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- Issue 4, July - September 2002
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Food Security and Urban Agriculture
by the UMP-LAC Regional Office and Partners

As people move from rural to urban areas, as populations in cities increase and as poverty is urbanized, there is an effect on food production, availability and security. But while urban population growth means there are less people producing food and more people consuming it, it does not necessarily follow that there is a reduction in the amount or quantity of food produced. Globally, we have enough food to feed the world, and technologically, we have the means and know-how to increase production of those involved in agriculture. But people also must have access to the food they need, and the means to buy that food, where they do not produce it themselves. Poverty reduces food security, as does lack of access through transportation infrastructure.

One aspect of food security directly linked to cities is urban and peri-urban agriculture - the growing of plants and raising of animals in a city for food and other uses as well as related activities. In 1996, UNDP estimated that 800 million people were engaged in urban agriculture worldwide. Of these, 200 million are considered to be market producers, employing 150 million people full time. During periods of economical or political crisis, urban agriculture tends to increase rapidly since it is an important survival strategy for the urban poor. But urban agriculture is not a temporary phenomenon. On the contrary, it is embedded in and interacting with the urban ecological and economic system. It is an important component of the urban food system, uses typical urban resources (like organic wastes and wastewater), competes for land with other urban functions and is influenced by urban policies and plans.

Urban agriculture effectively contributes to the reduction food insecurity by improving food intake of poor and middle income households and by raising the nutritional status of women, children and elderly. It is also a noteworthy source of income and savings and contributes substantially to the urban ecology by improving the micro-climate, reducing energy use (less transport, storage losses and packaging), greening the city and encouraging the productive re-use of urban wastes.

Rather than competing with rural agriculture, urban and rural agriculture tend to complement each other since urban agriculture normally focuses on products that require closeness to the urban markets (perishable vegetables, fresh milk, flowers and ornamentals for export, poultry and chicken meat). Opposition to urban agriculture tends to come more from public health and urban planning circles than from agencies covering employment, community services and agriculture. Over time, urban biases restricting agriculture in the cities have become institutionalised in bylaws and regulations that have remained largely ineffective. Concerns regarding the use of agrochemicals and their adverse effects on public health tend to be exaggerated. Actual use and related problems are limited by various factors. In both cases, problems are technically manageable. However, this depends on cities making better use of prevention and mitigating measures, including trans-sectoral coordination.

There is broad consensus now that urban agriculture is an important area of government intervention at the national and especially at the municipal level. There are a variety of ways in which municipal authorities can play a key role in enabling and regulating urban agriculture. They can stimulate dialogue and co-operation among the direct and indirect stakeholders in urban agriculture. They also have a role in the review and revision of existing Municipal bylaws and regulations regarding urban agriculture and the integration of urban agriculture in sector policies on poverty alleviation and social inclusion, health and nutrition, environmental and waste management and economic development. They can assist with securing access to land and enhancing security of user rights of urban farmers by making an inventory of open spaces in the city, the integration of urban agriculture in urban land use planning and zonification plans, provision of vacant public land in medium term lease to poor urban farmers and the promotion of multi-functional land use (combinations with recreation, water management, landscape management, maintenance of buffer zones, etc). They can also support the establishment of UA bodies within or connected to the municipality, as was done in Quito, Rosario and Cuba in the LAC region.

Urban agriculture is a cross-sectoral issue that requires a multi-sectoral and multi-actor approach, and the active participation of the direct stakeholders (farmers' groups, small enterprises, consumers and indirect stakeholders (advisory services, credit services, city authorities, health departments, etc.) in the planning and implementation of policies and action programmes.

Such action programmes might be specifically focussed on urban agriculture. But experience has shown that urban agriculture is most viable where it is mainstreamed into robust strategies for urban land use, poverty alleviation, local economic development, and sound environmental management. For an example of urban agriculture at work in a city, please see the article from Latin America in the Innovative Local Experiences section below.

Some useful websites on urban agriculture are: www.ruaf.org ; www.cityfarmer.org; www.idrc.ca/cfp

This article was prepared from materials provided by UMP-LAC, the Resource Centre of Urban Agriculture (RUAF), MDP, IAGU with inputs from a UN-HABITAT workshop on Food Security and Sustainable Development in Nairobi November 2002.

For more information please contact pgu@pgu-ecu.org


2002 UN-HABITAT - All Rights Reserved