20 May 2022
While growing one’s own vegetables in the garden with some fruit trees adding to a more balanced diet was quite common until half a century ago, this good habit has disappeared to a large extend.
Recently local authorities and Namibia’s development partners revived urban gardening to reduce unemployment and poverty, encourage better nutrition, skills transfer and improve self-sufficiency.
The municipality of Swakopmund was the first government authority to introduce this concept about two years ago. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic hitting Namibia in March 2020, the municipality steadfastly constructed a greenhouse tunnel in the town to provide an opportunity for unemployed persons to grow vegetables.
This initiative caught the attention of development partners and about a year later Rundu, Windhoek and Maltahöhe have replicated it.
The quaint coastal town is a favourite tourism hotspot for locals and visitors from abroad. One would not guess that Swakopmund has a population of around 45,000 residents. Like elsewhere in the world, many people from rural areas flock to towns in the search for employment and a better life. Swakopmund is no exception, despite the often cold weather and limited employment opportunities.
The municipality embarked on its urban gardening project in 2020 at the defunct old sewerage works near the huge multi-purpose hall called the ‘dome’.
With an initial budget of N$250,000 (about 119,000 Euros) it constructed a large greenhouse tunnel of 330 square metres with raised beds made from wood and a drip irrigation system. This was done after consultations with agricultural and environmental experts in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform
(MAWLR), the Sustainable Coastal Gardening Community Program (SCGCP), and other technical partners.
This approach mitigates the harsh environmental and climate conditions of the coast.
“In this way we also have a fully controlled environment, which ensures all year food production in the urban garden”, says Alfeus Benjamin, the chief executive officer of the Swakopmund municipality.
A group of thirty unemployed people were selected and trained in urban gardening and also basic marketing in order to sell their surplus. In October, after six months, the first harvest of mainly tomatoes, cucumber, spinach and lettuce was done. The produce was for own consumption and a small surplus was sold to members of the public.
Encouraged by this success and the possibility of earning a regular income, more vegetables were planted and more customers pop in and buy the veggies from the urban food garden. In the meantime, market days have been introduced.
From the original number of 30 persons who were selected, 25 have remained; the others opted for other work opportunities.
The UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) indicated an interest to support the project of the Swakopmund municipality and the Japanese embassy in Namibia showed keenness to help with more funding.
In the second phase a big shade net house was constructed recently with some 1,575 square metres and again with raised wooden flower beds and drip irrigation for approximately N$2 million, thanks to the government of Japan and channelled via UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). The funds are administered by the Environmental Investment Fund (EIF) of Namibia. Each of the four urban gardening projects thus benefits from N$ 500,000.
The Ministry of Agriculture took the urban gardening initiative officially under its wing with Japan und the UNDP later on in 2021 with the slogan “Build Back Better (BBB).
High costs for water in Namibia due to irregular rainfall patterns have also discouraged gardening. An private urban agriculture project, “Farm Okukuna” was started in 2018 by three partners. The World Future Council, a Namibian organisation, funded by Germany’s Liselotte Foundation, was responsible for management and fundraising. The Eloolo Permaculture Initiative facilitated training. The Windhoek municipality acted as a landlord, providing the land, security and water. The urban gardening project is situated in the Goreangab area, an informal settlement at the northwestern outskirts of Windhoek.
The aquaponics system was later introduced, a system which allows vegetables and grass (for fodder) grown in a water solution with added nutrients.
A positive ripple effect of the ‘Farm Okutuna’ was that the people who were trained there, started their own backyard gardens to grow veggies for their own consumption. If a small surplus is produced, it is sold at an affordable price to neighbours.
Auguste Kankondi for example has started her own garden, which supplements the daily meals of her family and earns her an extra income. “I have learnt so much and neighbours have asked me to introduce them to urban gardening, which I am doing gladly,” she says. “There are quite a number of small backyard gardens springing up in our area, which is a good sign.”
The residents either build raised beds from used wooden planks or use stones to build walls for knee-high raised beds. Old car tyres are also popular.
The Build Back Better project for urban gardening has taken a slightly different approach in the small village of Maltahöhe in southern Namibia. Just five kilometres away is the Daweb farm. The government bought it several years ago for the resettlement of previously disadvantaged Namibians.
As a first step, a group of unemployed youth were the first beneficiaries in 2021 to receive hands-on training to grow vegetables on the farm. Other residents have joined in the meantime and a cooperative was established and registered officially. A portion of the vegetables grown there is also sold in town.
Climate change and shifting population demographics might accelerate urban gardening initiatives. Windhoek records approximately 500 to 600 new residents per month, being people who move mainly from rural areas to the Namibian capital in search for employment, a better life and better schools for their children.
According to data from ‘Worldometer’, approximately 55.2 percent of the population (1,403,099 people) lived in towns in 2020. Namibia has a population of approximately 2,5 million.
It is predicted that the percentage of persons living in urban areas by 2030 would increase to 65 percent.
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