty, and ur­ban agri­cul­ture is an ef­fec­tive strat­egy to­wards achiev­ing this.

Food sovereignty is the right of peo­ple to healthy and cul­tur­ally ap­pro­pri­ate foods pro­duced through eco­log­i­cally sound and sus­tain­able meth­ods.


Creat­ing your own food gar­den

Ur­ban agri­cul­ture can take many forms. In the in­ner city, the in­te­gra­tion of architecture and ur­ban green­ing is an in­spi­ra­tion for our fu­ture cities.

If you are liv­ing in the in­ner city, you will prob­a­bly fo­cus on con­tainer gar­dens. Your main op­tions are rooftop, ver­ti­cal or win­dow gar­dens.

There is an abun­dance of con­tain­ers around the city that could be used for grow­ing lit­tle veg­gies. You need a con­tainer at least 30cm deep, such as wooden or plas­tic pal­ettes, the backs of old TVs or com­put­ers – there are lots of those around – tyres or wooden boxes.

You will need to line your con­tain­ers to en­sure the soil re­mains in them. This is cru­cial when work­ing on rooftops, as we need to take care that the roots do not dam­age the roof and that soil does not block drains. I would also sug­gest you raise your con­tainer so that it is not sit­ting di­rectly on the roof.

If you want to use tyres, do not grow root veg­eta­bles in them – the tyres leach chem­i­cals that are not healthy for con­sump­tion.

You should also cover your rooftop gar­dens with

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