What can we learn from allotment gardens in urban areas?

We all know that Africa is urbanizing rapidly. We also know that the share of urban poor is getting higher and they are not able to get appropriate diets for their families. Therefore, ACED launched a research project in 2016 to tests if allotment gardens in urban areas can provide urban poor with access to fresh foods and income to improve their food security situation.

We found in a survey among 261 experienced gardeners that exploitation of allotment gardens in urban areas is profitable and most of them can easily afford to purchase and maintain at least a motorbike with 4 percent even able to buy a car.

To substantiate and quantify the positive effects of allotment gardens on food security and income of the urban poor, we designed a randomized controlled trial where participants are compared with a control group who does not participate in allotment gardens. We have used financial diaries to monitor the costs and benefits of the gardens and observed that participants make an average monthly profit of 20 euros and a maximum of 83 euros on 400 square meters. Extrapolated to an ha, that means 6,000 euros per year which, is far above the national average annual profit (820 euros/ha) for crop production.

What we have seen here is that the project really changes people’s lives. Both women and men got empowered, enriched their diets by diversifying their food intake, and increased their incomes by selling their produce surplus. We also saw that they were proud of their own endeavor.

The research team is happy to have secured sites for the allotments because in the beginning, it was a very hard time to find any plot. The main reason was that land use policies of cities did not set plots for allotment gardens. We, therefore, aim to design a site selection tool that supports decision makers for optimal allocation of allotment gardens. Furthermore, to address land constraint in the future, we foresee possibilities for vertical farming.

These preliminary findings were shared during the Midterm Review Joint Meeting of the Food & Business Global Challenges Programme of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research; 14-17 January 2019, Accra (Ghana).