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
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