Urban and peri-urban agriculture and livestock keeping in West Africa

African-German partnership to enhance resource use efficiency and improve food security in urban and peri-urban agriculture of West African cities

UrbanFoodPlus is an international, interdisciplinary project, where researchers from the Institut für Ethnologie join others from African, European and International organizations to investigate issues of West African Urban Agriculture. PhD student Barbara Löhde, who completed her M.A. at Mainz University, is joined by Eileen Bogweh Nchanji, an anthropologist from Cameroon. The Social Anthropology team of UrbanFoodPlus is completed by Imogen Bellwood-Howard, a postdoctoral researcher from London, UK.

The cultivation of subsistence and market vegetable crops such as tomatoes, maize, cabbage and amaranthus is a common sight along roadsides and on patches of land in almost all West African cities. As the growers of such crops are close to sources of inputs like fertilisers, quality seeds and, waste water sources for dry season irrigation, there is great potential for them to increase production. Simultaneously, the cattle, sheep and goats that dot the cityscape provide a potential source of manure to these crop farmers and a fodder sink for crop wastes, in a potentially well linked agroecosystem. The proximity of such urban crop producers and livestock owners to markets also means that they can contribute not only to food security but also income generation and market chain value addition, a central theme in the agricultural policy direction of most African governments and donors. However, despite the exceptional promise of urban agricultural activities, research has not hitherto examined them in detail and policy has generally been indifferent or even hostile to their existence and legitimization.

The Institut für Ethnologie at Göttingen University has therefore collaborated with the universities of Kassel, Bochum and Freiburg as well as with several universities and research institutes in West Africa to instigate UrbanFoodPlus, examining a wide range of issues associated with urban agriculture.

Several of the eight UrbanFoodPlus subprojects examine particular technologies, such as wastewater filtration and improved manure storage techniques, which have potential to improve on agricultural productivity. Teams from Kassel University will focus on livestock and agronomy. Subprojects based at Ruhr-Universität Bochum will look at soil fertility management and wastewater filtration, specifically investigating the utility of biochar technology in fertilizing soil and cleaning wastewater. Göttingen researchers will work particularly closely with the economics team, also located at Bochum. From Freiburg University, GIS experts will map food security in the West African field cities.

Yet technology alone is unlikely to realize the maximum benefits of urban agriculture. Resource access issues are more complex in cities than rural areas. Power dynamics are implicated in farmers’ use of and control over inputs such as land, uncontaminated irrigation water, livestock vaccinations and feedstocks and nutrient sources like manures, market wastes and inorganic fertilizers. Access to markets also involves knowledge and knowhow, the path to which is not always straightforward.

The team at Göttingen will investigate these specific issues. The anthropology subproject will examine interactions between farmers and their social, cultural and political environment, implicating a Political Ecology standpoint. It will also use a Science and Technology Studies lens to elucidate the interconnectedness of technology use and the socio-political organisation of urban agriculture in West Africa. The approach will also be used to better understand the social and political nature of technological innovation processes and to reflect the roles of the researchers who are investigating, introducing and testing new technologies.

UrbanFoodPlus will initially focus on Tamale in Northern Ghana and Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. From the third year, the project will extend its activities to Bamenda in Cameroon and the Malian capital, Bamako.

The international background of the anthropology team reflects the project’s international nature. Eileen and Barbara join the graduate school that brings together 15 doctoral students from Germany, Europe and Africa, and Imogen is one of 6 postdoctoral researchers recruited from across the world.


Starting date: June 1st, 2013


Fedaral Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)

Main Project

Research areas

General map of the project consortium. Suggested test site cities are marked red. (Map by Ralf Wieland, Geography Department, Ruhr-University Bochum, 2012)