Urban agriculture in Addis Ababa to ease COVID-19 impact

By Mekonnen Teshome & Tesfaye Abate – Apart from battling with Corona Virus (COVID-19) health emergency, countries around the world today are taking various measures to ease the apparent longer-term impacts of the health menace on food insecurity. To this end, the Ethiopian Capital – Addis Ababa – has enormously embarked on the development of urban agriculture establishing a municipality level commission, Farmers and Urban Agriculture Commission, which is fully in charge of urban agricultural development in the city.

Various studies show that almost all countries would face food supply challenge in some way. A recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) analysis states that in the absence of timely and effective policies, millions more are likely to join the ranks of the hungry as a result of the COVID-19-triggered recession. That number will vary according to the severity of economic contractions, ranging from 14.4 million to 38.2 million or even 80.3 million more hungry people should there be a contraction of 2, 5 or 10 percentage points, respectively, in all 101 net food-importing countries’ GDP growth, it states.

A team of agricultural experts of the Jimma University in its study entitled “Covid-19 probable impacts on Ethiopian agriculture and potential mitigation and adaptation measures: no food – no health – no life” published in April 2020 has indicated that the current pandemic of Covid-19 has a potential to increase the food insecurity of the country due to resource mobilization towards prevention of the disease, movement restriction subsequently affecting food production, transport, processing and consumption patterns.

“Government media briefs indicate that COVID-19 has significantly affected the prices of food items following panic buying; hoarding by traders, and disruptions along the food value chain (e.g., processing, transportation between rural and urban areas and regionally) could drive higher prices in certain areas, limiting food access for poorer households…This needs measures to lessen shocks to the food supply chains, for instance, through injection from food reserve.” the experts recommend.

The Addis Ababa City Administration donated 200 water pumps and five tractors to urban agriculture farmers to commonly use the machines.

Cognizant of these plausible food crises, the Addis Ababa City Administration has launched an official extensive urban agricultural scheme. The urban agricultural scheme launch which came with the donation of 200 water pumps and five tractors handed-over by City Mayor Takele Uma to farmers in and around the capital city on May 15, 2020, aims at alleviating scarcity of agricultural products due to COVID-19 pandemic as well as creating job opportunities for young people in agriculture.

Recent trend of inflation increase in Ethiopia (CSA)

While speaking after the hand-over ceremony, City Mayor Takele Uma said: “Our capital city would for sure be self-sufficient in the supply of vegitables and other horticultural products.”

The mayor also reaffirmed his administration’s support to urban agriculture developers will continue so as to meet the city’s target set in the area.

City Urban Agriculture Commissioner Fetiya Mohammed indicated that 100 farming spots that are suitable for urban agriculture are identified to be allocated to cultivators in the city to grow fruits and vegetables that can be harvested quickly.

The commissioner underscores: “as urban dwellers we should not think that agriculture is a marginal economic activity rather we ought to enjoy living in harmony with nature not in isolation.”

Currently over 94,000 producers are engaging in the sector producing different vegetables and fruits for their own consumption in Addis Ababa and the city has planned to create 50 thousand job opportunities by organizing job seekers and online registration of potential cultivators is already underway.

Though Urban Agriculture is not new to Addis Ababa, the present urban agriculture development is expected to significantly contribute to soften the economic impact through stabilizing price of vegetables and horticulture products.

According to the Central Statistical Agency (CSA) of Ethiopia, headline inflation has shown a 0.8 percentage point rise since last month and mainly driven by inflation in food prices.

The latest CSA Consumer Price Index indicate that the cost of living reached the highest rate in a six-year period (since 2014) increasing to 22.6 per cent following the confirmation of Ethiopia’s first case of Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection. The inflation of food prices reached 26.9 per cent jumping from 25.1 per cent.

With the current pressing situation many believe that the urban agriculture initiative would mean a lot in stabilizing food price in the city. “Urban Agriculture, if pursued and sustainably supported and developed, would complement the national food and nutrition security agenda,” Prominent Ethiopian Scholar and former Science and Technology Commissioner Asrat Bulbula told ScienceAfrica in Addis Ababa.

“The importance of food security through food self-sufficiency is going to play a crucial role in post Covid-19 era,” Bulbula added.

A senior researcher at Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) Dejene Girma (Ph.D.) also says that urban agriculture is the practice of incorporating farming into city areas through mixed land use and innovative techniques that allow cultivation to occur on much smaller plots of land.

“Recognizing the importance of urban agriculture to sustainable urban development the government of Ethiopia prepared urban agriculture development strategy in 2020.”

“Oftentimes, people living in major cities obtain their food supply from nearby rural areas. The flow of farm produce to cities could be disrupted due to several reasons including inter-city conflict, natural disaster and disease outbreaks such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. Since its outbreak in late December, the COVID-19 pandemic has been affecting the lives of millions of people around the world in unprecedented ways,” Girma told ScienceAfrica.

“In Ethiopia, the pandemic is gaining momentum and the number of new infections is increasing. It presents new challenges to food security and, social and economic systems. In such instances, bringing food production closer to consumers is crucial. This could be accomplished through urban agriculture that involves horticulture-based activities, agroforestry, urban livestock and aquaculture” he added.

Despite the positive urban agriculture initiative and support of the Addis Ababa city administration the farming activity is expected to face various challenges including shortage of water for irrigation, contamination of irrigation water, Inadequate cultivable land , lack of credit and extension services , lack of good quality farm equipment , vegetable diseases and night-time theft.

Well aware of the challenges of the farmers the city administration expressed its readiness to support the activity in the provision of modern agricultural equipment, inputs, trainings and the like.

Individuals engaged in the urban agriculture activity are also optimistic that they would be successful in attaining their personal gains and the target set by the city Administration.

Kinfe Shibeshi, a resident of the Yeka-Abado area Condominium houses in Addis Ababa, says that he is now cultivating the backyard of the apartment he lives with his neighbors encouraged with the new initiative of the city major.

He is hopeful that his farming activity would contribute to his family in the supply of vegetables and fruits.

Saida Bekri is also confident like her neighbor Shibeshi that she can benefit from the backyard farming activity. She says that the urban agriculture is not only an issue of food-security but it is also a matter of connecting with nature and the blissful spirit of her family’s farming background.

Addis Ababa covers about 540 Km2 of which 18.2 Km2 are rural. It is divided into 328 dwelling associations (Kebeles) of which 305 are urban and 23 rural. Urban farming has been a permanent feature of the city’s river line landscape for a long time.