An official website of the United States government

Is Urban Farming the Green Answer to Rapid City Growth?
September 15, 2018

According to the United Nations, the annual urban growth rate in sub-Saharan Africa is 3.6 percent, which is nearly double the global average. The rapid rise in population is causing city dwellers to look into urban farming as a way of reducing food costs and rainfall runoff and providing some temperature relief in the expanding “concrete jungle.”

Growing popular but short-lived foods like amaranth, sorrel, lettuce and tomato near where you live will provide you with the freshest quality product while also helping the environment by decreasing the distance these types of items would otherwise have to travel to a city market from rural farms.

The type of urban farm or garden you grow depends on the location you have to work with — for example, a rooftop, yard or area of vacant land — and a water source adequate to the area and types of plants being grown.

Before starting, it is always important to remember that a) if you do not own the land, you cannot guarantee how long your project will last, and b) if you are growing plants for food, the soil may need to first be cleaned of harmful chemicals.

Some people have the goal of combating climate change by not only creating a pocket of green space that can absorb greenhouse gas emissions, but also providing an area to convert urban organic waste into fertilizer and capturing rainfall that would otherwise cause erosion from street runoff and eventually need to be treated in city utility plants.

Also consider approaching the municipality, a local school or a place of worship. If you have a viable plan for their vacant land area, they may be very open to the idea that it is an area they would not need to be responsible for in terms of upkeep or beautification, which could be costing them money and labor. Schools may also welcome the educational opportunity for students of a “hands-on” classroom to learn about agriculture.

If you have a large space to work with and plenty of help, you could also consider urban farming as a way to make money. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), some large African cities have also proven to be highly productive farms. For example, in a year, one hectare of land in Accra, Ghana, can yield 180 metric tons of lettuce, while 500 hectares of gardens produce 80 percent of the leafy vegetables in Brazzaville, the Republic of the Congo.

For more information, FAO has published a report discussing the benefits and challenges of urban farming in sub-Saharan Africa, including profiles of specific African countries.