Capital Becomes Garden City
By Tansa Musa (IPS)
Yaounde, May 26, 1996
from West Central Africa News
Time was when the city folk of Yaounde viewed farming as something done by barefooted villagers in the country.
But now thousands of residents in the capital, struggling to make ends meet, are trying their hands at agriculture as a means of reducing their food bills.
Barnabas Akahkuh is one of this new breed of city dwellers. At six each morning, he and his wife Emilia head for the 1.5-ha farm located a kilometer away from their Yaounde home and work there for at least an hour before taking off for work at the Ministry of Education.
''My farm has been of great help to me,'' says Akahkuh. ''It greatly reduces the expenses I would have regularly incurred on such foodstuff as maize, cassava, sweet potatoes and other food which I could have hardly afforded on my lean salary."
In the past, urban agriculture had been discouraged by officials of the ministries of health and environment, who saw farms in towns as breeding grounds for mosquitoes, snakes and rodents. Now they admit that urban farming has instead helped to clear the bush around this equatorial city, where it takes just a few weeks of rain to turn a vacant lot into a thicket.
Urban agriculture is part of a worldwide trend. U.N. statistics show, for example, that some form of agriculture is practiced by 65 percent of Moscovites, 67 percent of Nairobi residents and 80 percent of the people in Kinshasa.
Up to 90 percent of the vegetable supply in China's towns is produced by their inhabitants, while urban agriculture satisfies 95 percent of Israel's food requirements.
While there are no figures on urban agriculture in Yaounde, government officials estimate that the number of farmers in the Cameroonian capital runs into thousands. They range from the unemployed to public servants forced to supplement their meagre salaries.
Handson Ghandi, for example, is a Finance Ministry official. He told IPS he no longer spent money on foodstuff such as 'njama njama', a leaf vegetable which, boiled, mixed with palm oil, salt and pepper and eaten with boiled cornmeal, is a popular dish in northwest Cameroon.
''I hardly go to the market today to buy 'njama-njama' ,'' he said, ''My farm provides 'njama-njama' throughout the year for my house needs, and some of my friends have also come to harvest from my farm."
He also harvests at least 10 jute bags of maize, about seven bags of cassava and five of sweet potatoes from his farm each year. In between harvests, the family also eats the sweet potato and cassava leaves.
''There is nothing you can do to stop me from going to my farm," said Ghandi. ''In fact, if I could acquire more land here, there would be nothing to stop me from quitting the public service, which has become a big waste of time ever since salaries were slashed."
Most farmers in Yaounde have had more time to devote to their farms since 1994, when government changed the two-shift working day into one which now runs from 07.30 to 15.30 hours.
"Our work schedule ends every day at 3.30 p.m.,'' explained Akahkuh. "Once my wife and I reach home and have something to chew, we leave immediately for the farm. Moreover, we spend all of Saturday and early Sunday morning on the farm instead of just sitting around and drinking beer like most Cameroonians.''
Some urban farmers started long before the current wave of town farming. Kenneth Njeta says he began about 10 years ago. In the first eight years he still depended on the maize sent to him by his mother, who lives in their home village. However, for two years now, he grows all the corn he eats.
Agricultural extension workers are encouraging more city folk to go into farming and depend less on the state to improve their living conditions.
Martha Yingui, agro-technician in the communication cell of the Ministry of Agriculture says ''many people still imagine that because you live in urban areas you cannot practice farming for your family consumption or for sale due to lack of space or land."
"They fail to realise," she explains, "that farming in towns can be practiced in many places, including waste land, swamps, the grounds of large buildings and on rooftops."
According to a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) consultant in the ministry of agriculture, urban farming can help solve the problem of hunger, especially for the urban poor who spend a great percentage of their income on food.
It can also be a means for civil servants to put their many idle hours to use, he said, adding that urban farming could increase the use of garbage as organic manure and that could help keep municipalities clean.
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