Agriculture in Urban Planning

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Book: AGRICULTURE IN URBAN PLANNING. Generating Livelihoods and Food Security. Edited by Mark Redwood. Earthscan/IDRC 2008



"This volume, by researchers working in urban agriculture, examines concrete strategies to integrate city farming into the urban landscape. Drawing on original field work in cities across the rapidly urbanizing global South, the book examines the contribution of urban agriculture and city farming to livelihoods and food security.

Case studies cover food production diversification for robust and secure food provision; the socio-economic and agronomic aspects of urban composting; urban agriculture as a viable livelihood strategy; strategies for integrating city farming into urban landscapes; and the complex social-ecological networks of urban agriculture. Other case studies look at public health aspects including the impact of pesticides, micro-biological risks, pollution and water contamination on food production and people.

Ultimately the book calls on city farmers, politicians, environmentalists, and regulatory bodies to work together to improve the long-term sustainability of urban farming as a major, secure source of food and employment for urban populations.

THE EDITOR, Mark Redwood is a Senior Program Officer at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and an expert on urban agriculture." (


Introduction by Mark Redwood:

"Urban agriculture (UA) has long been dismissed as a fringe activity that has no place in cities; however, its potential is beginning to be realized. In fact, UA is about food self reliance: it involves creating work and is a reaction to food insecurity, particularly for the poor. Contrary to what many believe, UA is found in every city, where it is sometimes hidden, sometimes obvious. If one looks carefully, few spaces in a major city are unused. Valuable vacant land rarely sits idle and is often taken over – either formally, or informally – and made productive. Urban agriculture is a long-established livelihood activity that occurs at all scales, from the small family-held market garden to the large agri-business located on the fringe of a city. It supplies food to the city and income to those who farm. Above all, UA is making an important contribution to food security for those who do not have easy access. In essence, UA is the true realization of the statement that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

In the 21st century, food comes with baggage. Mechanized farming and the increased yields associated with fertilizer and pesticide usage have reduced employment. Accordingly, farmers are relocating to cities in search of work. As wealth spreads, appetites change, and food is travelling further and further from where it is produced as people demand specialty goods. While food choices increase for the wealthy few, others are exposed to nutrition and health risks because of their lack of secure food sources. Market changes associated with biofuels, high oil prices and inflation are raising the cost of basic goods, which leads people to seek alternative ways to secure their food.

Meanwhile, the historic separation of the uses of ‘urban’ land from what has traditionally been considered ‘rural’ has relegated UA to a position of being a minor economic sector at best or irrelevant at worst. In general, policy has followed suit. Many cities, for different reasons, have ignored the contribution of UA and settled on disingenuous prohibition of the activity. But this is changing for the better, since acceptance of UA is growing in many municipalities (Mougeot, 2006; Van Veenhuizen, 2006).

The fourth World Urban Forum in 2006 showcased the crucial importance of UA in cities of the 21st century. During the forum, statistics were presented which show that by 2006 more than 50 percent of the world’s population is living in urban areas. Moreover, projections indicate that by 2050 it is expected that two-thirds of humanity will live in urban areas. Thus, the Forum confronted delegates with the challenges of such a rapid and historic change in human geography. The Forum was also notable for bringing UA in from the fringe and introducing it during a major international event whose attendees included mayors, government ministers, international organizations, researchers and members of civil society. Urban agriculture was the main topic in a number of networking events, product launches and in the booths of at least 20 institutional partners and eight cities. Around 1000 delegates attended the networking events that took place specifically on UA. The acknowledgement of UA and its presence at such a major event is indicative of wide changes that are taking place with regard to the politics of how cities are viewed and how the value of land – and food production – is perceived.

This introduction provides an overview of the chapters in this book and organizes them around key themes associated with UA. The first section represents a general background explaining the crises that the rise of cities presents – along with the opportunities. This is followed by a review of how UA represents a valid way to address and minimize the difficulties marginalized people face on a daily basis. Therefore, this introduction presents a synthesis, while the chapters that follow offer a more substantive look at each case.

No longer isolated nodes of intense economic development and human settlements, many cities are now growing into large, continuous urban corridors containing millions of people. In cities, questions related to livelihoods and society are complex. In cities in developing countries, migration from rural areas is still the primary source of people. However, these days a second generation of children of migrants is increasing urban populations, making the competition for scarce resources even more fierce. Poverty in the fringe of cities and people being pushed into confined spaces inside cities has led to a situation where one in six people on the planet is living in a slum (UN-HABITAT, 2003), a fact that Davis (2006) uses to justify what he calls the ‘Planet of slums’.

The pace of urbanization is unprecedented. Economic migrants seek better opportunities and jobs in cities while many rural economies stagnate. The trend of urbanization (see Figure 1) is most notable in the rapidly expanding economies of China and India, as well as in areas of the world where there are significant population and environmental pressures without much economic growth. The Gulf of Guinea along the coast of West Africa, for instance, represents an extreme example of massive urbanization. In 1960, there were 17 cities with a population of more than 100,000; now there are more than 300 cities of that size (Davis, 2006).

In the 1950s and 1960s, the drive to modernize economies in the south shifted the onus of economic activity onto the city. An important social result of this trend was the attraction of people to places of investment and employment, which resulted in an out-migration from rural areas. Seen by liberal development planners as the way out of poverty, the transition of emphasis to urban development and the encouragement of industrial economic activity concentrated on cities. This became known as the ‘urban bias’.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a competing strategy became more popular, and development planning shifted to supporting rural livelihoods and decentralizing development efforts into smaller cities and towns. These towns were seen as important market centres for food and other goods produced in rural areas. Despite such efforts to revitalize rural areas, the pace of urbanization remains rapid. The sheer numbers of rural people moving to cities, and the growth of city populations due to high birth rates, continues to strain natural resources and the capacity of governments and states to cope.

Settlements like Kieran (Nairobi), Pinkie (Dakar), Mainsheet Knars (Cairo) and Villa Maria Triumph (Lima) are testimony to the impact of rural to urban migration. As Figure 1 shows, the growth of unserviced areas, or ‘slums’, has far outpaced the overall growth of cities.

Many who move to urban areas do not find the jobs and opportunities they seek. Therefore, adopting UA is a common survival strategy used by the poor not only to deal with food insecurity and poverty, but also to organize with fellow citizens and improve the quality of life in their communities. Urban growth has also concentrated food demand in cities. Smit et al (1996) estimate that 15–20 percent of the global food output is grown in cities.

In times of geopolitical or economic crisis, UA has become one way to secure food. As it turns out, the macroeconomic climate has been a significant influence in upsetting food security throughout the world. Structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) in the 1980s led to widespread currency devaluations, price increases for basic goods and the removal of subsidies for food production. In their effort to stimulate economic growth, SAPs actually removed some of the critical lifelines of the poor, thus shifting the focus of some economic planners onto the informal economy – including UA – as the poor discovered ways to survive. More recent economic crises such as happened in Argentina in 1999–2002 dramatically altered the landscape of employment and encouraged a growth in UA accompanied by policy support, as evidenced by the Pirouette programme of the federal government and city of Rosario. Another example of thriving UA is the Gaza Strip: with 3600 people per square kilometre, it is one of the world’s most densely populated regions, with limited access to food imports."

Defining urban agriculture

"Where there are people there is a market for food. In the eyes of planners, architects, politicians and developers, trained as many across the world are, in the arts of town planning by European colonial systems, farming in a city was considered a practice either to be discouraged or ignored. Meanwhile, UA thrived in confined spaces because people in search of a source of income who have access to land and water will practise it, regardless of restrictive policies.

Because of the history of agriculture in the European context, many people consider agriculture and the city as separate and distinct, but this has never reflected reality. Urban agriculture has always existed. Just as settlement patterns rely on good arable land in order to secure a nearby productive food source, as cities grow, their footprint paves over agricultural land. Therefore, a city’s expansion de facto means there is an ongoing need for more sources of food.

The classic and widely used definition of UA comes from Mougeot (2000):

- Urban Agriculture is an industry located within, or on the fringe of a town, a city or a metropolis, which grows and raises, processes and distributes a diversity of food and non-food products, (re)using largely human and material resources, products and services found in and around that urban area, and in turn supplying human and materials resources, products and services largely to that urban area. (p10)

This definition links confined space production, related economic activity, location, destination markets (or home consumption) and the types of products produced in a dynamic interaction that can vary from one urban area to another. The breadth of this definition has not been challenged, and it influences the extent of research on the subject. Research, and increasingly policy, is now acknowledging that peri-urban and urban agricultural systems operate in a very different context than rural systems. Urban agriculture not only presents research conundrums associated with natural science (agronomy, pollution, water and soil quality), but also important questions of a social nature (land markets, rural to urban migration). Actually, UA research is needed so as to study policy and ‘technocratic’ responses in the form of planning, law and legislation.

Urban agriculture also nicely bridges the gap associated with the unfortunate tendency for development research and practice to gravitate towards two poles, ‘urban’ vs ‘rural’. This polarization has missed some of the important nuances that occur in what some are calling the ‘peri-urban interface’ (Allen, 2003). This notion is important to our understanding of UA since it broadens the notion to include those distinctly non-rural agricultural systems located on the outskirts of cities. In fact, the term ‘UA’ has now expanded to include peri-urban areas as part of its context. The reader will note that in this volume several chapters draw on both ‘UA’ and ‘peri-urban agriculture’. This is because some authors use the terms to differentiate forms of UA that take place in the downtown core rather than the periphery of cities. Why urban agriculture?

Perhaps the most dramatic argument in favour of UA comes from existing data on the proportion of income that city dwellers spend on food. Table 1 illustrates the need to find more reasonable sources of food and provides a strong argument for UA as a household supplement that can counteract the worst effects of poverty. Its effectiveness is not limited to poverty reduction at the household level: it also creates economic spin-off industries and employment, plus it improves the urban biophysical environment (Moskow, 1999).

Urban agriculture also acts as a catalyst for political organization. A survey of producer groups in 2005–2007 identified that organizations based around UA play a significant role in social cohesion, offering technical training and providing a platform for political lobbying. Such groups have successfully lobbied for municipal policy change (Amsterdam), acted as the voice of farmers to lobby for recognition (Dakar, Villa Maria Triunfo) or provided technical assistance (Montreal) (Santanderau and Castro, 2007).

The administrative limits of a city also play a role in determining the extent of the practice. IDRC-supported work in Latin America demonstrated that within the city limits in that region’s cities, there are large areas of vacant land. For instance, in Quito, Ecuador, 35 percent of city land is vacant and often being used for agriculture (2001 data). In Rosario (2003 data), the amount is 80 percent (IDRC, 2004). Recent data from Abomey and Bohicon, two cities located in Benin, West Africa, shows that agriculture is the main activity for 3–7 percent of people living in their downtown core. However, 6 km from the city limits, in the peri-urban area, the percentage grows to 50 (Floquet et al, 2005). In the five urban districts that make up downtown Hanoi, 17.7 percent of land is used for agriculture (Mubarik et al, 2005).

The status quo response of governments in their reaction to UA has tended to be to prohibit the practice. Often this is a policy that stems from simply regarding UA as a form of resistance to urban development priorities as determined by planners. Some cities have, by virtue of being exposed to UA and farmer groups, changed their perspective and put in place systems that are designed to support UA, or at least remove the most draconian restrictions on the activity. However, even when rules are in place, they are often not well understood or enforced. In this volume, Mutonodzo points out that in Harare 40 percent of the people practising UA were unfamiliar with any laws related to it. Moreover, one in five considered the existing legislation to be hostile towards the practice.

Nonetheless, progress is being made. The number of municipalities that have policies in favour of UA has increased dramatically in recent years. Accra, Beijing, Brasilia, Buluwayo (Zimbabwe), Governador Valdares (Brazil), Havana, Hyderabad, Kampala, Rosario (Argentina) and Nairobi are a short list of a growing number of cities that are being proactive on the topic. Another popular way of supporting urban farming has been food-policy councils. These represent an increasingly common way of bridging community groups with municipal politicians and bureaucrats. Amsterdam, Toronto, Vancouver, London, Detroit and Pittsburgh all have councils that encourage locally-based food systems.

The efforts of researchers, farmers and other institutions have been built upon by visionary political leaders. In Accra, for instance, UA policy has been developed and the deputy minister of food and agriculture has signed a statement of vision on UA, and the government is giving awards to UA farmers to help implement better practices associated with UA. In 2003, the Harare Declaration was signed. Represented by ministers of local government and agriculture, it commits their intention to develop UA in five African countries (Kenya, Malawi, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe).

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) now readily accepts UA has the potential to strengthen urban food security. A project of FAO conducted with IDRC worked with farmer organizations in Phnom Penh, Harare and Cairo amongst other cities to develop first-hand knowledge of how farmers organize around UA to lobby for their rights to land, water and safe food (FAO, 2007). These groups often exist as a reaction to the pressure of development and land markets that presses UA to the margins.

It has taken some time to develop appropriate policy responses, but where city governments are supportive the reaction has been very strong. The development of the ‘farm to fork’ approach by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is helping policy makers realize where interventions are most useful (IWMI, 2008). By analysing the chain of production through the lens of the farm-market-consumer continuum, policy makers can apply specific targeted interventions with maximum impact. For instance, interventions at the market level are an important policy entry point for municipalities. Consider, for example, the results from Soto in this volume that show an increase in microbiological risks from washing vegetables with dirty water. This helps us realize the importance of well-managed health campaigns that articulate best health management practices from the production of food through to the market and onto the consumer.

Urban agriculture, once a fringe topic, could now arguably be considered a field in and of itself due to the combined efforts of numerous organizations. What is most evident is that UA has become popular mostly because it makes enormous sense to many people. Some disagreement on the influence of UA still exists, but the logic that food will naturally be grown close to the market for that food is not debated. The contents of this book add fuel to the concept that UA, as a livelihood strategy, will continue to exist as long as the demand for food exists. Moreover, the importance of UA is such that it should not be left in a policy vacuum. Its positive and negative attributes need to be confronted by well-informed policies and programmes." (

Social–Ecological Networks of Urban Agriculture

See chapter 11: Complex Ecologies and City Spaces: Social–Ecological Networks of Urban Agriculture Laura J. Shillington


By Mark Redwood: see