Urban farms in Lagos – a feasible proposal?

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By Tolu Ogunlesi, URB.im

I recently attended the launch of an exhibition at the Goethe Institute’s Lagos office, on the “Post-Oil City”, drawing on efforts from all around the world to create cities that have tamed the traditional hunger for fossil fuels. Some of them are brand new cities (like Masdar in Abu Dhabi), others are existing cities trying to make changes (Curitiba, Brazil, which in 1974 launched the world’s first BRT system).

Looking through the post-oil city exhibition material I found an interesting discussion, by architect Carolin Mees, on urban gardening in New York.

So I learnt that there are now as many as 700 “community gardens” in the city, covering about 800,000 sq m, and that half of them used for agriculture. These gardens are to be found on roofs, balconies, window boxes, and in areas adjoining water bodies. I also learnt that a third of the 2 million farms – contributing about a third of America’s consumption of fruit, vegetables, chicken and fish – are located in cities.

For me that bit about actively producing food within a busy city is counter-intuitive thinking. I’ve never considered the possibility of ambitious farming projects in the Lagos I know, of ‘bumper-to-bumper’ traffic and a penchant for recklessly replacing open space with ever-increasing amounts of concrete.

And then it started to sound quite sensible. There are obvious land shortages, no doubt. Lagos is hungry for land, and its real estate prices are some of the highest in the world.

But with some innovative thinking it might be possible to grow a decent amount of food within the city; congested as it might seem.

How about if, for example, the state government mandated the city’s growing number of high-rises to reserve their rooftops for use as gardens? Lagos is still a very ‘low-rise’ city, and over the next decade we will be seeing remarkable transformation (it’s already started), as high-rises replace all those bungalows and storey-buildings. Just what if all of those rising blocks were designed to be ‘capped’ with rooftop farms?

There are also the vacant plots across the city. Perhaps there might be an opportunity to lease them for short-term agriculture, while their owners take their time deciding what they want to do with the land? (This might also apply to disputed land – especially considering how common land disputes are in Lagos. While the wheels of justice are grinding ever so unhurriedly, how about putting the land to productive use?)

Since Lagos land charges are generally quite high, there’s an opportunity somewhere in there to devise an incentivisation scheme for property owners. Owners of buildings and plots who sign up for the ‘Lagos State Urban Agriculture Scheme’ (LASUAS) can get generous discounts or waivers on one or more of the fees the state government imposes on property owners.

And then there are the city’s parks and gardens (in 2011 the State Government established an office to oversee them). The government says there are now as many as 180 of them across the city. Many of them stay empty most of the time, how about if the government converted parts of them into farming plots?

The idea would be to target a certain output of food per annum. The idea shouldn’t be to earn more money for the government (in any case the proceeds from those gardens might not even offset the discounts offered on property taxes to owners) but instead to achieve a number of goals:

  • Serve as some kind of welfare scheme focusing on the city’s poorest. Produce from the farms could be dedicated to feeding projects for slum inhabitants or the homeless.
  • Provide educational value: as sites for primary and secondary school student excursions and teaching expeditions
  • Provide jobs: farmhands, salespersons, etc.
  • Support a research ‘ecosystem’ – with this concept I imagine there will be increased research aimed at finding out what varieties of crops might be best suited to the cityscape, or at creating new brands of biofertilisers.

What do you think? Does this sound doable? I’d be happy to hear your comments.

This article originally appeared at www.urb.im, on 01/31/2014.

Tolu Ogunlesi is a blogger and communications consultant. He has written for the Financial Times, Al Jazeera, the UK Guardian, and CNN.com. In 2009 he was awarded a CNN/Multichoice African Journalism Award. Ogunlesi worked as Features Editor and as a member of the editorial board at NEXT Newspaper between 2009 and 2011, and currently writes a weekly column for The Punch newspaper. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

About FutureLagos

Olamide Udoma is a researcher, writer and filmmaker holding degrees in BSc Architecture, MA Design and MPhil Infrastructure Management. Olamide has worked in London, South Africa and Nigeria with various organisations focusing on transport management, slum upgrading and housing rights in urbanising African cities. At Our Future Cities NPO, she is the Lagos manager and editor.