Little space but still want to start farming? Sacks and towers to the rescue of urban farmers

Little space but still want to start farming? Sacks and towers to the rescue of urban farmers

24/11/2021
in News
Ine Tollenaers
Ine Tollenaers
Regional Communication Officer
Arusha

When thinking about cities, the last thing that comes to mind is farming. However, with cities like Kampala booming, growing fruits and vegetables within the city boundaries has the potential to offer households a greener environment, better nutrition and an increased income. But is there space enough in the city? With simple technologies like sack gardens and food towers, space is not even needed!

In Kampala, the booming capital of the Pearl of Africa, space is very limited and households often lack access to healthy and safe food. To address these challenges, Rikolto, the Kampala Capital City Authority and UN Environment Programme are promoting urban farms with five technologies that are fit for limited spaces. We have trained 50 model farmers to promote urban farming with the help of these technologies and also to spread awareness about food safety in their communities. Urban farming can also support poorer families to put food on the table, contributing to food security and high-nutritious diets.

Kampala Food Smart City

Kampala Food Smart City

This urban farming project in Kampala is a collaboration between Rikolto, KCCA and UNEP. The project and its activities fit well within the Rikolto’s Food Smart City initiative in Kampala. Explore all details and updates related to Kampala Food Smart City – including everything related to urban farming via the link below.

Explore Kampala Food Smart City

Two of the technologies require very little investment and space: sack gardens and food towers. These two technologies fall into the category of ‘vertical gardening’, which limits the amount of space a farmer needs. Even with just one square metre of space, vegetables in a sack garden can flourish.

As the term itself suggests, a sack garden is a way of growing vegetables in a sack. By perforating holes in the sack, the planting area is expanded. To prepare a sack, it just needs to be filled with soil and manure with a column of stones or aggregates in the middle to allow water to flow all the way from top to bottom to reach all the plants. The size of the sack will determine how many plants can be planted in it. A bigger sized bag with 50 kg of soil can host up to 50 plants and the only space you need is the little one occupied by the sack! Due to its simple yet smart irrigation system, vegetables can be planted and grown all year round.

A food tower is another vertical farming technique or technology. It is very similar to a sack garden, but is a semi-permanent structure that requires a bit more space and soil. Just like a sack garden, the food tower consists of a mixture of soil and manure surrounding a column of stones or aggregates for irrigation. Instead of a sack, the soil mixture is enclosed in wire mesh supported by wooden or metallic poles. The food tower has a radius of 2.5 feet and 5 feet high. A food tower can accommodate up to 250 plants, depending on the type of vegetable grown. Just as the sack garden, the key benefits are the little space needed and all-year round growing of vegetables.

Mukulungu Peace has invited Rikolto and KCCA to come have a look at her garden. She is one of the model farmers in Nakawa division who promotes sack gardens and food towers in her community. She’s an inspiring and energetic woman that passionately tells her story about urban farming and the close connection to food safety. “Every time I pass by the local markets in Kampala, I am appalled by the low food safety standards. I see vendors washing the vegetables with water so that they look clean and attractive to customers, but they wash them in unclean sewage water. They might look clean, but the health risks posed by eating these vegetables as actually higher. Personally, I pick out the dirtiest looking vegetables on the market, so that I am certain they are not washed with dirty water. (laughs)”

However, Mukulungu Peace’s story is rather unique. Most consumer in Kampala inherently link quality and food safety to the good looks of the product. For 43% of consumers in Kampala, physical appearance is the most important cue used to judge the quality of fresh fruits and vegetables. Sack gardens and food towers can provide solutions to increase at-home production and consumption of fresh vegetables, and hence improve the health of the consumer by limiting the intake of unsafe food. “I started producing vegetables for my own consumption, but now I am also selling in the neighbourhood. When I sell my products, I inform the consumer about food safety standards to increase awareness about the risks in the community. Right now, even my young children are well aware of food safety risks, and they have become interested in urban farming since the lockdown. Because of covid-19, schools have closed in Uganda, but my children are nonetheless learning a lot about food and farming at home.”