We want to accelerate the use of high-yield and soilless urban gardening that is capable to supply healthy and affordable food to citizens.
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Abomey-Calavi is a big city in the southern part of the republic of Benin. The city provides a good context to implement our vision because of the prevailing urbanization process that makes it a good case in improving urban food systems in Benin. Indeed, the urbanization process undergoing comes with the triple burden of malnutrition. The triple burden of malnutrition is characterized by the coexistence of undernutrition, obesity and micronutrient deficiency. The malnutrition is also correlated with diet-related noncommunicable diseases, within individuals, households and populations, and across the life course. By looking at the causes, evidence shows that the challenge of malnutrition could be dealt, especially in the long term, with if there is a shift in diets and therefore, an improvement of urban food systems. Congruently, the experience learns that an improvement of urban food systems requires that healthy foods are available and affordable, as a first input in food supply; hence, the necessity that cities take matters in their own hands and produce food within urban and peri-urban areas. Therefore, we recently supported the development of urban allotment gardens in Abomey-Calavi with a two-fold objective: using allotments as a policy-intervention to support urban poor in improving their livelihoods and as a source of provision of healthy food to citizens; hence, our relationship with the densely urbanizing city of Abomey-Calavi.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
An aerial view of the municipality of Abomey-Calavi
The municipality of Abomey-Calavi covers an area of 539 square kilometers and hosts 656,358 inhabitants in 2013; this number doubled what it was a decade ago (2002-2013). There are 11 public and 90 private hospitals; they report an increasing number of non-communicable diseases due to diets (heart attack, stroke). The schooling rate is high (more than 90 per cent) though, there is an increasing number of dropouts. Prevailing economic activities are motorbike-taxi, commerce, craftsmen (barber, tailor, carpenter, welder and others) and agriculture. The incidence of human poverty in 2013 was 30% and there was in 2017 between 5-10% of food insecure people. In Abomey-Calavi, 5% of the population is working in the agricultural sector. Specifically, there are 6,298 agricultural households in total; 638 of them are headed by women. Of the total households, about 98% are in crops production; the remaining is in husbandry (1%) and aquaculture (1%). The dominant crops produced in the periphery of the municipality are maize and cassava while vegetables are the main crops (tomato, chilli pepper, amarantus, etc.) within the city. The dominant ethnic group in the municipality is Aïzo, followed by other ethnic groups such as the Fon, Toffin, Yoruba, Nagot, Goun. The most widely practiced religions are Christianism, traditional religions, and Islam, respectively.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
The food system of Abomey-Calavi currently faces six main challenges that are likely to hold in the next 30 years. First, the food system faces the challenge of food safety. Indeed, the specific feature, in terms of food security, of urban areas is that urban dwellers depend on the market system to access food. Thus, they are exposed to highly processed foods to cover their food needs which, are not safe for citizens. Second, the food system faces a change in diets. Indeed, the urbanization process brings a change in food culture because citizens are more exposed to imported foods than local foods, especially with the emergence of distribution stores within cities. The latter brings out the third challenge of the food system which is more globalized than localized. Simply put, supermarkets, due to the price competition, specialize and sell more of imported foods than locally produced foods. Two reasons might explain the lack of distribution of local foods. The first reason that forms the fourth challenge is the lack of land to produce and supply the food chains where distribution stores would be connected to food producers for regular food supply. The second reason is the lack of technology to improve food productivity and produce more in a small space. The lack of technology, therefore, forms the fifth challenge that the food system faces because technology can successfully deal with lack of land and nicely help producers to leverage the market opportunity that exist in the food value chains. Last, the food system faces the challenge of lack of legal framework that is important to improve the efficiency of food vale chains. Indeed, policies are powerful tools to regulate food import and consumption and improve the level of competition of locally produced foods.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
The vision is to make food healthy and affordable for everyone by accelerating the use of high-yield and soilless urban gardening. The vision addresses the six interconnected themes – Environment, Diets, Economics, Culture, Technology, and Policy – as follows. First, the vision promotes a solution that recycles water with high efficiencies (70 to 90% savings of water, Sharma et al. 2018) whilst largely outperforming soil-based crop systems in production capacity per area (7 times larger compared to soil production, Somerville 2017). Its characteristics also reduce biodiversity risks and water pollution by reducing fertilizer use (15% of soil-based production, Somerville 2017). The implementation of the solution also reduces the emissions of speciﬁc greenhouse gas by 52% compared to soil cultivation thereby, reducing health risks from air pollution and habitat conversion (Martinez-Mate et al. 2018). Second, the solution promoted is developed as an urban garden which, has proven impacts on the number of meals eaten per day and on diets enrichment (Houessou et al. forthcoming). Next, the vision triggers a better organization of the food system which would increase incomes of producers and food distribution stores; hence a nice contribution to local economy. Furthermore, the vision projects a city where local foods are readily accessible at affordable prices. The implication of such envisioned picture is that diets are based on local foods and the culture of people regarding food consumption integrates their own needs and the thriving of locally developed food system.
Moreover, allocation of allotment or home gardens in urban and peri-urban areas is currently seriously restricted by increasing land prices and scarcity of soil and water resources, while longer distances to remote areas creates safety issues for, especially, women. Hence, restriction of urban gardens affects both food security and environmental amenities which, urgently calls for an innovative approach in urban gardening. The vision, therefore, proposes a solution that can provide a viable answer because the suggested production system requires relatively cheap material, low skills and little space to succeed. Such technology is thought to be cheaper for easy adoption by producers that form the first component to make the whole food system work. Furthermore, the vision foresees a bold intervention from policies in terms of food control and distribution. Indeed, the low enforcement of food control of food imported recently increased the quantity of unsafe foods within supermarkets in the city and country. Yet, there is a political will to support new production systems and make food systems work in the country in general. Hence, the vision aims to provide policies with evidence-informed solutions to help them make decisions regarding food import control and promotion of local foods in the country. It is expected that such policy interventions have spill over effects on the success of our vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for 2050.
The vision and enclosed solution are co-created with stakeholders: urban gardeners, policymakers, practitioners in the food system of the city. Discussions with stakeholders led to the conclusion that food production component should be improved if the city aims to promote healthy and affordable foods to citizens, reduce imported foods and render the food system sustainable. In addition, improving the production system must be done with the constraint of lack of land and therefore, the efficiency of water and fertilizer usage. The vision is therefore informed by relevant stakeholders who would play an active for its success. By co-creating with the community, the vision has the potential to ignite a movement where policymakers would create the legal framework to entice the investment of private sector especially for the fact that the vision employs a systemic approach that includes every components of the same value chain. The vision is also game-changing as it aims to change the structure of the food system and use concrete and feasible technology and policy to create a new food system that fosters consumption of local foods and boots local economy.
The vision also nicely addresses the six above-described challenges faced by the food system as follows. First, producing local foods is proved to significantly improve food safety and quality. Indeed, imported foods follow a long chain of storage that negatively impacts the quality and safety of foods; hence, the promotion of local foods. Second, promoting the consumption of local foods is likely to influence the diets of local populations because it is proven that food availability and access is likely to have influence on how the diets change. Third, by helping producers to produce and supply regularly food distribution stores, the food system would become more localized than globalized. Furthermore, by improving the production system and using soilless system, producers would improve their productivity and sustainably contribute to the thriving of the food system. Last, policymakers would play a central role in the success of the vision because they have the ability to influence the whole system from the promotion of soilless system to the consumption of local foods, which would sustainably increase the income of producers and improve safe food consumption among citizens.