Capital Ethiopia Newspaper

Small farms give life to urban poor

Solomon Teklu a 21 year old spent most of his life in Arat Kilo and Piassa before moving to Jemu two years ago and when he relocated he missed his favorite breakfast, of a cup of yoghurt with a pinch of powdered chili and bread.
“I missed having home-made yoghurt when I moved here,” he said in between devouring the creamy milk by-product. “I don’t like the yoghurt produced at factories. It is too sour and doesn’t agree with my metabolism,” he said.
Pomme’s owner Helen Habte said that she gets her Yoghurt from a local dairy farmer.
“He approached me and proposed that I sell yoghurt at my café,” she said. “He told me that we could start small and then increase the level of supply as I got more customers and then word got out that we sold yoghurt,” she told Capital.
She says even though she has regular customers like Solomon who come two or three times a week, the demand for yoghurt is sporadic.  Still she tentatively thinks of increasing her yoghurt supply.
Every day she purchases 2.5 liters of yogurt or 10 cups from a nearby dairy shop for 18 birr a liter. She then sells it for 11 birr per serving.
The owner of the shop Helen has been going to for the last two months to buy the yogurt for her café begins work at five in the morning every day.
“I produce milk, yoghurt, and cheese; I have seven cows at a compound in Shola,” he said.
The dairy farmer, who has been in business for 15 years, goes to his compound and gets milk to sell to his clients. He has three employees that distribute the milk to the doorsteps of residents in Lafto and Jemu.
Business has been good for him and he is thinking of selling fresh eggs and fish as well.
Tsehay Alemeneh goes door to door selling her produce. She lives around Lancia with her husband and two children.
“I have twelve chickens, ten hens and two roosters, I get fifteen to thirty eggs daily and after I leave some for my family I take the rest to my clients,” she said.
Her clients include her neighbors and shop owners in her area. She sells her eggs for 2.50 birr each. Tsehay says that she has no formal contract with her clients.
“I am just doing this as a hobby,” she says. “I am a farmer’s daughter and grew up around animals. We have a fairly large compound and I use 50sqm for my chickens. I don’t have the capacity to invest money in a chicken farm or business training. I have had no formal education in this area, except what I learned from my father.”
Lack of business knowledge is a major reason urban agriculture has not reached its full potential.  Melaku Tedla, a horticulture expert with a Masters in Agronomy says that an urban farmer has to understand business not just plants.
“They have to create their own market and compete with mainstream horticulturists,” he says. “The main problem they face is sustaining their productivity.”
In the developed world, Melaku points out, vertical and roof top gardening are used to produce a lot of food in a small area. In Ethiopia, these methods are unheard of by the general population. Individual greenhouses are also sparsely used.
Before last year there were no urban agricultural laws in Ethiopia. In 2013 the cabinet of ministers ratified the Urban Agriculture Policy and Strategy, which addressed eight issues including; access to land, water and support services, health and environment, gender and social issues.
The Addis Ababa City Administration Urban Agriculture Desk is working to make people more aware of urban farming. There will be a four day workshop that will soon go over the new agricultural policy, according to a city employee.
For the urban poor this kind of farming can create jobs and keep people from going hungry. It also increases businesses for other produce sellers. Urban farms also are good for the environment as they decrease carbon emissions and reduce soil erosion.
A 2011 study by the Institute for Sustainable Development looked at urban and perai-urban agriculture in Addis. It found that, especially along riverbeds in the city, people were growing vegetables and fruit, while producing dairy and raising chickens and sheep.
Despite the lack of government support the study indicated that 60pct of milk, 30pct of vegetables and 50pct of eggs consumed by Addis dwellers comes from urban farming.
With several rivers running through Addis Ababa, the capital is suitable for agriculture. The soils in the valley are fertile and there are also open areas available for urban farms.
Meselu Aregaw is old. She is a widow and she lives in Lideta, she plants vegetables around a river near her home.
“I plant tomatoes, lettuce, chilies and carrots,” she says. “I sell those and also products I get from others.”
The stream which is a tributary of the Akaki River passes in front of Meselu’s house. In the summer, the rains make the river swell and saturate the soil so that it becomes impossible to plant anything.  The stench from the river sickens her.
This is because, according to the report from ISD the agricultural system is affected by industrial waste pollution in rivers and that in turn affects food quality and safety. This is made worse by land fragmentation as the city continues to grow and spread.
In the evenings, she puts her produce in a basket and carries it to the side street leading to her home. There she places a mat on the ground, divides her vegetables into rows and starts selling them.
Melaku reminisced about a man who grows his own vegetables rather than buying them from the grocers. The man in question grows the plants rather than buying them at the grocers because he doesn’t want to ingest industrial fertilizers or eat plants grown near rivers which he thinks are unclean.
“Selling vegetables is seasonal, I wash clothes to supplement my income,” she says wistfully.