The Economic Case for Urban Agriculture & Household Food Security
Urban Agriculture is simply growing plants and raising livestock within and around cities. Sometimes referred to as UPA (urban and peri-urban agriculture)
What distinguishes it from rural agriculture is that it is integrated into the urban economy and is part of the uban food system. Urban residents are the farm laborers.
And it uses typical urban resources like organic waste as compost and urban wastewater for irrigation and thus impacts directly on urban ecology.
Urban agriculture is not a relict of the past that will fade away; urban agriculture increases when the city grows. Nor is it brought to the city by rural immigrants that will loose their rural habits over time but is an integral part of the urban system.
Large part of the people involved in urban agriculture is the urban poor. Contrary to general belief, they are often not recent immigrants from rural areas. This is because the urban farmer needs time to get access to urban land, water and other productive resources.
In many cities, one will often find lower and mid-level government officials, school teachers and the like involved in agriculture, as well as richer people who are seeking a good investment for their capital.
Women constitute an important part of urban farmers, since agriculture and related processing and selling activities, among others, can often be more easily combined with their other tasks in the household.
Urban farming may take place on the homestead (on-plot) or on land away from the residence (off-plot), on private land (owned, leased) or on public land (parks, conservation areas, along roads, streams and railways), or semi-public land (schoolyards, grounds of schools and hospitals).
Urban agriculture includes food products, from different types of crops (grains, root crops, vegetables, mushrooms, fruits) and animals (poultry, rabbits, goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, guinea pigs, fish, and so on) as well as non-food products (like aromatic and medicinal herbs, ornamental plants, tree products, etc.). or combinations of these.
In most cities in developing countries, an important part of urban agricultural production is for self-consumption, with surpluses being traded.
However, the importance of the market-oriented urban agriculture, both in volume and economic value, should not be underestimated. Products are sold at the farm gate, by cart in the same or other neighborhoods, in local shops, on local markets or to intermediaries and supermarkets.
Mainly fresh products are sold, but part of it is processed for own use, cooked and sold on the streets, or processed and packaged for sale.
Why is urban agriculture important? The rapid urbanization that is taking place goes together with a rapid increase in urban poverty and urban food insecurity.
By 2020, developing countries will be home to some 75 percent of all urban dwellers. By then, about half of the poor in Asia will be concentrated in towns and cities.
Most cities in developing countries have great difficulties in coping with this development and are unable to create sufficient formal employment opportunities for the poor. They also have increasing problems with the disposal of urban wastes and waste water and maintaining air and river water quality.
Urban agriculture provides a complementary strategy to reduce urban poverty and food insecurity and enhance urban environmental management.
It plays an important role in enhancing urban food security since the costs of supplying and distributing food to urban areas based on rural production and imports continue to increase, and do not satisfy the demand, especially of the poor.
Next to food security, urban agriculture contributes to local economic development, poverty alleviation and social inclusion of the urban poor and women in particular, as well as to the greening of the city and the productive reuse of urban wastes.
The contribution of urban agriculture to food security and healthy nutrition is probably its most important asset.
Food production in the city is in many cases a response of the urban poor to inadequate, unreliable and irregular access to food, and the lack of purchasing power.
Most cities in developing countries are not able to generate sufficient income opportunities for rapidly growing populations.
Because cash is needed in urban settings, lack of income translates more directly into lack of food than in a rural setting. The costs of supplying and distributing food from rural areas to the urban areas or to import food for the cities are rising continuously, and it is expected that urban food insecurity will increase.
Urban agriculture may improve both food intake (improved access to a cheap source of proteins) and the quality of the food may improve (poor urban families involved in farming eat more fresh vegetables than other families in the same income category).
In Cagayan de Oro City, urban farmers generally eat more vegetables than non-urban farmers of the same wealth class, and also more than consumers from a higher wealth class.
The United Nations Development Program estimates that 200 million urban residents provide food for the market and 800 million urban dwellers are actively engaged in urban agriculture in one way or another.
These urban farmers produce substantial amounts of food for urban consumers. A global estimate is that up to 20 percent of the world’s food is produced in urban areas.
In Hanoi, Vietnam, 80 percent of fresh vegetables, 50 percent of pork, poultry and fresh water fish, as well as 40 percent of eggs, originate from urban and peri-urban areas.
In Shanghai, China, 60 percent of the city’s vegetables, 100 percent of the milk, 90 percent of the eggs and 50 percent of the pork and poultry meat is produced locally.
In Java, Indonesia, home gardens provide for 18 percent of the calorie consumption and 14 percent of proteins of the urban population.
Urban agriculture to a large extent complements rural agriculture and increases the efficiency of the national food system in that it provides products that rural agriculture cannot supply easily. These include perishable products, products that require rapid delivery upon harvest; these can substitute for food imports and can release rural lands for export production of commodities.
It saves household expenditures on food; poor people in poor countries generally spend a substantial part of their income (50 percent to 70 percent) on food. Growing the relatively expensive vegetables saves money as well as on bartering of produce. Selling produce (fresh or processed) brings in cash.
Besides the economic benefits for the urban agricultural producers, urban agriculture stimulates the development of related micro-enterprises: the production of necessary agricultural inputs and the processing, packaging and marketing of outputs.
The activities or services rendered by these enterprises may owe their existence in part or wholly to urban agriculture.
Input production and delivery may include activities like the collection and composting of urban wastes, production of organic pesticides, fabrication of tools, delivery of water, buying and bringing of chemical fertilizers and the like.
Transformation of foodstuffs may include the making of yoghurt from milk, or the frying of bananas or yams, chicken or eggs. This might be done at the household level, to sell at the farm gate or in a local shop or market, and larger units to sell in supermarkets or even for export.
Urban agriculture is part of the urban ecological system and can play an important role in the urban environmental management system.
Firstly, a growing city will produce more and more wastewater and organic wastes. For most cities the disposal of wastes has become a serious problem. Urban agriculture can help solve such problems by turning urban wastes into a productive resource.
In many cities, local or municipal initiatives exist to collect household waste and organic refuse from vegetable markets and agro-industries in order to produce compost or animal feed, but one can also find urban farmers who use fresh organic waste (which may cause environmental and health problems).
Compost allows an urban farmer to use less chemical fertilizers and prevent problems related to contaminated groundwater. In addition, compost-making initiatives create employment and provide income for the urban poor.
Farmers may use wastewater for irrigating their farms when they lack access to other sources of water or because of its high price. The use of fresh (untreated) wastewater has the additional advantage for poor urban farmers that it contains a lot of nutrients (although often not in the proportions required by the soils and crops).
However, without proper guidance, the use of wastewater may lead to health and environmental problems. Farmers need to be trained in self- protection during handling of the wastewater, proper crop selection and adequate irrigation methods, among other things.
Urban agriculture may also positively impact upon the greening and cleaning of the city by turning derelict open spaces into green zones and maintaining buffer and reserve zones free of housing.
Degraded open spaces and vacant land are often used as informal waste dumpsites and are a source of crime and health problems.
When such zones are turned into productive green spaces, not only an unhealthy situation is cleared, but also the neighbours will enjoy the green space. They enhance community self-esteem in the neighborhood and stimulate other actions for improving the community’s livelihood.
SOURCE: Resource Centers on Urban Agriculture and Food Security