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Urban farming in Tanzania

Submitted by Nitya Jacob 21st November 2022 7:09
uraban farming

Urban farming in Tanzani


The importance of urban agriculture in Tanzania has been highlighted in several recent studies. It is an integral part of the urban economy, and a common and widespread practice. It is found in most towns and cities. It include livestock for meat, milk and poutry. Urban dwellers are compelled to undertake urban agriculture because of the adverse economic circumstances and urban farmers are a complex mix of social groups. Poor urban women have taken up urban farming in a big way. 

Local context

There are local contexts for urban farming.

  • A favourable government attitude for urban farming. The government’s policy of encouraging urban dwellers to produce their own food in urban areas was found to be an important reason for keeping livestock in town. Many officials also practice urban farming. Urban bylaws are also lax and the agriculture ministry supports the practice.
  • The economic context. The poor performance of the economy, low wages and lack of employment opportunities prompted people to take up urban agriculture.
  • The infrastructure context. Most cities or towns had open spaces where farming could be practiced. The access to makets was easy through good roads for both getting raw material and selling produce. Extension services were present and accessible.
  • Cultural context. Many of the residents of towns and cities retained strong rural roots. Many ethnic groups also practiced a particular form of agriculture such as crop cultivation or fishing.

Crop production systems

  1. Home-garden production. Home-garden production, or backyard farming, involves farming in people’s compounds. Plots are usually small to very small. One can distinguish at least one other aspect of sustainability of urban agriculture, namely the linkages with other urban economic sectors. On the input side, urban farmers need to buy supplies in the form of tools, seeds and seedlings, fertilisers, pesticides, medicines, etc. The sellers of these inputs wholly or partly depend for their employment and income on these supplies. On the output side, the transport sector benefits from urban farming because a substantial part of the produce is sold. A whole trading sector exists providing employment and income for those involved. Indirectly, the municipality, too, can benefit through the raising of taxes and the selling of licences. Unfortunately, no study, has ever covered these topics. Depending on the housing density of the area and production is mainly used for home consumption. Selling part of one’s produce occurs more frequently when plots are bigger. Mostly women are responsible for the production.
  2. Open-space cultivation concerns crop cultivation in open areas within or very near to a builtup area. A wide variety of open spaces exist, varying in location and size. On average, however, these plots are bigger than the home gardens. Most of the land is owned by either institutions or the government but the people cultivating it do not pay rent. Production is mainly for commercial purposes and is dominated by men. In 2000, almost 650 hectares of open space in Dar es Salaam were being used for vegetable production. It is estimated that at least half of the leafy vegetables on sale in Dar es Salaam markets are grown on these open spaces (Jacobi 1997).
  3. Peri-urban production is farming in the areas between built-up areas and the municipal boundary. Periurban plots are much larger than the open spaces and production is mainly commercial

Number of HHs farming
Number of households farming in Tanzania

Issues faced

Although there are differences according to production system and town, the most common problems are pests and diseases, water shortages and input expenses. Other problems that were frequently mentioned, especially by the open-space and periurban farmers, concerned the availability of inputs (like chicken manure), the labour involved in watering, low market prices and transport costs.

The impact

In a study in Dar es Salaam and Dodoma, respondents were asked to indicate their first and second most important household income sources. For 73% of the households in the Mbuyuni area of Dar es Salaam, gardening was their second income source. The same applied to 17% of the households in another area in Dar called Manzese. In Dodoma, 28% of the households mentioned gardening as their first income source, while 20% said poultry was their second income source. All these figures seem to confirm the figure mentioned by the government, that 28% of urban households derive their income from agricultural production.

Livestock is even more important as an income source than crop cultivation. Several studies have indicated that the majority of urban livestock keepers are involved in this practice to alleviate poverty. 

Urban farming has expanded enormously over the past two decades due to the economic crises in most African countries. For the poor, food security is usually the main motivation for farming in town, and for some it is even a survival strategy. Nevertheless, many of the poor sell some of their produce, partly to be able to afford other basic household needs but also because some crops are perishable and cannot be stored and/or because storage space is not available.

For middle-income and high income households, commercial considerations are usually more important than among the poor, although the consumption of selfproduced vegetables and milk is often highly valued. But for most of these households, the primary reason for selling produce is the same as for the poor, namely “to subsidise my income”, as is often stated by the farmers themselves.

Many of the African urban farmers are women, particularly in eastern and southern Africa. Traditionally in most parts of Africa, women are responsible for household food provision, and farming is relatively easy to combine with the care of children. Women also often have lower educational levels than men, so it is difficult for them to compete in a shrinking labour market. Farming may thus be the only option left to them when faced with unemployment and poverty. Several studies have found that the number of female-headed households is disproportionately high among urban farmers.

It has also been shown that most recent migrants rarely practise urban farming: a person has to be settled and have access to various networks to be able to gain access to land for cultivation. The crops grown are mostly basic food crops such as maize, beans, cassava, sorghum, rice and yams. A wide range of vegetables is cultivated as well, some of which are sold because of their perishability and because there is a ready market. Some urban farmers grow crops such as tomatoes, spinach and lettuce solely for commercial purposes but this is more common in western Africa than in eastern and southern Africa. Tree crops are not commonly found due to the uncertainty of land tenure that many urban farmers experience. 

In Tanzania, urban agriculture is undertaken for both subsistence and commercial purposes and has evolved to the point where it is regarded as a survival strategy for the urban poor and an economic imperative for wealthier households. It is seen as especially important for lowincome households and for female-headed households in particular. The gender aspect is thought to be important because land and title deeds to land are less easily accessible to women and they are also less likely to use modern farming techniques and/or inputs.