Malnutrition is rapidly rising in the world’s developing countries, with a particularly dramatic effect on the world’s urban poor; their access to locally grown nutrient-rich foods is extremely limited. This trend is evident across Africa, where chronic undernourishment increased 16 percent to 200 million people from 1990 to 2000. The number of those impacted continued to rise through 2010 – affecting entire populations who survive on single-source sustenance such as rice. And although malnutrition is certainly an issue for the entire continent, urban populations are particularly hard-hit, because they have limited access to nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables.
Increased awareness of the role of vegetables in combating malnutrition has turned to action as more urban dwellers use these food sources to balance their diets. As crucial sources of Vitamin A and micronutrients such as iron and zinc, vegetables can help promote better health for urban residents. To satisfy the growing demand, more urbanites are turning to the garden crops market (farmed land that is less than one-third of a hectare) for access to locally grown vegetables. As demand for vegetables continues to increase, it is expected that peri-urban agriculture will be placed under additional pressure to increase local supplies.
To address this trend, IFDC implemented the Africa Fertilizer Efficiency Program in Sub-Saharan Africa. The program was an agricultural intensification effort targeting peri-urban farmers who can supply increased vegetable yields to local markets. Targeted smallholder farmers with fields immediately adjoining urban areas were trained by IFDC in new farming technologies and the proper use of quality agro-inputs.
The program dramatically increased yields of targeted crops while building soil nutrient levels to more acceptable levels. The effort also increased vegetable quality, while building linkages and incomes for smallholder farmers. The project’s first phase focused on increasing farmer capacities and incomes through improved resource use efficiency.
Initial field trials were performed throughout 2009 in Bujumbura, Burundi; Kigali, Rwanda; and Ashiaman, a suburb of Accra, Ghana. The trials evaluated high-quality agro-inputs such as fertilizer and hybrid varieties of seed as well as technologies that promote crop intensification.
In 2010, local and regional farmers were actively involved in the project as both implementers and performance evaluators and understood the potential benefits of the project. Prior to this intervention, soil nutrient deficiencies required farmers to apply three- to eight-times more fertilizer to vegetable crops than to other food crops. With improved technologies and agro-inputs, crop yields substantially increased, resulting in dramatically increased vegetable supplies to local urban markets.