Urban Agriculture Cooperatives as Social Enterprises in Food Security and Poverty Reduction: Cases from Addis Ababa

From my childhood times, I have observed that urban poverty is becoming worse and worse, especially in Addis Ababa, where I was born. My observations of small actions in urban agriculture made me be curious in combating the complex development problems by using urban agriculture integrated community-based development approach. Hence, it became part of what I do in my research and what I plan in SAFE Ethiopia (Social Enterprise Advancing Foundation in Ethiopia).

Research indicates that poverty is increasingly becoming an urban concern in the developing world (Haddad et al., 1998). According to Mougeot (2006), poverty is accompanied by limited and poor-quality water/housing, limited education and low-paid hazardous work. What is more, the urban poor are vulnerable to food insecurity due to the high food price rise.

To respond to these acute urban problems, urban agriculture is emerging strongly as an important survival strategy for the urban poor in Addis Ababa. In total, it was estimated by the Urban Agriculture Department in each sub-city studied in 2008/9 that 20 to 30% of the food produced in the city is produced by urban and peri-urban individual and cooperative farmers and gardeners.

In exploring the role of urban agriculture cooperatives with social enterprise objectives, I employed primary data from farmers and stakeholders of two sub-cities of Addis Ababa (Yeka Sub-city and Lafto Sub-city) and secondary data on urban agriculture practice. Data were obtained from field surveys from among households and members of the Mekanissa, Saris, and Furi Vegetable Producers’ Cooperative and Kebena Bulbula Cooperative. These two were selected for their long experience and wider potential for Urban Agriculture from the five vegetable producers’ cooperatives which occupied about 1.25% (about 274 hectares) of the urban land in Addis Ababa.

I described and analyzed the data as related to urban agriculture roles in securing food and sustaining environment to alleviate poverty. The survey points out that, for the increasing urban poverty and ‘economic crisis’ which has become a permanent situation for a large part of the Addis Ababa population, urban agriculture constitute important means to survive by providing a substantial part of family food and income together with environment protection.

In the Ethiopian context, from the seven principles that cooperatives subscribe (voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; cooperation among cooperatives; and concern for community), the first four are considered core without which a cooperative would lose its identity; they guarantee the conditions under which members own, control and benefit from the business. The education principle is a commitment to make membership effective and so is a precondition for democratic control, while cooperation among cooperatives is a business strategy without which cooperatives remain economically vulnerable. The last principle signifies corporate responsibility, and it pertains to other concerns that the cooperative movement is promoting such as reducing poverty, improving social services, and protecting environment.

The urban agriculture cooperatives play an important role in food production and distribution. They help the producers in food security by giving incentives to small and subsistence farmers to contribute in food production. Through economies of scale in obtaining training, credit for farm inputs, and irrigation services, cooperatives enable the farmers to improve their productivities. With improved marketing, they also help the farmers to obtain better prices.

According to the data, out of the 54,000 hectare surface area of Addis, 18,174 hectare (33.6%) is agricultural land possessed by 25 farmers’ associations/cooperatives in the periphery of the city. The larger proportion of this is farmland covering 12,202 hectares, followed by grazing land (2,943 hectares) and other horticultural strips along streams (3,025 hectares).

As shown, the urban agriculture cooperatives, organized as social enterprises for the benefit of their members to combat primarily the social problems they had, offer a model of social and economic enterprise. As a self-help group, their organization is widely accessible for the impoverished and the marginalized. Where private enterprise or government is weak, they enable local people to organize and improve their conditions. They could create productive employment, raise incomes and help to reduce poverty while enhancing social inclusion, marketing strategies, social protection and community-building. Thus, while they directly benefit their members, they also offer positive externalities for the rest of society and have a transformational impact on the economy.

Urban agriculture, for the majority, occurs as a consequence of a survival need. The cooperatives have commune plots which give them equal benefits in addition to the private small plots they possess. Women’s income from private plots was used for consumption. Women-headed households contributed equally to cooperatives. Estimated average income of urban farmers was about 50% above income of the general population. They consumed about 10% of their main products, but ate 10% more vegetables than the average city population with a similar income level. An average of 10-20% of income was saved by own vegetable production. About 60% owned their own homes, and about 70% owned livestock.

This trend seems to possess the features of social enterprises; however, results indicate that the growing competition of urban resources tends to dispossess the capacity of the poor and to magnify the social problems. Hence, the core issues to be addressed refer to supporting urban agriculture activities and their chains.

In conclusion, the survey shows urban agriculture is a vital tool for alleviating poverty. Its implications in food security, poverty reduction, employment generation, social integration and the use of liveable spaces needs to be valued and explored more in its central role of social dimensions.



Haddad, L., Ruel, M., and Garrett, J. (1998). Growing Urban Poverty and Undernutrition and Some Urban Facts of Life: Implications for Research and Policy. International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C.

Mougeot, L. J.A. (2006). Growing better Cities: Urban Agriculture for Sustainable Development. International Development Research Centre, Ottawa.


Posted by Berhanu Gebremichael

Berhanu Gebremichael is a doctoral candidate at International Doctoral School of Local Development and Global Dynamics in University of Trento. He has worked in two universities in Ethiopia for twelve years. He is also the founder of SAFE Ethiopia, the result of his engagements in EURICSE and EMES. His Ph.D. project is on Ethiopian coffee farmer cooperatives’ role in upholding livelihood asset portfolio, which integrates value chain and sustainable livelihoods. The urban agriculture survey is part of the additional requirements to be considered for programme completion and a component of SAFE Ethiopia. Email contact: berhanu24@yahoo.com


10 thoughts on “Urban Agriculture Cooperatives as Social Enterprises in Food Security and Poverty Reduction: Cases from Addis Ababa

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  1. Nice post. I used to be checking continuously this blog and I’m impressed! Very useful information specially the closing part 🙂 I deal with such info much. I was seeking this certain information for a long time. Thank you and best of luck.

    1. En Ecuador nunca falta en la mesa de los hogares tan calientitas con cafe o solas es para compartir una tarde con las amigas y sus inanemirtbles historias, joooo que tiempos tan bellos, bueno aunque yo no las haga las como muy seguido, muchas bendiciones y queremos su blog para rato eh,.

    2. A esquerdalha, está a tocar os burros, quando há interesse, as coisa andam.Para quando, uma limpeza politica, na justiça, em Portugal.Ou fica, cega, ou vê, com os dois olhos.Ver só com o esquerdo, deu no que deu.

  2. The piece as much as its very interesting is also a first of its kind in the Ethiopian context. I m planning to do a thesis on social entrepreneurship and local development and i could come up enough previous works except Mr this one . But, the article in its present from is far from an adequate discussion . Building on this as a preliminary, you need to expand it thank you Daniel please check your inbox i send you an email requesting for support to my thesis!!

    1. Hi, I am just starting some research into cooperative urban agriculture and social enterprise. I am very interested in learning more about this project and your thesis. What specifially is your thesis topic ?

  3. It’s true how agriculture can change the status of every individuals if it will gain improvement and success. I couldn’t agree more how agriculture can reduce poverty, as it is the source of the food we eat for everyday, hunger will also be eliminated by the time that it will aid most of the problems. Impressive article!

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