Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Scientists, Reseachers Encourage Farming In Urban Areas To Boost Food Security

Prof. Bernd Marschner

DUNGU, TAMALE– Urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) covers between 5 percent and 36 percent of a city’s total food supply and up to 90 percent of its fresh vegetable consumption, a team of African-German agriculture scientists and researchers currently conducting a study in Tamale under a project called Urban Foodplus say.
Accordingly, the team comprising animal scientists, water engineers, social anthropologists, economists, geographers as well as plant and soil scientists, observed that in view of increasing population in cities and towns, farming should be highly encouraged in such places since the practice has the potential to increase high yields to enhance food security.

Currently, Africa’s population is about 1.1 billion and by 2050 it is projected to hit 2.4 billion, with sub-Saharan Africa, currently 900 million-plus, swelling to 2.2 billion according to a recent study by the Population Research Bureau, a Washington-based outfit. This is because Africa’s total fertility rate—the number of children a woman can expect to have in her lifetime—is 4.7. The figure in America is 2.0; in East Asia 1.7. By 2050, a quarter or half of the continent’s population will migrate from the rural areas to live in urban centres where there are more social amenities and relative comfort.

According to The Economists, the prospect of so rapid a rise has triggered a host of Malthusian fears, on the continent and elsewhere. If Africa is struggling to feed a billion people, it is hard to see how it could feed 4 billion in future. Though the past decade has been relatively peaceful, perhaps a population boom will fuel civil strife. And surely, some fear, the expanding masses will destroy what is left of Africa’s flora and fauna, wiping out endangered species and pouring concrete on primal forest and grassland. 

For instance, as a result of persistent rural-urban migration in Ghana over the years, many migrants have resorted to farming and rearing of animals in every little space they find to squat in their new place of destination. They suddenly find farming close to market centres very lucrative since consumers relish fresh vegetables, and quiet apart from that, a farmer does not have to spend so much on transportation.  

Leader of the Team of the African-German Researchers Professor Bernd Marschner told Savannahnews, that the project intends to enhance resource use efficiency in UPA for improved food security in West African cities.

He, however, observed that, little is known about how to overcome problems in resource use efficiencies and intimated that, the researchers are to make sure farmers are able to overcome the problems associated with UPA so as to improve food security.

Pic. By E.Nchanji: Vegetable farmer in Tamale.
“Our aim is to reduce the risks associated with eating vegetables produced through the use of waste water and other unapproved ways of farming so that the consumer’s health is not at endangered. Vegetables produced with waste water are often infected with pathogens and other diseases that can harm or kill humans when they eat them. We are using simple technologies such as biochar as a water filter and organic fertiliser in place of chemical fertilisers to address some of these challenges posed by UPA”, Prof. Marschner emphasised. 

Using waste or polluted water to water gardens especially during the dry season is a common practice in many towns and cities in Ghana including Tamale. Consumers often have to contend with using salt or vinegar to wash vegetables thoroughly and after that, cook it for a while to be sure the germs are all killed before they eat it.
The researchers have already formed a partnership with vegetable growers at Zagyuri, a suburb of Tamale to conduct experimental test on crops and perhaps establish the effect of using waste water from the Kamina Military Barracks to irrigate their gardens.
A research scientist at Savannah Agriculture Research Institute Abubakari Mutari, who participated in a workshop organised by the African-German researchers, appealed to chiefs in the Tamale Metropolis and other parts of the country to deliberately allocate land to vegetable growers to enhance food security in urban and peri-urban areas.

He commended the researchers for their interest in Africa’s agriculture and food security and quick to add that, the team is building on projects that CSIR-SARI have done in the past and continue to do to ease the challenges posed by UPA. 

Urban Foodplus is spearheaded by the Universities of Kassel and Bochum. It also aims at addressing challenges of soil fertility and water scarcity in order to promote urban food crops production in a number of cities in West Africa.

Funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research to the tune of 7 million Euros, the researchers are partnering with fourteen African institutions including the University for Development Studies, Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research among others. The research is taking place concurrently in Tamale and Ouagadougou-Burkina Faso, and will later be extended to other West African cities including Bamenda-Cameroon and Bamako-Mali.

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