According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), more people are relocating to African cities from rural areas than ever before. UN-Habitat reports that “the global share of African urban dwellers is projected to rise from 11.3 percent in 2010 to 20.2 percent by 2050.” A new study by Dr. Takemore Chagomaka entitled “Food and Nutrition Insecurity Mapping (FNIRM) in Urban and Periurban Areas in West African Cities” seeks to “understand and map the dynamics of household food and nutrition insecurity in urban, periurban and rural settings.” Chagomaka, lead author of the study, conducted the research in two growing sub-Saharan African cities.
While the study draws some broad conclusions across the two localities, such as finding that households that grow crops and keep livestock tend to be more food secure than those that do not, the study highlights far more distinctions. Future policy to effectively address food insecurity will have to take into account each locality’s unique aspects.
The study examined two sub-Saharan African cities and their surrounding areas: Tamale, Ghana, and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. For each locality, the area was transected into four sections and then divided into three zones. Using the city market as the center point, urban zones were defined as those within 10 km of the center; periurban zones were within 10 km to 40 km of the center; and rural zones between 40 km and 70 km from the center. Researchers surveyed a total of 240 households in each area through questionnaire and interviews, with questions focused on production, access, and consumption of crops and livestock, as well as food coping strategies. Additionally, researchers took anthropomorphic metrics of children under five years present in the household.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development defines “food insecurity” as “a situation that exists when people lack secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life.”
In both Tamale and Ouagadougou, the sharing of resources—such as at central markets—across the urban-rural continuum occurred, and the climate—erratic rains and poor soil—influenced crop production and migrant agriculture. Due to space constraints and city restrictions, urban dwellers tended to have less livestock and grew fewer crops than periurban and rural dwellers. In both areas, periurban children had a higher incidence of stunting. From here, the results varied according to the locality.
In Tamale, urban areas were the most food diverse, explained by the presence of food markets allowing access to a variety of food. Despite this access, urban areas were the most food insecure, lacking the fallback assurance of subsistence crops and livestock during times of food shortage. Some urban households reported severe coping strategies such as fasting the entire day and night, buying food on credit, or borrowing food during times of food shortage. Climate was also a factor in food security, with some city dwellers relocating to rural areas during the rainy season to farm and returning to urban areas during the dry season. The highest prevalence of stunting and wasting compared to other zones was in the periurban zone, this zone being a transition zone for many and often lacking infrastructure.
By contrast, in Ouagadougou, rural areas were the most food diverse, explained by subsistence farming and access to naturally growing plants. Periurban areas experienced the greatest food insecurity. While Tamale urban dwellers consumed more dark leafy greens than other Tamale zones due to access to markets, rural Ouagadougou dwellers consumed more dark leafy greens that grew nearby in the wild. Decreased crop yields due to poor quality seed caused food insecurity for those engaged in crop production near Ouagadougou. However, growing crops and keeping livestock was associated with reduced wasting.
Chagomaka reported that “food and nutrition insecurity certainly has a socio-spatial dimension that is highly influenced by the degree of urbanity along the urban-rural continuum and is related to urban, periurban and rural agriculture.” The study also revealed that coping strategies vary across zones and locality. Based on the report’s findings, policy recommendations are specific to each locality but might include increased microfinance of small businesses and trading cooperatives, improved access to land for women, increased vegetable farming, climate-smart agriculture, better irrigation to protect the water supply from pesticides and waste, and increased agriculture in urban and buffer zones. “The acknowledgment of the concept of an urban-rural continuum in urban planning is critical in addressing the challenges faced by urban dwellers, especially food and nutrition insecurity,” found Chagomaka.