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City region agrifood systems in the urbanizing Nile Basin community


By Mohamed Yassin

Almost half billion persons in and within the Nile Basin territories depends on Agrifood systems. The bulk majority of the Nile Basin population and communities are concentrated around water bodies and relaying more and more on diminishing resource base of land and mainly water, which are per se so limited or scarce. The current societies in and within the Nile Basin are undergoing voluntary and involuntary accelerated urbanization process. This rapid urbanization is dictated by the classical pushing and pulling factors affecting the rural urban or urban to urban migration processes including the peri-urban immigrant farmers who get the chances of socio-economic inclusion in the urban planning only through the informal settlement around the urban dwellings. This implies also urbanizing more and more the agriculture in formal and informal patterns pushing it to be agriculture in more architectured setting (agritecture), Agritecture is a blended agricultural science with architecture. It is an emerging inter-multi-trans-disciplinary domain inspired to address the urbanizing agricultural society contemporary and future challenge, overcome its constraints and capture its potential opportunities.

Family farming in rural areas is increasingly loosing terrain at the expenses of the urban farming for multiplicities of reasons and drivers. Urban areas are offering more attractive employment opportunities and better chances of higher income and availability of basic deliverables, basically associated with the industries, trade, technologies, education, health and tertiary sector of services. The Agricultural sector has a shifting and dynamic nature and adaptability related to these urbanization processes, through the urban gardens, nurseries, and other sorts of multifunctional agri-food systems. Actually the urban agriculture should stand as multifunctional fountain for sustainable food systems, as a driver for a resilient and smart agro-food systems, as a catalyst for the socio-economic, cultural, ecological and sustainably urbanizing territories and cities. Ideally, to manage the urban agro-food systems, diversity of competencies and expertise, enriched and empowered human capital is required from the integrateable domains of sciences, engineering, technology, arts, economics, business, law, human and social science, among others.

The Nile Basin is an extended territory in which the agriculture is showing growing trends in urbanizing setting, the food systems are showing increasing complexities, interdependency and interconnections and prospects. From the Equatorial lakes, to the Ethiopian highlands to the confluence of the white Nile and Blue Nile in Khartoum, the agricultural schemes are extending and intensifying along the shores of the Nile and determining the formation of extended city region agriculture and food systems from Khartoum up to Cairo and the Nile Delta at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea. The Nile Basin macro-region is witnessing significant climatic variability and above all demographic growth, almost reaching half billion inhabitant and associated fauna and flora, with increasing percentage of Nile Basin population who will be settling in urbanized settings and settlements.

The total population of the Nile Basin riparian countries was around 85 million at their independence era, with projection of over a billion persons within this millennium. That booming demography requires mitigation, adaptation and adoption of urban agricultural policies and planning, consideration of imperatively adequate food and nutrition systems to cope with this dynamics. In that scenario, the food security and nutrition can be addressed if innovative, integrative, comprehensive systematic approaches are locally and globally elaborated, financed, monitored and followed-up. For instance, urban individual and collective gardens (vertical or horizontal) could be encouraged, trees planting and compensation are boosted, and ecological urban hubs are maintained and invigorated. The lessons and necessity to paradigm shift to vertical or urbanizing agriculture, where there is soil sealing and soil degradation, to green-roofing and vertical agriculture should be deeply and seriously researched by the Nile Basin states to accompany and accommodate that vision in their regional urbanizing agriculture and agritecture. Feasible measures and implementable concerted actions where it is appropriate and economically viable, socially beneficial and environmentally sound and friendly should play a fundamental role in future food and nutrition security and policies to achieve the sustainable development goals and climate change adaptation and mitigation projects, programs and prioritized policies.

The Nile Basin major rivers and tributaries constitute the fluid supporting structure for the urban living, where most of the city region flourished. Worth to highlight the Egyptian triangular city region food system. It is an extending and sprawling city food system sprawled from the greater Cairo to Port Said and Alexandria on the delta of the Nile River along the Mediterranean Sea including the strips to Aswan and Luxor. The structure, conduct and performance of this concentrating city food system markets and places are of dynamic nature, changing locations and allocations. Analogues city food system is the Lake Victoria sub-basin circular city food system, with considerable demographic concentration in the Ugandan Entebbe-Kampala-Jinja City Region Agrifood System, in the Tanzanian Musoma-Bukoba-Mwanza City Region Agrifood System, and in the Kenyan Kisumo-Kisii-Homa Pay City Region Agrifood System in Nyanza province. Furthermore, the South/Sudanese City Region Agrifood system along the Blue, White and the main Nile is taking similar inverse extended triangular shape when compared to that consolidated in Egypt. The small urban settlements, which were separated from each other along the shores of the river, are joining one to the adjacent and continuing on an ever-blended urban-rural or urban-urban food systems, where it is hard to distinguish the rural urban benchmarks. The growing infrastructures, continental corridors, roads, energy transmission grids and lines, ports and subsidiary premises enhance the formation of city region food systems. In all these cases, the spatial population distribution, markets and trade are influenced by the climate, rainfall, soil fertility, mineral resources, peace and security, social and economic infrastructures such as transportation networks, education, health, telecommunications, hospitality and tourism facilities. However, the Nile Basin River system appear to be the driving factor attracting the formation of these human settlements and the backbone sustaining and supporting continuum city region Agrifood systems, and forming or generating the interdependency and interconnections of these city region Agrifood systems. Previous studies have underlined how food will shape cities even more in the near future, and those constructive and dynamic interrelations are possible only with the preservation of the informal core of markets that can be assumed as key factors and drivers. Formless strategy provides another type of spatial order and connection between food and metropolis. Along the Nile Basin, generally the market and urban horizontal expansion develops in a sort of informal pattern dictated by the growing population and rural-urban, urban-urban exodus.

To deeply understand the complexity of city region agro-food systems, the Nile basin community should conduct serious research and form broad robust platforms of inter-multi-and-trans-disciplinary oriented human capital composed of flexible or blended competencies from the domains of the environmental sciences, agronomy, engineering and technological sciences, urban and regional planning, architecture, landscape design, economics, social sciences, soil sciences, public health and nutrition to come and act together, recognizing the contribution of urban agriculture to meeting society’s basic needs, feeding people, structuring the cities, reconciling the nature conservation while shaping their desirable and inspired sustainable development and inclusive prosperity.

Mohamed Yassin is a PhD candidate (2013-2015) in Economics, Ecology, Landscape and Territory at the Department of Civil Engineering & Architecture, University of Udine, Italy. He is reachable at mohamed.yassin@uniud.it or yassintowers@gmail.com

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