's Baby Steps

Addis Ababa’s Baby Steps Towards Urban Agriculture

There are no options in sight for Addis Ababa’s horizontal expansion now that border disputes with Oromia regional state have become one of the hottest political agenda in the country. This horizontally fixed landmass has, however, been receiving an unprecedented huge influx of rural urban migrants. With most of the city’s farm lands used up for constructing residential areas, residents of Africa’s capital are left to depend on regional states for the supply of agricultural products. EBR’s Ashenafi Endale looks into the problem and the fresh efforts being taken to avert the situation.

Seven years ago, 40 years old Arega Mamo rented two hectares of land for ETB50,000 around the Hana Mariam area in Addis Ababa. Since then, he has been producing vegetables and fruits and supplying his produce to shops and supermarkets in the capital.

At first, many of Arega’s friends were surprised when he started farming in Addis Ababa, where such practices are almost non-existent. However, the 40-year old farmer managed to double his yield within a few years managing higher productivity rates than his rural counterparts.

Arega remarked: “I managed to beat my competitors who have to travel hundreds of kilometers to sell their products in the capital.” On average, Ethiopian farmers produce 36 to 40 quintals of tomato per hectare. However, Arega has managed to double that productivity rate by producing 80 quintals of tomato per hectare. “I produce three times per year, generating up to ETB400,000 annually,” he stated.

Arega argues that the sector has received little attention despite its potential as a revenue generating business. He pointed out that some even work in fear and uncertainty of being closed by code enforcement officers.

A case in point is the experience of Solomon Aysa who produces 100 chicken and eggs in his three square metres room in Merkato, the largest open market in the capital. Solomon stated that he has repeatedly been fined by the officers who threaten to close his business. He complained: “I get fined just because I produce chicken and eggs.”

Addis Ababa has received a huge influx of rural migrants over the past decade. With the last population census conducted 13 years ago, population projections that put the figure at almost five million could prove to be wide off the mark. Residents of the city rely on external sources almost for everything. That has exposed them to inflationary pressure and even supply boycotts during the peak of political conflicts.

Small scale milk supply was the only internally fulfilled item until ten years ago. Since then, small scale dairy farmers have been pushed out of business as they succumbed to the enormous pressure of urbanization. Instead, milk has been supplied from surrounding towns. Meanwhile, the number of household farms slightly increased in Addis Ababa over the last five years. Urban agriculture in Addis Ababa includes not only vegetables and fruits but also animal fattening, poultry and dairy.

After plummeting significantly over the past decade, the number of small scale farmers in Addis Ababa now stands at 86,000. With the establishment of the Addis Ababa Urban Agriculture Commission seven months ago and subsequent efforts to promote urban agriculture, the decline in the number of small scale farmers might be abated. The absence of agricultural bureau at local government level in Addis Ababa left the city with no one to facilitate agricultural production, market space, finance, regulated input supply, trainings and tax breaks. As a result, there has been little interest to start urban agricultural business in the capital. The situation seems to have changed for the better since the Commission came into operation as production, market supply and training facilitation activities have started.

A research conducted by Tsegaye Demissie et al reveals that the proportion of households that did not produce vegetables stood at 99.7Pct in Addis Ababa, while it is 94.9Pct in Afar and 94.2Pct in Dire Dawa.

In terms of the proportion of households that do not cultivate fruits, Addis Ababa again leads with 100Pct and it is followed by Dire Dawa with 95.3Pct and Afar with 92.9pct. As a result, Ethiopia is far from achieving the FAO/WHO recommendation of 400 gram of fruit and vegetables or five servings a day. This is mainly because Addis Ababa has been void of urban agriculture policy.

In fact, urban agriculture can be seen from the aspects of green city, balancing ecosystem, modern urbanization, job creation and food self-sufficiency. According to a 2019 study entitled ‘Urban Agriculture: Another Way to Feed Cities,’ by the Canadian Veolia Institute, over 70Pct of vegetables, 50pct of crop production and 24pct of the farmland in and surrounding Addis Ababa was lost in the short period between 2006 and 2011.

‘Due to lack of appropriate government policy and strategy, the expansion of population is leading to loss of highly fertile farmland and green areas losing their valuable ecosystem services. As the population of Addis Ababa is expected to reach nine million by 2035 and horizontal increase is eminent, farmland areas will continue to decline due to the urbanization and expansion in industrial development,’ states the study.

Meanwhile, ignored is vertical urban agriculture, a derivative of rural farming and urban complexities that end dependency on horizontal farming, which is not viable for urban areas economically and because of space constraints. Vertical farming is one of the fast expanding concepts in the human being’s frantic efforts to reconnect modernization with organic nature. A part of urban agriculture, which also involves rearing animals, beekeeping, forestry, aquaculture and horticulture, such a practice maximizes space usage upward, just like buildings multiply space by building storey over storey.

Vertical farms can be implemented on building-based spaces, shipping containers, deep farming and even on spacecrafts. The types of plant varieties used also vary based on the consumption, yield, nutrition, weather resistance, energy use, environmental conservation, ecosystem balancing and other objectives.

Urban plots can be 15 times more productive than rural holdings, yielding up to 20Kg food per square meter every year, according to FAO, which supports cities to optimize policies and use urban land, catalyze urban economic activity, improve production, job creation and address food security.

Across the globe, cities are using vertical farming to ensure their food self-sufficiency and even earn some income from exports. Houston and Kigali along with cities in Turkey, Cuba, India, France, Korea, China and Singapore can be good examples. Korea produces even rice using hydroponic technology.

Addis Ababa, which even imports fruits and vegetables from some of these countries, is far behind the new trend. Rural urban migration and unemployment are very high in the capital. Almost no food is produced in Addis Ababa, despite the huge potential. Fresh and organic products of vegetables and fruits are needed by residents of Addis Ababa. For instance, Chinese leaf vegetables, strawberries and many more items that can simply be produced in Addis Ababa are in high demand.

However, Ethiopia has no policy on urban agriculture. Even Addis Ababa’s master plan does not officially recognize agricultural plots except for a few green areas.

So far, Debrezeit, Holeta and Melkasa are the only research centers that have contributed significantly to urban agriculture. For instance, Bishoftu became a poultry hub following the ‘100 chicken program.’ The town has become a leading example of urban agriculture both in crop and livestock, although the high rise building that are normally associated with urban agriculture are not visible yet.

“Addis Ababa totally relies on regional states for consumption. But there is potential for the capital to feed itself. Urban agriculture can also change the consumption culture towards organic and fresh products,” noted Alemtsehay Paulos, Head of Addis Ababa Mayor’s Office.

Beside the gaps in policy making and urban planning, comprehensive and commercialized technology supplies to boost urban agriculture in Addis Ababa are nonexistent. The authorities are also not providing proper incentives.

Melese Tola is an inventor and wood work instructor at Misrak Polytechnic. He has produced prototypes of a number of technologies that can be used in vertical farming, including one that accommodates over 50 plants on a movable, square meter area stacks. “It is not only lack of space or technology but also wrong attitude and lack of new ideas that make up the main challenges. Space is the main challenge in overpopulated cities like Addis Ababa. We are inventing technologies for all types of urban agriculture and making prototypes that can maximize the use of space, water, soil and increase quality harvest,” says Melese. He, however, noted that the absence of industries that can manufacture these prototypes in mass for the market is a major problem.

Yidnekachew Alem, founder and manager of Roter Beehive and Wood Work plc, agrees. “The demand for urban agricultural technologies is significantly increasing. Residents of the outskirts of Addis Ababa and regional states are becoming our clients. We produce various designs and technologies for urban bee hiving.”

Waking up to the potential, the Addis Ababa city administration established the Farmers and Urban Agriculture Commission seven months ago. The Commission aims at reestablishing farmers affected by the expansion of Addis Ababa, in addition to its main objective of creating an agrarian Addis Ababa to end dependence on regions.

The commission has plans to establish urban agricultural parks for Addis Ababa that are similar to industrial parks. The urban agricultural parks aim at creating over 50,000 new jobs per year. The commission plans to use every green area, open corner, square, rooftop, restaurant, school, water pool, condominium, road, corridor, public space, institutional compound, road juncture, riverside buffer zone and every available space vertically and horizontally to produce vegetables and fruits.

A revolving fund is also put aside to start providing training and loan to those who want to join the sector. A new type of extension service for urban agriculture will also kick off soon.

“The rise in non-communicable diseases, like cancer and diabetes, are partly related with the rise in consumption of non-organic imported foods, which can be replaced by healthy ones through urban farming,” remarked Fetiya Mohammed Commissioner of the Addis Ababa Farmers and Urban Agriculture Commission. She further stated: “From the existing situation, it is easy to understand that we cannot afford to own a capital city that is not self-reliant.”
She passionately paints the picture of the Garden of Eden, heavenly town full of wine grapes and flowing with milk and honey when she talks of her commission’s plan for Addis Ababa. “Addis has 27 rivers that will be cleaned under the Sheger Park Project. We can then use the segregated household waste for compost fertilizer and create urban agriculture value chains,” she added.

Derese Teshome, Director of Technology Transfer and Researcher at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), also affirms the importance of urban agriculture in ensuring food security in Ethiopia’s cities. “The dichotomization between rural and urban is ending. Ethiopia needs agricultural cities and modernized rural settings, not a clear cut urban and rural distinction. We are working with the Addis Ababa city government on urban agriculture and with the Oromia regional state on peri-urban agriculture for the surrounding towns of Addis Ababa,” Derese noted.

Deresse pointed out that controlled urban agriculture has 180pct more yield than open farming in rural areas. Cognizant of this immense productivity, Deresse went on to explain, EIAR is planning to establish a budgeted huge agribusiness incubation center for Addis Ababa, where ideas are tested and financed. He stated that the center would incorporate testing laboratories, training facilities, business financing fund and loans, among others. Derese underscored the huge role of training centers when he remarked: “Without practical training centers, urban agriculture is just theory.”

After recently helping the Ministry of Agriculture establish an urban agriculture department, EIAR is currently producing a number of policy documents for Addis Ababa’s new Urban Agriculture Commission in collaboration with the Ministry of Urban Development. As an initial milestone, it is also assessing the potential of bole sub-city for urban agriculture. “It will be difficult to formulate policies, unless the potential of the whole of Addis Ababa is known. And unless urban agriculture is captured in policy, it will be an on-and-off initiative. Once the potential stocks are identified, urban agriculture will be changed to regulated business,” Derese analyzed. He further explained that reorganizing existing urban farms and backing them up with technology, market chain, cooling systems and modern selling points will come after making it a regulated business.

Derese pointed out that Entoto mountain chain has a big potential in cultivating apple and other fruits. “The mountain chain extending from west Addis Ababa through ambo and down to the rift valley walls can be used to establish huge grape farms. There is also immense potential inside the capital as it can also create its own artificial lake,” noted Derese.

Gedion Adenew, technical manager at Wossen Architects, agrees that urban agriculture is one of the lost potentials of Addis Ababa. He argues that the residential area that takes up a huge section of Addis Ababa’s land is an ideal plot for urban agriculture. “Almost all of the rooftops of buildings in Addis Ababa are deserted. This is because Ethiopia, Addis Ababa city government in particular, does not have mandatory directives or incentives that make urban agriculture a component of urban architecture and construction,” Gedion underscored. Speaking of his visit to China, Gedion pointed out that the rooftops in China feel like backyard gardens with a strong message to convey to Addis Ababa that urban agriculture does not need highly sophisticated technology. EBR

9th Year • Apr.16 – May.15 2020 • No. 85

Ashenafi Endale

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