A Call for Urban Farming for City Dwellers
By Wardah Abbas
As I fiddle with the keyboard, I begin to recall the journey that nurtured my love for gardening. I was raised in a household that cherished in-house farming and mini-orchards. My mother particularly took great interest in growing her own vegetables and fruits as well as raising her own livestock. Our plates were garnished with veggies and meat harvested directly from our own mini-farm and it was exciting for us as children with a love of learning to know that our soups and sauces were an end product of what we nurtured from start to finish, rather than what we purchased.
In recent times, urban farming is becoming a worldwide trend. From the large urban city of Chicago to the highly populated city of Cairo, many have taken the leap from purchasing highly processed food on the shelves of supermarkets to growing their own food. This new trend is making waves in a lot of developed countries as every available plot of land, warehouse, rooftop, back garden or even large balconies is being exploited for growing a lot of fresh garden produce. The impact of this both on the lives of people and more especially on the environment cannot be quantified.
City farmers are now enjoying the benefits of having to spend less by growing their own, rather than purchasing expensive produce from the malls. They are also coming together to form associations aimed at learning and growing together to boost sustainability. Organizations to help realize the benefits of urban farming have also began to spring up from various angles. One of these NGOs based in Michigan is called “URBANFARMING” (www.urbanfarming.org) which is aimed at creating an abundance of food for people in need by supporting and encouraging the establishment of gardens on unused land and space while increasing diversity and raising awareness for health and wellness. Part of the produce grown in these communities is also deposited to local food banks which have been established to fulfil the needs of the needy.
In Cairo for example, the urban farming movement has led many to convert rooftops into gardens, owing to the fact that Cairo suffers from a high population density and a minimal space for vegetation and farm produce. Palestinian refugees have also begun to grow vegetables and other farms produce on rooftops in a refugee camp in Bethlehem. On this, the FAO and the World Bank are sending to us the message – that gardening even in its smallest form can make a massive difference by boosting the food security of urban-dwellers and also improve living conditions generally. This all goes to reveal the practicability of urban farming all over the world. It takes only a space for gardening and a will to make little efforts to better the lives of the community and to green the earth.
So what do Nigerians stand to learn from this? For a country suffering from the economic recession at all levels, this is a lesson. A little change in determination, mindset and lifestyle is all it takes to make the planet a better place to live. With unemployment estimated at about 80 percent and basic feeding becoming more and more unaffordable even for the seemingly employed, isn’t it rather time to join the movement?
Let’s imagine a country where every family was into one type of farming or the other – a nation of gardeners. What do we think will be the impact of this lifestyle change on the economy of the country?
It is although delighting to know that a number of organizations are beginning to spring up with the aim of rekindling our love for nature and agriculture in order to make our lives richer and better in the long run. One of these NGO’s is known as “GREEN SKILLS” (linktr.ee/greenskills) founded to bring together, enlighten and train young Nigerians on the importance of organic and sustainable farming both in their lives and to the economy of the country. The good news also is that there is an emergence of a number of supermarkets serving the middle-income population by stocking a broader supply of organic farm produce with lower consumer prices, thereby supporting small scale farmers including urban ones. One of these initiatives is known as “Farmers’ Market” which can be found in a number of states in the federation including the federal capital territory.
Despite all these developments, it remains a fact that a large number of the Nigerian youth are still uncertain about the potential of farming to create a far-reaching change in their present conditions and that of the country. In an exclusive interview with Mark Bryant, an environmental researcher and development officer at the University of Cardiff, United Kingdom, when asked why city-dwellers are still skeptical about taking up the gardening project and whether there is a possibility that this could change in the future he stated that:
“This is undoubtedly related to the diversity of the backgrounds of people living in the cities. For instance, it was reported to us that there had been a trend towards immigrant families concreting over their back gardens.
In my research, a respondent explained that: ‘The vast majority of these people came from rural areas where they struggled to survive as subsistent farmers. When arriving in the cities, many turned their backs on agriculture or horticulture. Land was considered the cause of their deprivation and misery and they wanted nothing else to do with it….. I would therefore say that more projects are needed to reconnect people with the natural world. Schools should be encouraged and supported to give students the opportunity to experience growing plants, as many environmental attitude changes have traditionally begun through concentration on the next generation.”
The veracity or otherwise of this statement remains an issue to be decided through public opinion. It is however worthy to mention the existence of a myth that urban farming only fits into the lifestyles of those who have too much free time. Whether or not this is true is a topic for discussion another day. In the end, there is no denying that making a leap by incorporating this trend into our lives can make a great difference not only in our homes, but also in our communities and the country at large.
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