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GDN Working Paper Series - Assessing the Role of Urban Agriculture in Addressing Poverty in South Africa
October 2009
Phillippe Burger, JP Geldenhuys, Jan Cloete, Lochner Marais and Alexander Thornton

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges Global Development Network (GDN) as the source of this document: http://www.gdnet.org/


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This research programme is contextualised within the framework of persistent poverty, food shortages, rising food prices and hunger in Africa, and the importance that is attached to addressing issues such as these in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Brundtland Report. Two main MDGs for the overall research programme are:
  • MDG 1, which refers to the eradication of hunger and poverty. The specific objectives related to this MDG are to reduce the percentage of the population living on one USD (or less) per day by half, and to similarly reduce the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.
  • MDG 8, which focuses on ensuring a sustainable environment. This requires the integration of the principles of sustainable development into countryspecific policies and programmes, a reduction of the proportion of people without safe drinking water, and an improvement of the quality of life of slum dwellers.
This study focuses particularly on the potential of urban agriculture (UA) to serve as a response mechanism in the context of the MDGs. In southern Africa, persistent poverty is exacerbated by de-industrialisation and more specifically (in the context of Zambia and South Africa), by the closure of extractive industries, and particularly of mining. In Zambia, both the loss of mining jobs on the Copper Belt and urbanisation to Lusaka have brought significant pressure to bear on urban resources, as well as on local governments that are already hard-pressed. In South Africa, the growing wealth gap has been aggravated by the selective closure of gold-mines, for example in the Welkom area, and by the rapid urbanisation of the unemployed to key cities.

Within the above context of job loss, persistent poverty, food shortages and rising food prices further exacerbated by rising fuel prices in 2008 and the production of bio-fuel the poor are increasingly seeking remedies for food insecurity and unemployment through an individual and community-based response known as UA. Up to now, the potential role that could be played by UA in addressing the needs of the poor and in helping to meet the MDG targets for Africa has been poorly understood. Although UA research has increased since the 1990s, very few African countries have implemented policy support, or attempted to formalise UA as a foodsupply alternative in the modern African city. One of the problems experienced in developing appropriate responses is the lack of basic information, as well as the lack of adequate institutional responses.

The foregoing also needs to be considered in the context of decentralisation, in that countries such as Zambia and South Africa are now actively pursuing this agenda, which has empowered local authorities to play a greater role in local socio-economic affairs. However, local governments in both countries do not yet formally support UA. Therefore, research is necessary to clarify current approaches and/or to determine whether UA warrants greater attention.

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