Feeding Ghana’s growing urban population – Is home gardening the answer?
Agricultural Science was not one of my favourite subjects during my upper primary and junior secondary school days in the late 80s and early 90s. But my interest in the subject was always kindled when it was time for practicals.
Gardening, which we referred to as our practicals, was used to assess the students’ performance at the end of the term alongside the normal theory. It was always a sight, to see students weeding, digging and planting vegetables on beds in the scorching sun. We usually grew cabbage, carrot, lettuce, cucumber, green beans, green pepper and spring onion. The fulfillment then was to always wake up to water our gardens and see our vegetables sprout, bear fruits and ultimately cultivated.
As students, we were always interested in who will become the Best Gardener and top scorer of the class in Agricultural Science during the term. Unknown to us, the vegetables produced from our student beds, were a complementary food source for our school. The root tubers, suckers, grains and vegetables from the school garden were used to feed us all year round.
History has shown that gardening can be an important and practical part of a secure, healthy, and sustainable food supply system. A classic example is the recognition by the government of the United States that homegrown food was an important way to ensure an adequate food supply during World War II.
The government then encouraged the planting of victory gardens at the local, state, and federal levels. Through this initiative, it was estimated that 20 million victory gardens were planted in 1943, which produced eight million tons of food, and an estimated 40% of all the fresh vegetables in the United States.
Gardening can enhance food security in several ways, most importantly through: direct access to a diversity of nutritionally-rich foods; increased purchasing power from savings on food bills and income from sales of garden products, and fall-back food provision during seasonal lean periods.
Gardens have an established tradition and offer great potential for alleviating micronutrient deficiencies. A well-developed home garden for example has the potential to supply most of the non-staple foods that a family needs every day of the year, including roots and tubers, vegetables and fruits, legumes, herbs and spices. According to food nutritionists, roots and tubers are rich in energy while legumes are important sources of protein, fat, iron and vitamins. Green leafy vegetables and fruits provide essential vitamins and minerals; particularly folate, and vitamins A, E and C. Vegetables and fruits are a vital component of a healthy diet and should be eaten as part of every meal.
Gardening has also been proven to be one good source to guarantee food security especially during seasonal lean seasons. Produce from our gardens are most at times untouchable unless we are in dire need of them and those times are normally when they are scarce on the market. This ensures that there is always a food source to fall back on when market prices are high. This can also help relieve government of the burden of ensuring the availability of such food crops on the market all year round.
It must be emphasized that not only does gardening provide food security at individual or family level but also at the community and national levels. Roots and tubers, vegetables and fruits cultivated from home gardens are sometimes sold in the neighborhood or in the market to raise income to supplement budgets. Even though these produce are normally small, they go a long way to help provide food for all in the community.
Gardening in Ghana
Even though gardening in cities in the country was quite low after independence, its importance was very much highlighted during General Kutu Acheampong’s regime. Findings from a research conducted by Mr. Kwaku Obosu-Mensah on “Changes In Official Attitudes Towards Urban Agriculture In Accra” indicated that many urban dwellers got involved in farming for the first time after General Acheampong’s military government introduced the Operation Feed Yourself initiative in 1972. Gardening became common in most Ghanaian homes then, to the extent that it became a cliché for having a concubine aside your wife.
The report however noted that prior to 1972, the prestige of farming in the cities was kept on the low due to stringent government prohibitions to help maintain their beauty within colonial standards. The report further revealed that these negative attitudes of city officials towards urban agriculture stems from some public health, administrative and social impacts. These included the effect of the use of biocides for pest/disease control on human health, disregard for city planning codes and the socio-economic background of the farmers.
As a result of these factors, city officials have still done very little to promote gardening in the various cities of the country.
Urbanization and food security – the role of gardening
In the global economic downturn where food insecurity has increased due to soaring food prices, backyard and community gardens are some of the most basic survival strategies.
According to Urban Agriculture and Food for the Cities based in the United States, home gardens have become an increasingly important source of food and income for poor households in peri-urban and urban areas.
In spite of the numerous benefits home gardening provides in ensuring food security, this important life skill seems to be non-existent in most of our cities. Majority of homes in our cities nowadays do not have backyard gardens as compared to two decades ago. All these backyards have been cleared to provide accommodation for the ever increasing urban population demand.
What is very worrying is the growing trend of clearing fertile virgin lands outside the cities for building purposes. There have been recent reports in a section of the media indicating a “mad rush” for the purchase of lands by estate developers in the Western Region after the oil discovery in the region. These developers are not to be blamed as they are envisaging an accommodation deficit in the near future due to the oil boom as is being experienced in Accra. Moreover people living in the Cosmopolitan cities normally have no or little time on their hands to spend on home gardening.
These phenomena pose a threat to the country’s food security, especially in urban areas which has experienced rapid population growth within the last one and half decades.
According to the UN Habitat, the United Nations agency which is involved with studying human settlement patterns, 2007 was a landmark year, as for the first time ever, there were as many people around the world living in cities as there were in rural areas. The report indicated that rapid urban population growth has increased the demand for basic services in cities especially with food being on top of the list. and therefore underscored the importance of urban agriculture as an effective approach to feed the rapid urban population.
Statistics from the United Nations indicate that fifty per cent of the country’s population was urbanized as at 2008 with an average annual growth rate of urban population standing at 3.8 per cent between 2000 and 2008. These figures indicate that the daily struggle of people in the cities to get their daily bread is on the rise. This demand cannot be ignored since access to food is a fundamental right.
One important way to meet the huge demand for food in our cities is for all to recognize the need to vigorously pursue gardening. A backyard garden four times the size of an ordinary door, can supply a household of six people with fresh vegetables for a year. By replanting and ensuring that the ground is fertilized well, the four-door garden can be farmed fruitfully for years.
Government therefore needs to create policies that will provide extensive gardening education to encourage people to turn public lands into gardens for people who could not grow their own food at home. City officials also have a major role to play by promoting urban agriculture through the enactment of laws and regulations to protect urban farmers and their crops.
Most importantly, we must utilize our airspace when expanding our buildings and rather turn our underutilized yards into food production gardens to help feed ourselves and families.
By so doing we will not only save money on food purchases and imports but also help protect us and our families from the clutches of diseases.
Of course, gardens will not solve the hunger problem alone but we also need to ensure that Ghanaians have the opportunity to learn how to grow their own food and have space to do it to ensure the country’s food security.
Author: Alberta Nana Akyaa Akosa