About Urban Agriculture

urbanization and poverty growth
strain on urban health and resources
what is urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA)?
why develop UPA?
gaps in knowledge on UPA

Urbanization and poverty growth 

By 2020 the developing countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America will be home to some 75% of all urban dwellers, and to eight of the anticipated nine mega-cities with populations in excess of 20 million. It is expected that by 2020, 85% of the poor in Latin America, and about 40-45% of the poor in Africa and Asia will be concentrated in towns and cities.

The resulting strain on urban resources and health

Water, sanitation and other local services, including the collection and removal of garbage pose major challenges. There is a close correspondence between the urban poor and those vulnerable to environmental problems such as lack of water, unsanitary conditions, lack of waste collection and exposure to contaminants. Each of these problems is frequently associated with informal settlements on the perimeter of cities as well. 

Furthermore, there is evidence that the urban poor and those living around cities are also exposed to a “double health burden”, being subject both to the communicable diseases typical of rural areas and the non-communicable “lifestyle” diseases typical of the urban health transition. Of particular concern are the fifteen out of nineteen mega-cities in the South with populations exceeding 10 million. Congestion and overcrowding in these cities also contribute to problems associated with access to food, to poorer air quality and to worsening psycho-social health. Problems affecting many urban and peri-urban areas are thus not just about human health problems, but about the interconnections between individual human health, community health and the health and sustainability of the environment. 

What is Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture (UPA)?

Agriculture practiced in urban areas distinguishes itself from rural agricultural activities in several ways. (To view a table summarizing these differences, click here )

Various definitions of urban agriculture within the mounting literature on UPA (FAO, 1999b; Mougeot, L, 1999; Nugent, R, 1997; Smit, J, 1996) are proof of the fact that there is not yet a universally agreed-upon definition of urban agriculture. This however does not take away the need of a definition as a mental tool to enhance understanding and describe the complex reality of urban and peri-urban agricultural activity. For this purpose we define UPA as
agricultural production, processing, and distribution activities within and around cities and towns, whose main motivation is personal consumption and/or income generation, and which compete for scarce urban resources of land, water, energy, and labor that are in demand for other urban activities. UPA includes small- and large-scale activities in horticulture, livestock, fodder and milk production, aquaculture, and forestry - where several activities may be carried out within one enterprise.

Why develop Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture (UPA)?

The absolute and relative growth in urban poverty and malnutrition raises two important issues. First, there is a clear link with food insecurity among urban populations. Studies have shown a link between the growth in underweight children in urban families and the inability of their families to purchase food. Second, there is evidence that instability in the urban labor market and its vulnerability to economic shocks directly impact on poverty. Urban agriculture has the potential to make an important positive contribution to both urban food security as well as urban employment. 

Since ancient times urban agriculture has made important contributions to feeding city dwellers. Recently collected qualitative and quantitative data shows that increasing numbers of the urban poor are engaged in urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) as a poverty alleviation strategy. Already as many as 800 million people are employed in urban and peri-urban farming and related enterprises, and this number is likely to expand in the future.

There is evidence that households engaging in urban agriculture have better nutritional levels, especially those households where women are conducting this activity. At the same time, however, the use of urban wastewater for irrigated farming presents health risks.

Gaps in knowledge on UPA

Urban agriculture has been overlooked, underestimated, and under-reported. In order to enhance the positive impacts UPA can make to urban livelihoods, resource utilization, and the environment, there is a need to address important research needs as well as bridge the gap between UPA research and practice with urban planning and policy issues.

As far as research needs are concerned, the growing importance of intensive self-provisioning by poor urban families who lack access to adequate nutrition needs more study. The increasing opportunity for small-scale commercial urban agriculture also needs more research as the demand for perishable high-value agricultural products such as dairy, meat and leafy vegetables rises with growing numbers of city consumers. Additionally, the potential contribution that urban agriculture (for example, by nutrient recycling of organic wastes) can make to improving the urban environment needs to be explored in more detail.

In urban policy and planning issues the importance of the interests and policies of a diverse range of stakeholders influencing both urban livelihoods and the ecosystem (local municipal authorities, planning committees, squatter settlements, civic organizations etc.) must be given more attention and there is a need for a stakeholder and policy dialogue

To sum up, the potentials that UPA offers in contributing to increasing food security, alleviating urban poverty, generating employment, and creating more livable spaces for city dwellers need to be explored in more detail. All of this argues for a concerted initiative at the international level to directly address UPA  issues

Urban Harvest -
the CGIAR system-wide initiative on urban and  peri-urban agriculture (UPA) works to contribute to the food security of poor urban families, and to increase the value of agricultural production in urban and peri-urban areas, whilst ensuring the sustainable management of the urban environment.

Copyright © 2000-2005 Urban Harvest - CGIAR System-wide Initiative for Urban and Peri Urban Agriculture
, c/o CIP, P.O. Box 1558, Lima 12, Peru. Tel. +51-1-349-6017; Fax +51-1-317-5326; 
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