How to grow food in smart African cities

In the run up to the first Smart City Africa event by Basic Lead in Abidjan, Ivory Coast (April 2016), we decided to take a closer look at what African cities really need to be smart. Today we talk food.

Africa in plantains and bananas

How much it costs to put food on your African table

The urban poor may actually pay more for food than wealthier households: lacking cash and the refrigerators needed to store food, they are obliged to buy smaller quantities at a higher per item price.

Popular in sub-Saharan Africa vegetables, such as amaranth, sorrel, lettuce and tomato, start to spoil within a few days of harvesting. Bad roads and lack of fridges do not help here at all. Shortage means higher prices.

Chaotic, unhygienic central markets in Africa’s cities — built decades ago — add to the cost of produce and increase food contamination risks.

What do smart city dwellers in Africa chew on?

The red dots on this map of Ivory Coast show urban areas with population of over 1,000 people. Source:

Horticulture grown within 30 km of city centre. It provides nutrition that is rich in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals – essential for good health. It uses recycled urban waste as a productive resource. It  offers a constructive channel for young people’s energy. It creates green belts, lowers air pollution: chops down city temperatures.

Clean, modern, decentralized markets in smart African cities offer
cold storage, transparent information on prices, attract more customers.

As of 2012, African cities generated around 50 million tonnes of garbage annually that could be composted.

Globally,  urban diets that are high in energy, but low in micronutrients, are behind the increasing prevalence of obesity and non-communicable diseases, such as hypertension and heart disorder. Poor urban families usually end up eating cheaper starchy staples or “junk food” rich in low-cost fats and sugars.

In 2011 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Ministry of Agriculture of Ivory Coast launched in Abidjan’s Treichville district a two-year project to train 200 low-income households in hydroponic production of vegetables.


Low-income households in smart African cities “grow their own”, as a way of improving the quality of their diet, saving cash to spend on other needs, and earning income from the sale of surpluses. Schools in smart cities of Africa operate their own gardens as well.

In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania financial institutions regard urban farming as “backward” and a risky investment.

Where African city farmers grow food

Vegetable plots are often found on land reasonably safe from construction, such as roadsides, and near zones unfit for habitation – and food production – such as garbage dumps and industrial waste sites.

Change in regulations on farming and food processing is timely in African cities. Clarity in land allocation too.  In Kigali, Rwanda lack of secure title to land has prevented peri-urban farmers from switching from sweet potatoes, which require only small investments, to vegetables that give much better returns.

Horticulturists in Africa reduce the risk of losing produce due to fuzzy zoning rules by sowing indigenous leafy vegetables that can be harvested within a few weeks, and by using low-cost (and portable) technologies such as watering cans.

In Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire loss of land to real estate development is one of the main threats to gardeners’ livelihoods.

SCA Abidjan 2016

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