Urban horticulture thriving, surviving in Nigeria, says FAO

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Nigeria is urbanising at an intense pace, generating little or no jobs for poor households dwelling in slums – 70 percent of Lagosians live in shanty towns and spend more than three-quarters of their income on food. By 2030, it’s estimated that 156 million Nigerians will be living in urban areas.

Nevertheless, commercial urban and peri-urban horticulture (UPH) hubs in Lagos, Oyo, Rivers, Kogi, Plateau, Borno, Kano and Niger States are surviving and thriving. A report: Growing Greener Cities in Africa, by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) contends that green cities have been thriving on the continent.

Still UPH is Nigeria’s best kept secret. Economic development plans like NEEDS ignored it; “the word appears in only three of 37 state strategies.”

Urban poverty and a teeming population of unemployed youth is a worry to state governors. Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers state, during a recent tour of Germany, invited German businesses to “go to the north” to invest in Nigeria’s agriculture. “There is an unemployment situation in Nigeria and I don’t think that technology would solve the problem. What will solve the problem is agriculture”. Governors from Enugu, Niger, Plateau Borno and Kastina states were part of the entourage.

In Ojo, Lagos state, farmers from Northern Nigeria are occupied in a profitable, temporary business. Using frugal inputs like poultry manure and urban wastewater they are farming on the periphery. In the dry season, leafy vegetables, cucumbers and eggplants are grown near Lagos by “circular migrant” farmers. During the rainy season, they return home to cultivate staple crops.

UPHs in Ibadan “provide as much has 80 percent of the vegetable supply…on some 320 ha of plots”. Port Harcourt’s expanding flower and vegetables market though dominated by well educated men, is doing great business on rented land along the city’s roads. However, women are increasingly working in market gardens. Commercial urban farming in Nigeria started late 1970s when the Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) was launched. OFN urged urban residents to use “vacant land as source of food and income.” At the time, Nigeria’s urban population was 16.6 million with 48 million in rural areas.

Today it’s the reverse. Half of Nigerians (80.6 million) now live in urban areas, according to the FAO. Despite lack of land, insecure property rights, gender disparity, poor linkages between extension services and growers, and inputs, commercial garden farmers are feeding the nation.

“A study in Ibadan found that vegetable production generated individual incomes of up to US$3 000 a year for a network of producers, input suppliers and vegetable traders.” Women get the short end of the stick in Lagos, according to a study on commercial gardening in Lagos. “Men tended to grow vegetables that sold for higher prices, and women’s plots were smaller and on less fertile land.”

For growers across the country, land is the main obstacle. Commercial garden farmers have to compete for land with other urban needs as cities’ built-up area grows. For example, “Kano State’s Land Use Act of 1979 makes no provision for urban crop production.”

Farmers cultivate the land with the fear of evictions or compulsory acquisitions of land for construction.” Insecure title deeds and urban development are a “major threat”. Applying for bank loans are not farmers’ priority.

In the absence of bank loans, non-financial intermediaries supply informal credit. But farmers make a loss after paying debts incurred before planting.

FAO notes that “gardeners’ incomes usually depend on the length of the marketing chain.” For instance, “in Ibadan, [farmers] keep [the marketing chain] short by selling directly to the public at the ‘farm gate’.”

Vegetables are profitable when fresh. McKinsey consumer survey found that less-affluent Nigerian consumers relish fresh vegetables.

Lack of “policy and institutional support, water, credit, inputs, agricultural extension advice, improved technologies and marketing infrastructure” has not deterred growers. But they can’t keep relying only on rain-fed harvest. Financial and natural insecurity reduce supply and increase the cost of their products in the market. Otherwise, cheaper fresh produce have to be imported.

State governors can copy the Lagos State model. An inventory of suitable places for UPH conducted in 2010 found “675 ha of prime arable land along natural channels, 3,300 ha of highway, railway and power line corridors, 250 ha on military estates, 100 ha in residential buffer zones and 75 ha of vacant residential lots.”

To maximise these spaces, the state’s ministries of justice, agriculture, environment, planning and urban development have been advised to come up with an urban agriculture policy. Such laws will promote and protect urban farming.

In : Business