Africa’s Urban Farmers

NAIROBI – When I met Eunice Wangari at a Nairobi coffee shop recently, I was surprised to hear her on her mobile phone, insistently asking her mother about the progress of a corn field in her home village, hours away from the big city. A nurse, Wangari counts on income from farming to raise money to buy more land – for more farming.

Even though Wangari lives in Kenya’s capital, she is able to reap hundreds of dollars a year in profit from cash crops grown with the help of relatives. Her initial stake – drawn from her nursing wages of about $350 a month – has long since been recovered.

Wangari is one of thousands of urban workers in Kenya – and one of hundreds of thousands, even millions, across Africa – who are increasing their incomes through absentee agriculture. With prices for basic foodstuffs at their highest levels in decades, many urbanites feel well rewarded by farming.

Absentee agriculture also bolsters national pride – and pride in traditional diets – by specializing in vegetables specific to the region. “For too long our country has been flooded with imported food and Westernized foods,” Wangari says. “This is our time to fight back – and grow our own.”