Although the scholarly work shows that urban agriculture or the growing of food in urban and
peri-urban areas (UPA) is not new in Africa (Freeman, 1991; Mbiba, 1995; Grossman et al., 1999; Rogerson, 2001), the phenomenon is now different and requires our attention in several respects. Firstly, since the collapse of formal urban economies in Africa and the debilitating impacts of economic structural adjustment programmes since the late 1970s, both the rich and the poor in Africa’s cities have had to seek alternative ways of survival. The new development is that the spatial scale of UPA has grown tremendously and its contribution to household economies has risen to far greater proportions than previously imagined (MDP, 2001).
Probably, the most critical new development arising from the above scenario is the elevation of ‘urban agriculture’ as a concept in African urban development policy and planning. Never before have there been calls for its inclusion into formal policy. This is associated with growing support from leading international development organisations (such as UNDP, FAO, GTZ, MDP, IDRC and DfID) for the promotion of UA as an element of urban poverty alleviation and sustainable development programmes (see, for example, Bakker etal., 2000; Brook and Davila, 2000; www. ruaf. org; www. fao. org; www. cityfarmer. org).
However, promotion and integration is undermined by a range of contextual, conceptual and institutional conflicts or capacity deficiencies that need to be better understood and responded to. First, is the observation that this new concept of UPA and the activity itself are in practice confronted by an unenthusiastic, restrictive and at times hostile local policy environment. Local settlement policies and institutions remain largely ambivalent to this phenomenon with policy makers unconvinced as to the potential benefits that may arise from its integration into urban development. To an extent, UPA proponents whose global project approach does not capture regional and local diversities, as well as the priority issues and complex demands faced by local policy makers, reinforce the scepticism of policy makers.
Second is the fact that conflicting and contradictory policy/institutional responses are the norm, not only among local authority departments, but also between politicians and technical professionals and among central government ministries. In particular, friction among ministries of local government, agriculture and environment are the norm and reinforce the policy dilemmas at local authority levels.
Third are conflicts related to UPA versus other land uses and users in urban and peri-urban areas especially with respect to land resources. The proponents of urban and peri-urban agriculture have failed to recognise that the success of this activity and its formal acceptance depends on the context and diversity of local dynamics, especially contests for control and access to land resources.
Presently, this access is characterised by conflicts that manifest in inter alia, social tensions, destruction of property and the environment, administrative disputes, physical confrontations and loss of economic productivity. Unfortunately, existing policies (mainly town and regional planning instruments) and institutions are ill-equipped to resolve these conflicts in a manner that is sustainable and of benefit to local communities. In some cases, policies and institutions for urban and peri-urban development are non-existent.
Fourth is the question of economic opportunities arising from UPA. Contrary to research evidence, integration of UPA is dominantly conceived of as a domain of the poor. This underplays the untapped and emerging role of entrepreneurial, or for the market, UPA in which the ‘elite’ and private sector participation has potential to create more jobs as well as broaden the revenue base for urban local authorities.
For most cities in Africa, UPA in the form of horticultural production is not part of the traditional farming systems. Yet if adopted on a wide scale, it would improve unit productivity of land and probably diffuse some of the land conflicts that prevail. Lack of appropriate policies leads to loss of economic potential on one hand and failure to resolve conflicts between small holders versus large international actors, as well as between land demands by this sector versus those of other urban expansion needs. Under a context of globalisation, these issues need clearer policy attention.