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Why Not Urban and Peri-Urban Horticulture in our Cities?

  • One of the Agricultural Extension programs presented in the 2018 Festival of Eritrea

Urban Horticulture has been a common way of keeping compounds green. It is more than a decade, now, since Urban and Peri- Urban Horticulture (UPH) has been popularized in Eritrea. Initially, the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) in collaboration with the FAO started the project to assist the refugees who were expelled from Ethiopia.The plantation project focused on every refugee’s household, so that they can at least satisfy their nutritional needs. People, who came through Massawa and Assab, particularly from a place called UmKulu, were beneficiaries of the first initiative.

Ever since, the MoA started working on the awareness campaigns to spread the significance of UPH in the country. UPH, is basically growing, processing and distributing of food and other products through intensive plant cultivation in and around cities. According to FAO, small areas such as vacant plots, gardens, verges, balconies, containers within a city and a compound that grow crops for household consumption or for sell are categorized under urban section. The Peri-urban can be like farm units close to town that operate intensive, semi or fully commercial farms that grow crops. Typical sites for such activities in the capital city are the neighborhoods of Godaif and Sembel, chosen to satisfy the needs of urban people, because the supply in the market may not be enough for all the people in the city. People practice UPH in potential sites such as households, educational, youth and religious centers, government and private institutions as well as recreation centers.

UPH can be easily practised inside a compound using simple tools and recycled plastic jars, car tyres, sacks and vacant areas The easy mode of use makes UPH favorable, enjoyable and less-costly in cities. People who live in apartments can adopt vertical farming. People can grow different produce such as lettuce, marigold, swiss chard, ornamentals, sweet potato, basil, rosemary, celery and parsley, periwinkle, vine, salad and many others. UPH can only be a complement to the rural agriculture or market, not a replacement.

UPH can have a significant influence on people’s lifestyle and the economy. It can promote food and nutritional security when people are fully aware of it. The benefits associated with UPH are health and wellbeing, environment and financial stability and others. People can have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, be physically active and, socially interactive as they reap products and commercialize them. It can be a source of relaxation and enjoyment that can result in psychological wellbeing through a sense of achievement, independence and empowerment. Environmentally, promoting UPH preserves and promotes green spaces. It reduces greenhouse effect and increases biodiversity in the particular area. Moreover, practicing UPH can open opportunities for increased awareness about food chain pathways. It can be a source of cheap, fresh produce and a gateway for people to learn new skills in horticulture.

Different types of UPH replicas have been open for display at the Expo ground in the past week and the display will be available for a whole year. Ms. Luwam Menghis, a junior expert at a vegetable section from the Agricultural Extension Department of the Ministry of Agriculture says that for a better use of UPH the society needs to be aware and that is why the model is displayed for all ages, particularly children. Eritrean society hardly practises UPH and when it does it tends to focus on flowers in the compounds. According to the expert, this is due to lack of awareness on how to use the resources efficiently. Most people say water is in short supply even if they think of practicing UPH in their backyards. However, Luwam said that the water that we use to wash our faces can simply be recycled and used to water the plants. The metaphor “minimum resources into maximum output” applies to UPH too with the help of technology. The efficient use of UPH turns out to be productive all the time. It is practised with minimal resources and yields better outcomes. People do not necessarily need to have fancy vases and containers to plant.
UPH Components include micro-gardening technologies, compost production, family drip-irrigation, mushroom and seedling production, hydroponics, nutrition education, aquaculture (vegetables and fish), water harvesting and related research work.

The reasons Urban and Peri- Urban Horticulture is favorable and accessible are because it is an industry open to people from all kinds of all socio-economic backgrounds-students, housewives, professionals, pensioners, and disabled people. UPH is also characterized by diversity of production, with different models for different geography and intended market.

Ms. Luwam says that social awareness is what the department will keep on working. Since UPH can easily be adopted and practised, people need to give attention beyond the flowers and add color to their daily lives. The hardest step for people is to get started; however, once the UPH is started the horticultural management becomes easy and enjoyable. The MoH, in collaboration with FAO, has short term plans for training of trainers that will be given in all regions of the country. That is expected to increase the awareness of the public and lead to the introduction of the Urban and Peri- Urban Horticulture in Eritrea at a large scale.

Urbanization is what has triggered Urban and Peri-Urban Horticulture. Until 2030, the population of Eritrea living in Urban and Peri-Urban areas is expected to grow by 2.8%. Current agricultural endeavors in the country have to necessarily be accompanied with UPH. The agricultural extension in MoA will continue to campaign for people to accept and adopt UPH as a means of sustaining their lives.

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