Dr Beacon Mbiba

This chapter seeks to identify key aspects of the research record on urban and peri-urban agriculture in Southern and East Africa using a bibliography compiled by Obudho and Foeken (1999) as the start­ing point and main data base. The dominant status of urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) in East and Southern Africa reflects a restructuring (and col­lapse) of urban economies in the region since the 1970s. This has attracted increased scholarly atten­tion as well as interest from local NGOs and interna­tional development organisations that desire to use urban and peri-urban agriculture as an entry point for urban environment management poverty alleviation and food security. However, the success of these interventions will depend on how well we understand both intra-urban agriculture dynamics as well as the context within which it takes place. The latter includes questions of land access and control plus wider urban governance issues. Despite the prevalence of UPA and support from NGOs and donor organisa­tions, local authorities and their planning institutions appear not to consider it a priority.


Subject focus

Urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) research in East and Southern Africa (the region) exhibits sev­eral patterns, some of which have been noted before (Rogerson, 2001; Mbiba, 2001). Key among these is the association of UPA with urban economic collapse and poverty. Taking a simple tally of publications by subject and country, based on the bibliographic data of Obudho and Foeken (1999), we note that the earliest studies were in the 1970s. These were in

Zambia (1972, 1978, 1979) and Kenya (1977). But they were very few (see Figures 18.1 and 18.2) and focused on UPA as part of the informal sector debate generated by ILO activities at the time.

These were followed in the early 1980s by further studies that had an environmental focus, looking at land degradation, destruction of flora and deforesta­tion. Here, studies in Kenya (Mazingira Institute, 1987) and Zimbabwe (Mazambani, 1982) were notable. These showed that environmental degrada­tion in cities was not only a result of cultivation activ­ities but was also related to construction activities and to fuel and energy needs of the poor popula­tions. Up until the mid 1980s, UPA was not a popular subject at all. In Zambia, where the bulk of the studies was done, the driving force was foreign researchers who looked at theoretical issues, such as the link between UPA and malaria, economic and gender issues.

However, in the early 1990s research output on UPA rose sharply. Economic dimensions and links with poverty and food needs at the household level domi­nated the work. At the same time, the Swedish spon­sored GRUPHEL programme and the Mazingira Institute promoted gender analysis within the UA sector. IDRC promoted a region wide ‘Cities Feeding People’ research and awareness programme. By 1995, UA was no longer a subject of ridicule in most universities in the region as it embraced other aspects such as food security and nutrition, policy, governance and institutional responses. At the turn of the century, food security and poverty are the key subjects of interest.

Updated: October 15, 2015 — 10:29 am