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“UrbanFoodPlus” - A contribution towards food security in West African cities

Animal husbandry in radial streets and intensive vegetable farming in river beds: A research project led by the Universities of Kassel and Bochum wants to make a contribution towards the systematic development of the potential for urban food production.

Due to the low level of soil fertility and the limited availability of water, the food situation in Africa is more serious than on any other continent. However, the people meet these challenges with an inventive spirit and much improvisation, in order to utilise all available resources.

Neglected for decades in terms of politics and science, the intensive cultivation of urban areas and the areas surrounding them makes an important contribution with regard to the income and food security of poor population groups, whilst at the same time carrying health and environmental risks. The goal of the “UrbanFoodPlus” project, which is coordinated by the University of Kassel and the Ruhr University, Bochum, is to understand, to boost, and to optimise the various forms of urban farming.

Agricultural scientists and soil specialists, working together with economists, wastewater engineers, ethnologists from Göttingen and geographers from Freiburg, develop interdisciplinary approaches to unlocking the full potential of the growing of staple foods and vegetables, and of animal husbandry, in farming niches of urban areas and the surrounding areas. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) will supply 4.3 million Euros over the next three years. This is a portion of the total of 7.5 million Euros that will be made available over a period of five years.

Currently, 90% of the vegetable requirements and up to one third of the entire food requirements of urban areas in African is self-grown, emphasises Prof. Andreas Bürkert, coordinator of the “UrbanFoodPlus” project: “The people use areas beside radial roads between housing blocks, in dry riverbeds or on other wasteland. This is usually illegal, but often more labour and surface efficient than classical production in rural areas.“ The fields and pastures attain sizes from 500m² to 10 hectares, and they are extremely important to the city dwellers. Nevertheless, they are threatened with destruction: “Because they are illegal, the authorities often send bulldozers to destroy the field crops”, comments Bürkert.

Bürkert goes on to explain that the producers of food are often migrants who have brought knowledge of agriculture and animal husbandry with them from the rural areas. In contrast to the rural farmers, they are much closer to the markets and can therefore adjust their production and harvest according to demand, and incur no transport losses. “For a long time, scientists were so concerned with the hinterland, thereby neglecting the issue of urban food production – which is efficient, but still offers far greater possibilities for increased yields. We must tap this potential too, if we are to keep abreast of population increases”, explains Bürkert. The UNO expects the population of Africa, which is currently one billion, to more or less double by 2050.

Together with 14 African partner institutes and two agricultural research institutes, whose involvement is being supported by the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to the tune of an additional 400,000 Euros, “UrbanFoodPlus” will be developing measures to increase food production in urban areas and their surrounds, to increase resource efficiency and to improve the food situation as of June 2013. By means of certification measures, they intend to bring together the quality demands of consumers and producers. Based on the data captured, the scientists, working together with the farmers’ organisations and local authorities, want to gain better understanding of the poverty-fighting effects of this form of farming, in order to keep it within legal limits.

Initial field research takes place in Ouagadougou/Burkina Faso and Tamale/Ghana, and will then be extended to other West African cities. The trials will include small-scale crop-growing experiments, questioning of growers, sellers and administration representatives. There will also be extensive training measures on simple technological innovations, including the use of charcoal both as a water filter and an organic fertilizer.

The scheme is divided into several project groups. A working group led by Bürkert is examining biodiversity, food efficiency, flow of materials and certification measures in vegetable production. Prof. Schlecht (University of Kassel and Georg August University, Göttingen), leads a project group that is analysing the efficiency of animal husbandry systems; this includes both the use of stock-feeds, and the utilisation of accumulating dung. Other project groups led by Prof. Marschner and Prof. Wichern (both from the Ruhr University, Bochum) determine the influence of natural fertilizers and household waste water on soil quality and product hygiene, aspects of food security, socio-political frame conditions (Prof. Schareika, University of Göttingen) and possible politico-economical profits derived from the suggested improvements (Prof. Löwenstein, University of Bochum). “Hereby, we want to take sociological and politico-economical consequences into account”, says Bürkert: “How do these urban economic cycles lower the risk of poverty? What part do the women play and how does their task in raising food security influence their role in society? What significance does this type of farming have, especially for ethnic minorities in society?” Prof. Drescher of the University of Freiburg concerns himself with this matter in particular.

The “Exceed-Zentrum” International Center for Development and Decent Work (ICDD) of the University of Kassel is closely involved in the organisation of the project.
Within the “UrbanFoodPlus” project, an international Graduation School for junior scientists from Germany, Europe and Africa will be established to which 15 PhD grants and seven PhD positions are attached. This graduation school will be coordinated by Prof. Bernd Marschner, head of the Faculty of Soil Science and Soil Ecology at the University of Bochum. The college thereby also makes a contribution to the scientific exchange between Africa and Europe.

The “UrbanFoodPlus” project is part of the support programme of “GlobE – Global Food Security” of the BMBF.
Prof. Andreas Bürkert
University of Kassel
Section Organic Plant Production and Agroecosystems Research
in the Tropics and Subtropics
Tel.: +49 5542 98 1228

Sebastian Mense | idw
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