Planning for Resilient, Nourishing, and Generative African Urban Landscapes

Planning for Resilient, Nourishing, and Generative African Urban Landscapes

Résumé en français

Le processus d'urbanisation de l'Afrique requiert une bien grande attention. Dans les villes africaines, l'insécurité alimentaire augmente tout comme d'autres maladies liées à l'alimentation. Les villes sont rarement considérées comme des lieux où l'on peut agir pour changer les systèmes alimentaires. La manière dont les populations des villes africaines sont nourries, et bien nourries, est l'un des principaux défis du développement de l'Afrique. L'urbanisation de l'Afrique diffère des cycles d'urbanisation antérieurs. En effet, c’est seulement maintenant que la plupart des villes africaines se construit et beaucoup d’entre elles de manière informelle. Alors que la transition démographique de l'Afrique s'accélère, les urbanistes et les architectes paysagistes disposent d'une marge de manœuvre très étroite pour éviter de créer des dépendances au sentier insurmontables. Au cours des deux prochaines décennies, les infrastructures, vertes ou non, construites dans les villes, détermineront les futures trajectoires de développement de l'Afrique pour le siècle à venir. L'alimentation offre un angle unique pour façonner les multiples paysages qui composent la ville. Le présent article appelle à utiliser une approche systémique pour aborder les questions de paysages comestibles et de villes nourricières. Il traite de l'urgence d'intégrer l'alimentation dans les domaines plus larges de la gouvernance, de la conception et de l'activisme au niveau urbain, de manière systématique, en s'opposant aux approches actuelles cloisonnées et axées sur les projets. Une éventuelle manière d’encourager et d’entretenir des paysages urbains africains résilients, nourrissants et génératifs consiste à les planifier et à les concevoir en tenant compte de la sensibilité et de la spécificité alimentaires.

Africa’s urbanisation process requires far greater consideration. Food insecurity in African cities is increasing, as are other diet-related diseases. Cities are seldom seen as sites through which food systems change can be actioned. How African cities are fed, and well fed, is one of Africa’s key development challenges. Africa’s urbanisation differs from earlier urbanisation cycles. Most African cities are only now being built; many remain largely informal. As Africa’s demographic transition gathers pace, urban designers, and landscape architects, have a very narrow window to avoid creating intractable path dependencies. Infrastructure, green or otherwise, built in cities over the next two decades, will determine the future development trajectories of Africa for the next century. Food offers a unique lens to engage the multiple landscapes that comprise the city. This paper calls for a systemic approach when engaging questions of edible landscapes and feeding cities. This paper discusses the urgency for integrating food across wider urban governance, design, and activist domains, in systematic ways, countering current project-orientated and siloed approaches. One possible pathway to support and nurture resilient, nourishing, and generative African urban landscapes is through food sensitive and food specific planning and urban landscape design. Key words: Africa’s urban transition, Urban food systems, Food sensitive planning and design; urban systems.


African cities face a significant food security challenge.

[1] Historically, for colonial administrators in Africa, the notion of a hungry and food insecure city was the cause of much anxiety.[2] Such anxieties influenced urban governance, planning and design. [3] The overarching motivation of such design was not health and development, it was about ensuring a fed, but passive urban workforce.Concerns over the optimal nourishment of the workforce attracted little attention. [4] Creating a nourishing urban landscape was not a policy focus, neither was this necessarily part of practice, unless in specific designated or“permitted” areas or zones. As agriculture more generally became mechanised, industrialised, and as food became a commodity, the role of African city/local governments in the food system receded. In Africa structural adjustment changes and associated challenges shifted urban food focus away from the work of city or local governments. This retreat from and urban food focus were often the result of post independent states grappling with a shrinking public service, and the privatisation of many aspects of urban life. [5] Consequently, agriculture and food provision became the mandate of national or provincial/regional governments, with associated powers and fiscal allocations.

Food governance in cities was relegated to issues of control and sanitary health – policing, rather than planning and governing for nourishing landscapes.

Such “food as rural” [6] perspectives present challenging policy and design questions considering Africa’s rapidly transforming urbanisation profile.

Africa is urbanising at a rapid pace. Africa’s urban transition presents challenges, but also opportunities. The scale of Africa’s urbanisation is unprecedented. [7]However, given the low base, the African city of 2030, and beyond is “yet to be cast in concrete”. [8] The infrastructure and associated governance processes required to meet this growth are yet to be agreed.

 This animates the notion of creating nourishing, edible urban landscapes. There is areal urgency though. Taken together, the Eat Lancet Report [9] and the International Resource Panel, Weight of Cities Report [10] show how the longer term ecological and climate change related challenges presented by both cities and the global food system will determine our future as a society. For Africa,

“The demographic clock is ticking and the next two to three decades will define the urban transition on the continent… This assumes greater urgency for Africa because the urban transition of the next few decades will be formative of future developmental opportunities on the continent” [8], pg. 151

The intersection between food and the urban transition sits are the heart of the challenge that this paper seeks to engage. The articulation of “landscape” is used in a broader sense, spanning the entire urban food landscape, or “foodscape,” not just productive landscapes. This wider frame is used as it highlights the centrality of planning and design, and specifically landscape design, in seeking to enable edible, nourishing urban African landscapes at the intersection between two dominant global transitions – Africa’s urban transition and the food system transition.

The paper begins with an overview of the state of food insecurity in select African cities, it then highlights the urgency of addressing the urban and food system transitions in a more sustainable manner. These challenges lay the foundation for an argument in favour of a concept termed food sensitive planning and urban design (FSPUD). FSPUD is used as a wider governance and planning frame to stress that without such overarching governance approaches, efforts to develop and nurture edible, nourishing, landscapes run the risk of remaining project orientated. Missed in most development interventions is the proactive focus on enabling systemic processes, processes that alter form, practice, and governance. Africa has a unique opportunity to (re)cast its future. Specifically given that Africa’s future is an urban future.

The changing nature of the urban food challenge

In African cities food and nutrition insecurity is high and increasing, as are other diet-related diseases. [11] Until recently this phenomenon has gone largely unnoticed, perhaps disregarded, by policymakers and the global development community. [12] Surveys conducted in 2007 in predominantly poor urban areas of eleven cities in nine African countries found elevated levels of measured food insecurity. [1]

Seventy percent of survey respondents were found to be food insecure.

Food insecurity manifests in many ways, and these challenges are evident in cities. Later food security surveys conducted in a variety of African cities between 2015 and 2018 provide a sense of the state of food insecurity across different regions (See Table 1).

Table 1: Food and nutrition technical assistance (FANTA) aligned food security results - period 2015 - 2018

Historically informed governance architectures, colonial legacies [2] and a distinct rural bias [14] mean that responses to food insecurity, responses that could generate nourishing landscapes, remain locked in predominantly rural, production-oriented interventions. Cities are not seen as sites of opportunity for food and/or nutrition -oriented development. When cities are considered, most urban food and nutrition interventions reflect project-type actions that are small scale and time bound, missing the opportunities to shift systemic lock-ins inherited from the past, overlooking any potential to facilitate alternative futures across urban landscapes.

 Africa’s urban transition

The extent and scale of Africa’s urban transition has been effectively articulated by others.[7] [8] [15] Africa’s urbanisation is not uniform. There is significant variation in levels of urbanisation across the continent (See Table 2). Additionally,African cities are not uniform. Africa’s greatest urbanisation transition is taking place in cities of between 300 000 and 500 000 residents. [7] Such“intermediate cities” dominate Africa’s urban profile. Put differently, despite the imaginations of urban Africa being Johannesburg, Lagos, or Cairo, in 2015 the number of urban Africans residing in cities of one million or less totalled nearly 320 million. Those residing in cities of more than one million comprised 175 million. [7]

This varied demographic profile demonstrates the importance of context. Universal approaches to both urbanisation and food security run the risk of missing essential localised needs, dynamics, and challenges. [3]

Table 2: Africa's regional urbanisation profile and scale of urban transition

Food insecurity is a structural issue, one that requires an encompassing policy and strategic planning response. The current agrarian focus to food security policy misses regional and continental urban demographic profiles, but also the changing nature of the food system. The current policy and development focus effectively occludes cities from food system responses.

Other than at times of drought or conflict, in most African cities, there is no shortage of food. Structural, economic, infrastructural and design challenges are what hinder food access and as a result, increase food insecurity in African cities.

Figure 1: There is no shortage of food in African cities, but access to such food is a challenge. Epworth, outside Harare (Image: Samantha Reinders for Consuming Urban Poverty)

Combined, the food and urban systems of Africa are areas demanding significant attention. Cities have always been the sites of experimentation [8]. Seeing cities as edible landscapes is one such area of innovation. The challenge then is how this is operationalised? How can planners and designers engage, and embrace, the complexity depicted in Figure 2? Given the longer-term legacy of their work, planners and designers have a unique opportunity to seed a very different urban transition across the Continent.

Figure 2: An oft seen food landscape reflecting the urban food system transition in African cities –traditional foods sold alongside adverts for ultra-processed products, Kisumu, Kenya (Image: Samantha Reinders for Consuming Urban Poverty)

Planning and design for food sensitivity and food specificity in the African urban context

Urban food systems in Africa have never been designed to be nature enhancing, wellness creating or generative. In fact, they have been designed for the opposite – for control and pacification. [4[ [2] More than any of our biological needs, food shapes the design and infrastructure of cities. [16]. However, as the planner, Kami Pothokuchi warned “… inaction in the planning environment does not have neutral consequences, but often generates negative outcomes.” [17] Many of the food system challenges faced in African cities reflect the neglect of longer-term strategic planning. Pothukuchi’s quote is a call for food system designers, landscape designers, planners, and urbanists to actively engage the intersection between Africa’s food and urban systems. Planners and designers are beginning to consider this intersection.[18] One way in which planning, and design can engage this intersection is through Food Sensitive Planning and Urban Design (FSPUD).[19] Planning and design are essential if we are to engage, grapple with and shift existing approaches to food in cities(Figure 3). Even the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), one of those organisations that has promoted the rural, production agenda, has expressed a need for active engagement in urban planning stressing that

 “Improved access to and utilisation of food is essential to current and future generations. With cities at the centre of our civilisation, it will become increasingly critical for food to be centrally reflected in the planning of urban areas.” [20]

 There are many tools in the arsenal of planners and designers, processes that include not only physical planning aspects, but also, governance planning.

Figure 3: Chisekone Market in Kitwe, Zambia, currently occupies fifteen acres and estimated to accommodate 10000 traders - the officially gazetted area of the market is comprised of just 1.9 acres. This centrally located site, with easy links to transport, processing, wholesale, and distribution is under constant threat.(Image: Samantha Reinders for Consuming Urban Poverty)

As a concept,FSPUD emerged from thinking aligned to Water Sensitive Planning (WSP), but in developed world contexts [19] [21] Conceptually FSPUD works through four phases:

Phase 1: The conceptual process where the central question is why should designers care, but equally, what is the societal obligation? These questions are further deepened by legislative and moral questions – such as the right to food, or a sense of justice and equity?

Phase 2: The analytical phase where a detailed assessment of the problems that designers are seeking to address are engaged (such as in Table 1). Here nuance is required, questioning the specific urban problem and urban need, as well as understanding flaws of past responses.

Phase 3: The third phase is critical as it engages operational and governance questions, asking who is in charge, who has power, how is power assigned, but also, seeking to understand who has unrecognised or unseen power?

Phase 4: Drawing on the evidence from these phases, the fourth phase is design. [21]

Design does not stop with implementation and needs to be reflexive and engage in a process of constant review and re-engagement. These phases may read as “design 101”, but in cities, not just Africa, this process is not followed in respect of food.Other metrics privilege some priorities over others. Supermarket developers, as an example, argue job creation or neighbourhood upgrading, seldom wider food system benefits, and certainly not food and nutrition security.

The phased processes described represent largely formal planning. A central feature of Africa’s urban transition is informality. [22] This place different demands on planners and designers. Here context is a key informant in how existing food systems in a specific context are integrated into the wider urban system.

Figure 4: Dissonance in traditional planning and informal design processes (Source: Image adapted from text in Görgens, & Petersen, 2018: 11[23])

Figure 4 highlights the fact that African-specific approaches are required, approaches that are both food sensitive, but also, food specific. At the same time these design processes need to be surfing the complexity at the intersections between formal design and insurgent informal city-making that dominates African cities.

Governance and initiative-taking food systems planning in African cities is essential if nurturing and wellness-providing edible landscapes are to be a feature of African cities. African cities are on the cusp of significant development and growth. [8] Food connects to regions, it dictates street life, activates markets, and defines the economies and health of cities. Food also connects to and is reliant on many other infrastructures.

Viewing the entire urban landscape to ensure food security, wellness, health, and a just food system requires fundamentally different approaches to urban and landscape design.

 Case reflection - The challenges of creating edible landscapes in Cape Town

The city of Cape Town has numerous food system assets. Cape Town also has a number of organisations actively working to support and facilitate edible landscapes.Examples of such organisations include Abalimi Bezekhaya, SEED and Soil for Life. Many other organisations are doing similar work. The City of Cape Town Urban Agriculture Policy (UAP) originally supported the creation of such edible landscapes [24]. The UAP was innovative, but its promoters realised that the UAP had limitations. These limitations included the primary focus on discrete urban agriculture projects. The UAP failed to actively engage in and shift the wider urban food system [25]. Work commenced to drive such a wider orientation, one that could potentially drive a wider edible urban landscape outcome. Ultimately, this wider systems view did not take hold and the UAP was replaced by a food gardens policy, overseen by the Social Development Department, with a welfarist orientation focusing on poverty issues, jettisoning the identified need of wider urban landscape, or food system, policy. [26] It is this retreat to projects, disregarding the wider landscape opportunities and needs, that this paper warns against. Equally it is the absence of a wider urban landscape policy orientation that means that assets such as the Philippi Horticultural Area remain precarious and open to erasure. [27] Importantly, in part thanks to the drought, but informed by those with a distinct landscape orientation, the pendulum has again swung, and the urban food policy focus is now actively engaging a wider systems orientation, embedded within a wider urban resilience approach [28], a form of food sensitive planning and design.


 Given the multiple competing needs of Africa cities, unless any edible landscape created is embedded in the intersections between of the urban food system and the urban system, such landscapes will always be under threat. Essential to the creation of, and long-term viability, of edible landscapes, is a design process connects the multiple urban systems and articulates food as an essential urban design and wider governance imperative. This is most certainly true for landscape design that seeks to facilitate edible landscapes. This is not about growing food in cities, although this is and remains an essential component. It is about appreciating how food system outcomes are a direct result of the functioning of the urban landscape. Food Sensitive Planning and Urban Design offers useful ways to insert food into the urban landscape, in a manner that is systematic and embedded. Food sensitive and food specific planning and design offer possible pathways to support and nurture resilient, nourishing, and generative African urban landscapes. To this end, as Tamsin Faragher and others have stressed in a recent edition

“the need for landscape architects to collaborate with planners and other built environment professionals to build healthy, liveable, climate adaptive cities has never been greater.” [29]

For African cities, this is essential, but demands a unique way of collaborating across professional codes and disciplines. How this is activated in the diverse African urban landscapes presents a challenge to urban and landscape designers in Africa as it has not been the focus in the past. This paper has effectively set out the first phase in such a possible process, engaging the conceptual process. Phases 2, 3 and 4 need to be informed by context.



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