Regenerative Agriculture: Food Security in Africa

Regenerative Agriculture: Food Security in Africa

Résumé en français

Aujourd'hui, l'Afrique est dominée par les importations alimentaires et les exportations de produits agricoles (coton, cacao, café, thé, arachides, huile de palme), ce qui crée un déficit commercial de produits agricoles, contrairement à l'époque où l'Afrique produisait des aliments pour ses propres besoins.

Le climat imprévisible et d'autres conditions contribuent également à une production alimentaire insuffisante, mais l'Afrique dispose de ressources et d'opportunités suffisantes qui, avec une bonne planification, des politiques et des projets et l'implication d'experts, peuvent contribuer à l'autosuffisance (sécurité alimentaire) et à la cessation de la dépendance aux importations alimentaires. Il est nécessaire de ramener la nature et la vie sauvage dans les zones urbaines, ainsi que de fournir des aliments accessibles au public pour l’Homme et les animaux. Cela deviendra de plus en plus important ces derniers temps en raison de l'apparition de la famine, et de la menace d'une épidémie Mondiale telle que ressentie ces dernières années. Dans les villes, il est nécessaire de planifier et de concevoir des paysages comestibles (parcs comestibles, jardins forestiers (forêts alimentaires), jardins sur les toits, jardins urbains, vergers publics, jardins).

Il ne faut pas négliger l'importance des écosystèmes forestiers et la nécessité de les protéger, de les préserver et de les revitaliser, car la disparition des forêts, des sols, des organismes du sol, de la flore et de la faune et de leurs habitats entraînera des catastrophes naturelles et des famines.

L'article souligne la nécessité de réorganiser les pratiques et les politiques de planification existantes à tous les niveaux et dans tous les secteurs. Il met en évidence certaines des méthodes et principes possibles pour améliorer et appliquer les bonnes pratiques et les solutions innovantes. L'article tente de montrer que la question de l'alimentation n'est plus un problème pour l'Afrique, mais un avantage, et souligne la nécessité de mettre en œuvre de nouvelles connaissances sur la culture alimentaire durable et respectueuse de l'environnement et l'importance des forêts dans les politiques, plans, stratégies, projets et initiatives, réunissant une équipe d'experts multidisciplinaire.

Today, Africa is dominated by food imports and exports of agricultural products, unlike a time when Africa produced food for its own needs. Insufficient food production is also contributed to by unpredictable climatic conditions, while on the other hand Africa has sufficient resources and opportunities to achieve independent food production (food security) without major imports. This can be achieved by switching from intensive agricultural production and deforestation to regenerative agriculture with all its environmental, socio-cultural and other benefits. It is necessary to restore nature and wildlife in the urban environment, as well as to provide publicly available food for humans and animals. In cities, it is necessary to plan and design edible landscapes in the form of edible parks, forest gardens, roof gardens, urban gardens, public orchards, allotment gardens, etc. The importance of forest ecosystems should be emphasised, taking measures for their protection, preservation and revitalisation, as deforestation could lead to natural disasters, diseases and famines. The article emphasizes the need to reorganise existing planning and policies, bringing together experts, and highlights possible methods of improving and applying good practices and innovative solutions. It is aimed at solving the food issue for Africa, turning it to an advantage.


The 21st century sustainable city requires the merging of urbanism with sustainable food systems. Since many cities are situated at the heart of rich agricultural areas or other lands rich in biodiversity, the extension of the urban perimeter eventually cuts further into available productive land and encroaches on important ecosystems (Obaid, 2007). As cities have occupied a good part of agricultural land, the goal now is to return food production to cities, making urban agriculture increasingly popular in all its forms (urban gardens, public orchards, food forests).

Dormant lands - green fields - can be used to produce crops, and decorative landscapes can be converted into productive landscapes (edible landscape, community garden, allotment garden, rooftop vegetable garden, urban agriculture) with food and medicinal plants (Grichting and Awwaad, 2015). In recent years, awareness of the necessity and importance of 'green infrastructure' in urban spaces is growing, and in addition to the value of planting trees and reducing the impact of thermal islands, habitat restoration and establishing links (hiking and biking trails, tree lines), the focus is on rainwater management and food security - edible landscapes that are closely related, in addition to food production and the promotion of biodiversity, with educational, social, psycho-physical and therapeutic aspects. All of the above affects the use of local resources, the creation of local food production and consumption, less dependence on imports, which in turn leads to the strengthening of local financial and social capital.

Edible landscapes: What they are and what they encompass

Edible landscapes can emerge as transition movements of local community initiatives or other groups and individuals (bottom-up), or stem from documents of spatial planning and landscape planning (eg. green infrastructure studies and strategies). Edible landscape design strategies relate to inviting food production back to the city and reconnecting people with their local / regional food system to promote a healthier lifestyle. Edible landscaping is the use of food plants as design features, both for aesthetic value as well as consumption (Çelik 2017).

Edible landscapes include any private or public (common) space, natural or altered, within urban and suburban areas, that contain edible plants and fungi. These spaces may be owned, co-owned, leased, rented, or available to the community. Edible landscape types can be residential, institutional, educational, or public. As there is a tendency in cities to live in buildings with little or no greenery, residents are dependent on the planned distribution of public areas.  

During the pandemic, it was important to have a garden or green area in the neighbourhood. The importance of green infrastructure in urban areas is growing, and joint "edible projects" are also emerging in response to new situations in the world, or simply as a return to tradition and nature itself.  Fruit trees, nuts, berry bushes, vegetables and other edible perennials, spices and herbs, edible flowers, etc. can be combined with other ornamental plants. Edible landscaping, often called foodscaping, is a progressive food systems approach that encourages all people in their homes, public spaces and workplaces to promote local food (Thompson and Sokolowski, 2016).

In addition to residential landscapes, edible species are also desirable in public spaces and within school and kindergarten yards, where they have an educational function. Social gardens and public orchards on city land are a specific form of public space providing social cohesion, support for the economically disadvantaged and excluded groups, being a valuable contribution to the content and quality of life in the city.

Edible landscapes as part of spatial and landscape planning

According to Okeke (2015), the primary challenge facing Africa is to stabilise and correct its urban system by changing the spatial planning paradigm and to boost urban productivity. Spatial and green planning have become separated, and as spatial planning has evolved, two notions of green planning have emerged: traditional, and the concept of sustainability.

A good example is the study Potential of urban green spaces for supporting horticultural production: a national scale analysis which states that in the UK there is significant potential for fruit and vegetable production in urban areas at the national level. This study emphasises the need for national policies to support urban agriculture and the use of urban green spaces for food production, helping to improve the resilience of the food system at the national level and reducing import costs. Urban green spaces in the UK have the capacity to support production that is 8 times higher than current domestic fruit and vegetable production. (Walsh, 2022).

With climate-change, epidemics, earthquakes, tsunamis and war, people's insecurity increases, as does the price and availability of energy, materials and food. In the coming period, it will be important to include edible landscapes in the spatial planning of all countries, including those in Africa.

Another good example is The European Union Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 - which states that returning nature to our lives is one of the key elements of the European Green Plan, a new European strategy for achieving  sustainability for the European economy. The Strategy states that planting trees and developing green infrastructure will help cool urban areas and mitigate the effects of natural disasters. This strategy aims to stop the loss of green urban ecosystems.

Urban planning, architecture and landscape architecture are professions that create space for future generations, integrating healthy and resilient ecosystems, together with other professions, such as urban foresters, arborists, experts in regenerative agriculture, permaculture, agroforestry and biodynamics. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised awareness of the interconnectedness of human health and ecosystems. The aim of green infrastructure is to connect open spaces into a functional landscape network with emphasis on ecological, sociological and urban-morphological functions.

Benefits of edible landscapes

The use of edible plants in landscape architecture contributes to aesthetic appearance, improved health, and economic benefit (Creasy, 2010). Some of the benefits are listed in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Benefits of edible landscapes

Food production in Africa

In their article, Bjornlund et al (2020) point out that agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has recently been lower than the rest of the world, not only due to climate, disease, pests, slavery or poor soil quality, but also for the purpose of cultivation for export purposes. Before the arrival of European traders, there were complex agricultural systems that used natural resources and supported food security, production and trade, while today the exploitation of resources and cultivation of food for export (cotton, cocoa, coffee, tea, peanuts, palm oil) hampers the economic development of Africa. Unpredictable climatic conditions (variability of precipitation and temperature, the possibility of rapid depletion of soil, diseases, pests, etc.) also contribute to insufficient food production.

Musakawa et al (2020) showed in their study that climate change and landscape change affect ecosystem services and livelihoods in Gonarezhou National Park in southeastern Zimbabwe, where several ethnic groups live. The landscape changes with the expansion of settlements and livestock breeding, leading to changes in vegetation cover, soil erosion and weakened soil fertility. As the climate has changed, the community has shifted from agriculture to small-scale poaching and exploitation of natural resources (edible shrubs, herbs, wild fruits, etc.), leading to degradation of landscapes and ecosystems.

The article The Future of Food Production in Africa: Investing in African Agriculture after Covid-19 (Ngari, 2020) states that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed problems in food supply chains and dependence on imports, so regions in Africa found themselves on the brink of a famine pandemic. Over the years, foundations and NGO-s have invested in farmers' education, irrigation projects and other initiatives to help farmers increase both the quality and quantity of their yields to achieve self-sufficiency in food production and reduce dependence on precarious food imports.

Overview of problems and possible solutions

Following from the above, the problems manifest on three levels: the human level, the flora and fauna level, and the soil level, humans being mainly responsible for all levels of existence. A few of the problems and possible solutions are indicated in Table 2.

Table 2: Problems and possible solutions

The Africa region needs to reduce imports and invest in farmers to develop local food supply chains, at least within the continent. The focus here is not conventional agriculture and industrial food production, but sustainable ways of growing food including regenerative agriculture, using environmentally friendly methods, such as establishment of an autochthonous (indigenous) seed bank. Planting edible plants in public spaces will reduce dependence on food imports and increase food security.

There are already several associations and various initiatives in Africa that attach importance to food security and cultivation, and educate children and adults, such as the following:

▪ The Orchard: Africa Food & Agriculture program;

▪ Food & Trees for Africa;

▪ Israeli non-profit organisation CultivAid operating in East Africa; and

▪ Cocoa Agro-forests of the Bengamisa-Yangambi Forest Landscape.

An example of good practice is given in the image below.

St. Anne's walled garden allotments, Dublin, Ireland (source: Dublin City Council, Iva Geci)

The City of Guimarães invested in the creation of a Pedagogical Garden (Horta Pedagógica) in Portugal as a multifunctional space, where it mixes socio-cultural function with ecological-productive, emphasising urban agriculture (Gonçalves, Rodrigues, 2013).

The initiative promotes the cultivation of food in urban areas and the establishment of common social orchards in the city of Zagreb. The goals of the initiative are also to involve the community in decision-making on designing urban space, to preserve its biodiversity and to support the post-fossil transition to a self-sustainable society. The main goal of the project is to plant the first public park which has cultivation potential with mainly fruit trees based on permaculture principles in the city of Zagreb.

Concept of public orchard in Jarun, Zagreb, Croatia (source: Petra Pavleka)

The first public orchard in this part of Europe has been arranged on an area of ​​about 6,400 m², where about 300 fruit trees and about 80 different berry bushes have been planted. Their intention was to make the orchard specific in terms of its shape and public function, but also to be multifunctional - a simultaneous function of orchard and park.

Public orchard in Varaždin, Croatia (source: Mateja Angelina Kramar)

Multidisciplinary approach: the example of the Jarun Public Orchard Initiative

Besides interested public from the neighbourhood and surrounding area, the initiative was joined by expert pedagogues, architects, landscape architects, permaculturist and, geographers, and we plan to expand the team to urban foresters, biologists and kinesiologists, to organise a professional conference on "Zagreb parks: can it be different? - The Edible City of Zagreb". It is certainly important to emphasise the implementation model and maintenance of these public spaces, to satisfy professional and participatory requirements, and to give the local community the opportunity to participate in the creation of public spaces. We are still learning from examples in Europe and America, to help Africa in building a platform for creating policies related to urbanism, architecture, landscape architecture and spatial planning in general.

Innovations in urban agriculture

Some of the innovations are mentioned here, one of which is illustrated in the photo below:

• The use of seed balls ("seed bombs") using the seeds of pioneering, indigenous and non-invasive species of trees and shrubs that are discharged by drones ("Project O2") or guns ("Herbadesign") to burned, eroded, flooded, dried or other degraded soils.

• The use of the "Miyawaki method" of rapid afforestation, by which forests can grow 10 times faster and strengthen the entire forest ecosystem, for the reason that plants compete for food, water and sunlight (Mitchell A., 2022).

• The collection of rainwater in tanks for irrigation and the use of solar panels for hot water, and photovoltaic cells for electricity.

• The use of compressed soil "Herbafertil Reborn" in rolls with inbuilt nutrients and plant seeds that swell by watering and form a healthy, fertile soil for degraded and infertile areas.

“Herbafertil Reborn” (source: Tanja Udovč)

Implementation of policies and spatial planning

It is important to raise awareness of the importance of open spaces and edible landscapes and to educate both the public and authorities. This involves an organised system which includes laws, policies, spatial planning, designing and research initiatives.

Musakawa et al (2020) in their study make suggestions for further research and study design. They state that the links between landscapes, ecosystem services, livelihoods and climate change are often complex, misunderstood and barely studied in rural Africa, where communities live in close proximity to protected areas.

Investments in infrastructure and equipment such as roads, storage facilities and marketing opportunities are also important, as well as in seed banks that preserve indigenous seeds, as opposed to GMO seeds and plants.


The people of Africa used to grow their own food, but today most of the grown food is exported. Unpredictable climatic conditions also contribute to insufficient food production. However, Africa has sufficient resources and opportunities, which with good policies, spatial planning and projects, with the involvement of various experts, can contribute to the realisation of independent food production (food security) and freedom from dependence on food imports. This can be achieved in rural as well as urban areas, by applying proven examples of good practice from around the globe. In addition, an important focus should be on preventing deforestation and desertification.

Bill Mollison, an Australian biologist and one of the founders of permaculture, said:

"The biggest change we need to make is to turn consumers into producers. If only 10% of us do that, even at our own garden level, it will be enough for everyone."

It is therefore necessary to review and improve all aspects of spatial planning and start implementing changes that move towards green and sustainable goals.


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