Patch agriculture is an ancient activity in Africa that has been practiced for centuries in backyards and open spaces. It entails the use of small plots of land for growing vegetables or rearing animals and its an activity which is practiced in rural and urban areas.
In urban areas it can be found in public lands, undeveloped private lands and under electrical line. It is usually practiced around dams, streams, ditches and gutters. In open spaces many farmers grow vegetables on less than 0.3 acres. Before the 20th Century, it was mostly practiced for home consumption but has gained more importance with the creation of dams and irrigation sites. As a result vegetables are now commercial products.
Patch agriculture is being considered a bread basket by many as it makes use of the city as a resource and an outlet for outputs. This is more so in Tamale - my fieldwork area for more than a year.
Tamale is located on the semi-arid savanna region in Northern Ghana where ground water level is low and few main streams. It also happens to be the fastest growing city in Ghana, with about 74% of its population found in the urban area. Urbanisation as a result of in-migration and population growth has led to an urban sprawl, which is taking up agricultural land and pushing farmers to the peri-urban and rural areas. In addition, urbanisation has brought with it a lucrative land market which has contributed to a shift from allocating plots to household heads for farming, to allocating plots of land to developers, the traditional rulers for profit.
This reduction of prime agricultural land has left many farmers without land for vegetable gardening. Farmers are coping with this through the creation of new vegetable sites in water bodied peri-urban fringes and flood plains, while others are intensifying their agricultural activity in the urban areas.
This compounding difficulty as a result of urbanisation has forced many elderly men to transfer their open fields in the city to their sons. This is because they believe the younger children have the strength and finance to intensify vegetable gardening (which requires investment in fertiliser, improved seed and technology) through other income generating activities that they engage in like bricklaying, blacksmith and teaching.
Furthermore most youths are educated and have formed associations through which they lobby for support from non-governmental organisation in the form of new fertility management and irrigation technologies to boost their agricultural production. Some of these youths are students, and use these activities as a source to finance their education and provide food for their families.
This shift in family farming has led to a shift in responsibilities of the youths in the society from food consumers to food providers in their households. The change in the agricultural scene can also be attributed to the change in diets with more vegetables being consumed by new middle income class families. This has led to an ever increasing demand for vegetables in the city.
There is a need for the youths and not only women to be integrated in agricultural policies in African cities as they also contribute to food and nutritive security. This I believe will contribute towards achieving the agreement by African head of states to eradicate hunger and poverty by 2025 in Africa under the auspices of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) at a high level meeting on zero hunger from June 30th to July 1st in Addis Ababa.