Planting for food and jobs: home gardening a solution?

I remember with a smile the days when as children, we were eager to irrigate our plants at the backyard. We were like the inspectors, monitoring to report the slightest growth indicated. The education syllabus contributed also to our eagerness, stud are so many fond memories of our backyard gardening days, it was also because we were a lot of mouths to feed in Ghana and the number continues to rise. With an annual population growth rate of 3.5%, Ghana’s population is expected to reach 35 million sometime later in 2025. It does make sense to consider the challenge of our population growth and the food security needs.

History has shown that gardening can be an important and practicable part of a secure, healthy, and sustainable food supply system. A classic example is the recognition by the government of the United States   that homegrown food was an important way to ensure an adequate food supply during World War II.

The government then encouraged the planting of victory gardens at the local, state, and federal levels. Through this initiative, it was estimated that 20 million victory gardens were planted in 1943, which produced 8 million tons of food, and an estimated 40% of all the fresh vegetables in the United States.

Gardening can enhance food security in several ways, most importantly through: direct access to a diversity of nutritionally-rich foods; increased purchasing power from savings on food bills and income from sales of garden products, and fall-back food provision during seasonal lean periods.

Gardens have an established tradition and offer great potential for alleviating micronutrient deficiencies. A well-developed home garden for example has the potential to supply most of the non-staple foods that a family needs every day of the year, including roots and tubers, vegetables and fruits, legumes, herbs and spices. According to Food Nutritionists, roots and tubers are rich in energy while legumes are important sources of protein, fat, iron and vitamins. Green leafy vegetables and fruits provide essential vitamins and minerals; particularly folate, and vitamins A, E and C. Vegetables and fruits are a vital component of a healthy diet and should be eaten as part of every meal.

Gardening has also been proven to be one good source to guarantee food security especially during seasonal lean seasons. Produce from our gardens are most at times untouchable unless we are in dire need of them and those times are normally when they are scarce on the market. This ensures that there is always a food source to fall-back in times as when market prices are high which can help relieve government the burden of ensuring the availability of such food crops on the market all year round.

It must be emphasized that not only does gardening provide food security at individual or family level but also at the community and national levels. Roots and tubers, vegetables and fruits cultivated from home gardens are sometimes sold in the neighborhood or in the market to raise income to supplement their budget.  Even though these produce are normally small, they go a long way to help provide food for all in the community.

LINKING GARDENING TO THE MARKETS- A VALUE CHAIN APPROACH

The greatest problem facing Ghana’s agric sector is the lack of an organized marketing system. A market system that offers value for small-holder farmers, If backyard farmers or gardeners realize that their produce have value in the market, they will obviously be encouraged to produce more for both the local and international markets.

Through the value chain approach, backyard farmers can be encouraged to organize themselves into associations to adopt a planned production system and produce based on contractual agreements with the buyers.

This will benefit both backyard farmers and the Ghanaian population’s food security needs in general. This strategy should also involve a closer collaboration between the backyard farmers and the buyers, input dealers and financial institutions in the value chain approach. To improve the position of backyard farmers in open air markets it should aim to build up chain partnership.

Traders and backyard farmers should be assisted to develop unique selling points, which consist basically of tailoring farm production to market demands. Other measures should include the support of quality management, production planning and product development (e.g. more tolerant varieties, packaging).

GARDENING IN GHANA

Even though gardening in cities in the country was quite low after independence, its importance was very much highlighted during General Kutu Acheampong’s regime. Findings from a research conducted by Mr. Kwaku Obosu-Mensah on “Changes In Official Attitudes Towards Urban Agriculture In Accra” indicated that many urban dwellers got involved in farming for the first time after General Acheampong’s military government introduced the Operation Feed Yourself initiative in 1972. Gardening became common in most Ghanaian homes then, to the extent that it became a cliché for having a concubine aside your wife or husband.

The report however noted that prior to 1972; the prestige of farming in the cities was kept on the low due to stringent government prohibitions to help maintain their beauty within colonial standards. The report further revealed that these negative attitudes of city officials towards urban agriculture stems from some public health, administrative and social impacts.  These included the effect the use of biocides for pest/disease control could have on human health, disregards for city planning codes and the socio-economic background of the farmers.

As a result of these factors, city officials have still done very little to promote gardening in the various cities of the country.

URBANIZATION AND FOOD SECURITY----------THE ROLE OF GARDENING

In the global economic downturn where food insecurity has increased due to soaring food prices, backyard and community gardens are some of the most basic survival strategies.

According to Urban Agriculture and Food for the Cities based in the United States, home gardens have become an increasingly important source of food and income for poor households in peri-urban and urban areas.

In spite of the numerous benefits home gardening provides in ensuring food security, this important life skill seems to be non-existent in most of our cities. Majority of homes in our cities nowadays do not have backyard gardens as compared to two decades ago. All these backyards have been cleared to provide accommodation for the ever increasing urban population demand.

What is very worrying is the growing trend of clearing fertile virgin lands outside the cities for building purposes. There have been recent reports in a section of the media indicating a “mad rush” for the purchase of lands by estates developers in the West Region after the oil discovery in the region. These developers are not to be blamed as they are envisaging an accommodation deficit in the near future due to the oil boom as being experience in Accra. Moreover people living in the Cosmopolitan cities normally have no or little time on their hands to spend on home gardening. 

These phenomena pose a threat to the country’s food security especially in urban areas which has experienced rapid population growth within the last one and half decade.

One important way to meet the huge demand for food in our cities is for all to recognize the need to vigorously pursue gardening. A backyard garden four times the size of an ordinary door, can supply a household of six people with fresh vegetables for a year. By replanting and ensuring that the ground is fertilized well, the four-door garden can be farmed fruitfully for years.

ROLE OF GOVERNMENT

Government therefore needs to create policies that will provide extensive gardening education to encourage people to turn public lands into gardens for people who could not grow their own food at home. City officials also have a major role to play by promoting urban agriculture through the enactment of laws and regulations to protect urban farmers and their crops.

Most importantly, we must utilize our airspace when expanding our buildings and rather turn our underutilized yards into food production gardens to help feed ourselves and families.

By so doing we will not only save money on food purchases and imports but also helps protect us and our families from the clutches of diseases. Of course, gardens will not solve the hunger problem alone but we also need to ensure that Ghanaians living in the citizen have the opportunity to learn how to grow their own food and a space to do it to ensure the country’s food security.