Cover Image
close this book Cities feeding people
close this folder Chapter 5. Ethiopia: urban farming, cooperatives, and the urban poor in Addis Ababa
View the document Significant findings of the research
View the document Implications for future government policy planning and management of urban agriculture

Chapter 5. Ethiopia: urban farming, cooperatives, and the urban poor in Addis Ababa

Axumite G. Egziabber

In Ethiopia, like many developing countries, the increasing concentration of population in the urban areas, coupled with drought, famine, and war, has put enormous pressure on food supply systems in both urban and rural areas. The preliminary report of the 1984 population and housing census (carried out by the Ethiopian Central Statistical Agency) shows that there were then 635 towns with a total population of 4.7 million. Comparing this value with that from 1975 (3.2 million people) shows an urban-population growth rate of 46.5% over a 9-year period. Addis Ababa accounted for 30.2% (1.4 million people) of the total urban population in 1984. From 1970 to 1984, the major urban areas in Ethiopia, including Addis Ababa, grew at 4% per year (Addis Ababa Master Plan Project Office, AAMPPO).

The study on industrial activities showed that, on average, 58% of establishments, 62% of employment, 61% of output, and 79% of the fixed assets of modern manufacturing activities (including medium- and large-scale industries) of the country were located in the Central Planning Region, of which Addis Ababa is a part (AAMPPO). It further indicated that 85% of those establishments and 83% of employment were located in Addis Ababa and its environs. Although the concentration of manufacturing activities in Addis Ababa is quite striking, employment opportunities seem minimal compared with the demand. For example, the 10-Year Perspective Plan projected that only 3 250 new industrial jobs were to be created in Addis Ababa in the period between 1984/85 and 1993/94.

The Wages and Work Organization Board has indicated that the urban minimum (subsistence) wage per family was 123.85 ETB/ month in October 1983 with 56.6% allocated for food and 43.4% for nonfood items (in 1993,12.26 Ethiopian birr (ETB) = 1 United States dollar (USD)). Although it seems that the Board probably overestimated the poverty line, it is clear that expenditures on food take up a large share of the family budget. Considering the income structure of the major urban areas at the time these figures were calculated, this means most urban dwellers can be legitimately categorized as urban poor.

The study of distribution of Addis Ababa households by income group conducted by AAMPPO in 1984 shows that about 60% of all the households in Addis Ababa were in the low-income bracket (that is, less than 200 ETB/month). In fact, a survey of 8 200 households in one of the upgrading areas in the central part of Addis Ababa in 1983, carried out by the Ecole technique superieure des municipalites, revealed that 65% of all heads of households in the area earned below 100 ETB/month. The predominance of households in this income group is crucial for policy formulation because nearly all those in this income group lack adequate food, shelter, and services. Lack of access to food that is adequate both in quality and quantity leads to problems of malnutrition and undernutrition.

Urban agriculture (UA) is defined as the practice of food production within a city boundary or on the immediate periphery of a city. It includes the cultivation of crops, vegetables, herbs, fruit, flowers, orchards, parks, forestry, fuelwood, livestock (cattle rearing for dairy products, sheep, goats, poultry, swine, and so forth), aquaculture, and bee-keeping. In this research, we use the term to mean one particular element in this category of production, that is, vegetable production within the city boundaries. Addis Ababa produces a considerable proportion of such perishable products for its own needs, while depending on more distant sources for its grains and staple foods.

Many of the urban development studies in developing countries concentrate on housing, urban services, and nonagricultural informal activities. However, they mainly exclude or give little attention to UA. Despite its existence and its ability to provide maintenance to the urban poor, UA has been underestimated and treated as an imperceptible temporary phenomenon. It has been disregarded by researchers and little understood by urban planners and decision-makers.

Indeed, it is possible that the real potential of UA to satisfy basic needs-that is, providing food (through improved production and distribution systems), income, employment, and environmental protection - and its role in the wider context of savings on transport costs, especially foreign currency savings for developing countries, has not been well understood. Despite the fact that there is no other issue that receives such consistent attention and priority as feeding people, the relation between the nutritional priority and the balance between sources-that is, imports, rural production, and urban production-is not clear.

UA is a traditional practice in Ethiopia. The urban-based population is used to keeping cattle, sheep, and chickens, or growing rainfed crops such as maize and vegetables, on the plots adjacent to their houses. This production is mainly for household consumption, with a small proportion for sale. Thus, although its overall contribution to the urban economy might be limited, UA makes a considerable contribution toward satisfying the basic needs of the urban population.

The Livestock and Fishery Corporation in the Ministry of State Farms runs dairy, sheep, and poultry farms in the city. Dairy husbandry and other agricultural activities, such as keeping poultry, bees, and swine, vegetable farms, and floriculture, are mostly carried out on an individual basis within a residential compound. Such UA activities appear to provide practical solutions to some of the major problems of shortage of income, poverty, unemployment, and food insecurity faced by the urban low-income population. However, information on these activities is scanty. Thus it was apparent, at the beginning of the research, that all empirical work in this field must necessarily be exploratory, not only because of the problem of definition but also because of lack of adequate statistics on important aspects of the phenomenon.

A survey of household consumption of vegetables in Addis Ababa in 1983 showed that 17% of the 1 352 surveyed households produced their own vegetables (Hormann and Shawel 1985). It also indicated that the area under cultivation in all income categories was usually less than 25 m². Cultivation was not the only means of survival for those households, however. The reason for cultivation is not clearly indicated in the study, but about 90% of those who were not cultivating stated their reason as lack of access to land.

During the field survey for this research, about 1.25% (about 274 ha) of the urban land in Addis Ababa was occupied by five vegetable producers' cooperatives, using irrigated cultivation beside the rivers Gefersa, Tinishu Akaki, Tiliku Akaki, Kebena, and Bulbula and other small streams in the city:

- Mekanissa, Furi and Saris Cooperative;

- Kefetegna 24 and 25 Cooperative;

- Shankilla River Cooperative;

- Keranio Medhane Alem (or Kefetegna 24) Cooperative; and

- Kebena Bulbula Cooperative.

These cooperatives are involved in intensive farming and are usually located on the banks of small rivers, using natural waterfalls or intake canals, with production destined mainly for the local market and a small amount for household consumption. During the survey, the five cooperatives had about 485 members. Taking an average household size to be 5.2, this means that the livelihood of about 0.18% of the population of Addis Ababa depends solely or wholly on vegetable production.

This research is intended to investigate and explain the character and role of UA in Addis Ababa. In particular, it explores the situation when UA is the only means of survival. Thus, the major objectives of the research were:

- To focus attention on a relatively neglected, but potentially significant, area of concern for urban development planning and management;

- To present evidence on patterns of migration and on the role of UA in the survival process of migrant households;

- To analyze the production and management organization of UA cooperatives and their implications for understanding UA as an activity and a distinctive process in household survival;

- To examine the income, employment, and consumption effects of UA on cooperatives and individual households;

- To analyze the structure and division of labour within low-income urban farmer households; and

- To examine the effect of UA on urban poverty in general.

Here, the household is taken as the main source of information as it is assumed that only the household can be in a position to know and consider all the relevant factors (at the level of the household and external to it) that affect its cultivation and investment decisions. As formation of the cooperative is also taken as one of the urban farmers' survival strategies, the process of the cooperative's production and distribution is analyzed based on the data from the records of the cooperative and interviews with the executive committee members of the cooperative.

The research deals not only with individual households producing vegetables for themselves, as is the case in most of the existing literature, but also with the combination of the household and the cooperative system of organization in UA survival strategies. The research base is exclusively an investigation of this combined household-cooperative structure; the literature suggests that this kind of situation has never been investigated. Therefore, the originality of the investigation lies in the fact that it is not adding another case of UA in another city but is introducing something qualitatively different. The study exposes at least one case in which there is another kind of UA activity, that is, "combined" household-cooperative urban farming, rather than the individual household itself.

The research is based on a survey of a sample of members of one of the vegetable producers' cooperatives-the Mekanissa, Saris, and Furi Producers' Cooperative, and detailed case histories of a representative sample of 30 member households. At the time of the study, 242 heads of households were members of this cooperative. Of these, 17% were women who replaced their husbands over the years for various reasons including death, illness, or separation; 83% were male. With a total population of 1 727, the average household size can thus be taken to be 7.1. Of the total population, 52% were males and 48% were females.

The total population of the selected sample of households was 282 during the survey period, and a little more than 50% of these were males. The size of the households varied from a minimum of 5 to a maximum of 16. Generally, the household members included the head of household, who in most cases was the husband, his wife, children, and other relatives living within the household. The household members who were considered as relatives constituted slightly less than 20% of the total population of the surveyed households.

A little fewer than 25% of the surveyed household members were under the age of 10 years, slightly more than 33% were aged 10-19 years, nearly 40% were 20-64 years, and nearly 3% were 65 years and above. The age structure shows that the population of the selected households is characterized by a high proportion of young people, which might be taken to indicate a strong potential manpower supply but also implies high consumption needs and other social requirements.