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Focus on... Urban agriculture

Often illegal, and usually ignored by planners and policy-makers, the growing of crops and keeping of livestock by town and city dwellers creates both opportunities and risks. Urban consumers may enjoy improved availability of fresh vegetables, milk or poultry products. Farmers may benefit from attractive prices, particularly if they can sell to wealthier customers and businesses. Pockets of green may even offer a retreat from the heat and noise of the city sprawl. On the downside, livestock and abattoir waste and field run-off can threaten fresh water supplies, those living near intensive poultry or pig units may suffer considerable discomfort from air pollution, and vegetables grown in polluted soil, water and air present both short and long-term health risks to urban consumers.

With its potential as a significant source of both nutrition and employment for the urban poor, urban agriculture deserves to be taken seriously by city authorities and development agencies alike. Minimising the environmental and health dangers is clearly of the highest priority, but to achieve this, legalisation and proper recognition would seem a vital first step. The example of Havana - see Planned to perfection - indicates what is possible when urban farming becomes a policy not a problem. The challenge is for other urban centres to find ways to make urban agriculture safe, efficient and productive. Focus on urban agriculture explores the complexity of that challenge and looks at some of the options for both farmers and planners in towns and cities.

Facing the urban tide

For farmers who cultivate land on city fringes, urban growth poses some difficult questions. Should they convert from staple crops to high-value perishables for the urban market? Will their land be targeted by developers, and if so, is it worth investing in intensive land and water management? Would they be better to leave it fallow and wait and see what happens...

Leaving out the livestock?

In a busy suburb of Kampala, just down from a thriving market, three cows stand on top of a rubbish heap that is spilling into the street. The cows browse amongst the waste. Similar scenes can be seen in Nairobi, a city struggling with slums knee-deep in rubbish.These animals may not always be well tended, but for the poor they are a necessary part of urban life...

Planned to perfection

It is definitely a love-hate relationship and it is evident in towns and cities throughout much of the developing world. On the one hand, people rely heavily upon the food produced within the city - and city authorities know that. And yet much of the farming that goes on in cities is, strictly speaking, illegal...

Health or hazard?

Soil and water - bare necessities for a farming life - bear insidious and hidden hazards for urban farmers in developing countries and the consumers of their produce. People need fresh fruit and vegetables for vitamins and minerals, but they do not need an added supplement of heavy metals or the constant challenge of coliform bacteria...

The old ones are the best

During lunch time in Harare, expensive vehicles flock around make-shift food outlets. The main attraction - indigenous vegetable dishes served with sadza. Rural to urban migration has seen eating habits, indigenous crops and farming systems that were commonplace in rural areas, influence those in towns and cities. As a result, indigenous vegetable production has become a more integral part of urban agriculture...

See also:

Waste not want not - use of urban waste water in agriculture
Nourishing waste - nutrient flows in urban livestock production
A way with waste - using urban wastes for compost making

Urban agriculture - Points of View
Cuba - Country profile
Urban farming - Picture feature


Back to top 1st September 2003