Feeding the sustainable city

In Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, rapid population growth in the 1980’s and 1990’s triggered a positive attitude towards urban agriculture. The Sustainable Dar Es Salaam Project (SDP) was launched in 1993 to strengthen the municipal capacity to plan and manage the growth and development of the city in close dialogue with the urban farmers. Read here how thorough research on urban agriculture has kicked off a new strategic planning and management of Dar Es Salaam’s urban environment.

Dar Es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania, is growing fast as people move from the countryside to seek a better future. The vast majority of the city’s inhabitants – seven out of ten – live in unplanned settlements that cause major challenges to urban infrastructure. In an effort to improve their situation, urban poor use any available space to grow food. In backyards and vacant lots – anywhere you can find a patch of land – people grow crops and raise livestock to feed their families.

In 1993, The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and UN-HABITAT joined forces in The Sustainable Dar Es Salaam Project (SDP). The idea was to develop a new strategic urban development plan and policies for integrating urban agriculture (UA) into improved management of Dar Es Salaam’s urban environment. To feed the policy-making process, IDRC supported a team of six Tanzanian researchers from the Sokoine University of Agriculture and the University of Dar Es Salaam.

The team surveyed nearly 2000 urban farmers documenting the range of farming systems – aquaculture to agroforestry – in use across Dar Es Salaam. They catalogued the areas under production, the numbers of people involved, the types of crops grown and livestock raised. The numbers were compelling: Each day urban farmers supply the city with an estimated 95.000 litres of milk, 6.000 trays of eggs and 11.000 kilos of poultry. Furthermore, some 100.000 tons of crops, including staples like maize and cassava, are grown each year in the city.

Mangos, Flickr Creative Commons

The researchers also looked at the interactions – both good and bad – between UA and the urban environment as well as the role of urban agriculture in recycling the municipality’s solid wastes. Most importantly, the researchers studied city by-laws and other forms of regulation that have an impact on UA. They found that inadequate enforcement, a lack of knowledge among urban dwellers and decision-makers, as well as ambiguities in legislation caused a health risk to the local environment and communities.

For example, residents were allowed to keep up to four animals in any “city area” provided they did not graze freely — a practice referred to as zero-grazing. In the city centre cattle is often kept in inadequate shelters with few options for safe waste disposal or composting. In some of the low-density areas of the city, residents on larger lots keep more than the stipulated four head of cattle. To try and resolve these sorts of problems, researchers gathered recommendations from the urban farmers themselves on which activities should be prohibited or strictly regulated and why. They critiqued the adequacy and enforceability of by-laws and offered advice and assistance in revising them and writing new ones.

By the time the Sustainable Dar Es Salaam Project was completed in 1997, nine other Tanzanian municipalities were preparing to replicate the process. Since then, city networks have formed in both East and West Africa to share experiences and training opportunities, and urban agriculture has been recognized as a key part of a comprehensive solution to the problems of the runaway growth of cities in developing countries.


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