Background Information

The role of Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture (UPA) in enhancing the livelihoods of urban residents was ignored or, at best, belittled in the not too distant past. It was treated as an illegal activity. Those engaged in it were harassed with impunity. The underlying erroneous perception was that poverty has had a rural connotation and was never considered an urban issue. This has now changed with a plethora of scholars proving that poverty knows no boundaries and doesn’t discriminate between rural and urban affecting both equally. Furthermore, research analyses have shown that urban poverty is a fast growing problem that needs to be addressed (FAO/WB, 2008) since the urban poor devote an extremely high proportion (54-76% in Sub-Sahara Africa) of their disposable income on food purchases (FAO, 2008).

UPA: Pros, Cons and Challenges

As the benefits of UPA are better understood and embraced, policy-makers have now become more receptive in formulating policies not only accommodating but legalizing it. What’s more, UPA complements rural agricultural systems in the production and supply of local food items to urban spaces. It contributes to employment generation, poverty reduction and social inclusion of the urban poor. It’s also environmentally beneficial in greening cities and making them resilient to climate change (UN-HABITAT, 2009).

UPA to the Rescue: Meeting the Food Needs of the Growing Urbanites

Urban populations are growing fast across the globe due to natural population growth and increased migration to cities in search of employment opportunities. The world urban population has increased rapidly from 746 million in 1950 to 3.9 billion in 2014. It’s expected to exceed six billion by 2045. Most of the projected growth will take place in developing countries particularly in Africa (UN DESA, 2014). By 2020, It is estimated that 75% of all urban dwellers will be in developing countries. Similarly, Africa’s urban population has been exploding in the last few decades: It was one-fifth in 1970, one-third in 1995, and is expected to exceed one-half of the continent’s population by 2020 (FAO/WB, 2008). The practice of UPA complements rural agricultural production systems. It has become a permanent fixture in the agricultural development discourse as an ever increasing number of people practice it. More than 800 million people practice UPA worldwide. More specifically, in low-income developing countries, more than 50% of urban households are involved in UPA. As far as food production is concerned, it’s globally estimated that 15-20% of the world’s food is produced in urban areas (FAO/WB, 2008). UPA is considered important for both household consumption and the urban market supply by providing over 80% of vegetables consumed in some cities in Africa (Cofie, undated).

The right to availability of nutritious foods is nowadays considered a ‘human right’ as per the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The integration of UPA in agricultural development strategies and urban planning frameworks is essential for enhancing the livelihoods and nutritional needs of the urban poor. Since UPA is multifaceted, interventions need to be multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral to be effective and sustainable (Figure 1: Arku et al., 2012).

Urban governance issues are similar whether in ‘Northern’ or ‘Southern’ settings even though in the past decades they’ve evolved along these fault lines as urban theory focused more on modernity in the ‘North’, and more on poverty and reduction in the ‘South’. However, an emerging global comparative perspective pertains that urban issues are more global in nature and that all cities are transformative. In addition, urban centers are shaped by local, social, cultural, political and economic parameters and interactions with other centers (Robinson, 2006).

The meaning of ‘urban’ is no more a fixed entity but is in a continuous state of flux. Policies for tackling urban issues should be done ‘outside the box’ and be adaptable to be sustainable. Since urban issues are distinctive and complex, they require a unique transformative approach (Brown 2014).

Figure 1. Conceptual Framework for Understanding the Role of Urban Agriculture. Source: Arku et al. (2012) Mogadishu: A Capital Morphing into an Urban Quagmire

Mogadishu’s urban fabric has been changing since colonization when Italy made it its administrative capital in 1908. It has had a population of 40 thousand, 70 thousand, 102 thousand, and 125 thousand in 1935, 1950, 1960 and 1970, respectively (Marshal, 2002). More recently in 2015, Demographia - an international US-based consultancy - declared Mogadishu as the second fastest growing city in the world and fastest in Africa with a population of 2.1 million growing at an astonishing rate of 6.9% per year (Demographia 2015).

Figure 2. Mogadishu IDP Settlement Perimeters in 2015. Source: ACTED and UNOSTAT 2015.

Since the outbreak of the civil war in 1991, Mogadishu has become a magnet for IDPS seeking a ‘safe haven’ to escape the endless upheavals. This has resulted in the uncontrolled expansion of the city limits with the mushrooming of unauthorized settlements. The IDP population in the city is estimated to be as high as 400,000 (ICRC, 2012). These IDPS live in informal settlements spread out over the 16 districts of the city (Figure 2). More than 60% of the IPD settlements and 55% of the total IDP population in Mogadishu are concentrated in just three districts: Hodan, Dharkenley and Wadajir (ICRC, 2012). Presently there is a coordinated relocation plan for the IDPs initiated by the Somali federal government in early 2013 (ICRC, 2012). These urban poor IDP settlers are in vulnerable situations. Relocation is a highly sensitive and emotional issue due to the psyche of the defenseless and traumatized settlers. It is prudent that the issue be handled in a participatory and rights-based approach involving all the stakeholders. International NGOs should be consulted and solicited for supplying technical and financial support.  

 Undated postcard. Courtesy Ms F. Favilla, Italy

Mogadishu: A Phoenix Rising from its Ruins

Like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes, Mogadishu is rising from the ruins. There is a glimmer of hope that the city will reclaim its former pre- and post-independence title as ‘the pearl of the Indian Ocean’ - a title evoking nostalgic memories of the good old days when Mogadishu was a cultured center.

There’s a booming construction industry in the city. Modern malls, hotel buildings and gated high-rise residential complexes are mushrooming in many parts of the city. Skyscrapers in Mogadishu’s skyline are not a far off dream anymore once the threat of insecurity is eliminated. The banking system which collapsed with the dissolution of the central government in 1991 is rebounding strongly. With the ever increasing number of Somali expatriates returning to the city, Mogadishu is in the throes of a promising and long-awaited revival.

Rethinking ‘Urban’ in Mogadishu Mogadishu has socially been reshaped by the civil war. The city’s urban poor - especially the IDPs - have become a permanent fixture. The rapid and uncontrolled urbanization rates may deepen socioeconomic inequalities if not handled in a forward-thinking approach by ‘re-inventing’ urban plans to accommodate Mogadishu’s present day reality and future scenarios.

The city’s local administration - having regressed in the last two decades or more when the country fell apart - has a long and arduous mending process ahead of it for recreating and reforming basic urban governance modalities. There is no better time than now in enacting institutional urban reforms and interventions tailored to the Mogadishu of today. An integrated multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary approach is needed to incorporate UPA as a legitimate and viable economic activity. Tackling urban issues in the ‘big picture’ and unlocking opportunities is a win-win strategy for all stakeholders. Charles Darwin’s famous quote is most fitting to wrap this up with: ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, but rather, that which is most adaptable to change’.

A Truly Rising Phoenix: Mogadishu’s Safari High-rise Apartments.
Courtesy: Zahra Sufi - EABJ



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Allen Roberts. 2014. Commercial Sustainability of Peri-Urban Agriculture www.strategyAudit.com.au
Arku, G., Mkandawire, P., Aguda, N. and Kuuire, V. 2012. Africa’s Quest for Food Security: What is the Role of the Urban Agriculture? ACBF Paper 19
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Mohamed Ali - CEO
Luban Aromatics

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