Urban Agriculture Notes

City Farmer: Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture

(with special reference to Africa)


by Luc J.A. Mougeot
© Copyright 1994
International Development Research Centre

Urban farming as a basic urban function is nothing new; in fact this activity seems to be as ancient as cities themselves. At the dawn of the 21st century, Asia is leading the "South's way" in this sector, with highly organised and competitive systems for the production and marketing of urban agriculture. Since the late 1970s, the literature has been unveiling the growing incidence of UA in many other developing regions. Factors encouraging this expansion were discussed in this chapter. A noteworthy trend is that more governments are introducing institutional and other policy changes which recognise, tolerate, manage and/or promote the activity.

Paramount to justifying and encouraging this change of attitude is the mounting evidence on UA's contribution to urban food security. That urban food supplies in developing countries can no longer be taken for granted and there is ample evidence from cities world-wide that food is turning into a basic luxury for the urban poor. These findings are collapsing the myth of urban privilege over rural neglect, at least as far as food security is concerned. Urban food production has grown into a complex and thriving industry, in terms of practising households; it supplies many nutritious food items to urban markets. There is a growing body of data on the benefits accruing to practising households, in terms of food supply, of child nutritional status and general health, and of cash savings and income. The unfolding evidence should gradually lead the development assistance organizations and local authorities to incorporate UA into more sustainable and cost-effective food security strategies.

From an urban planning perspective, surveys systematically point to the fact that the area or space effectively being used by UA activities is very much greater than conventional classifications and land use maps indicate. UA is virtually ubiquitous because it is remarkably adaptive and mobile. UA is typically opportunistic because practitioners have evolved and adapted remarkable know-how to select and locate, land, process and market plants, trees and livestock within the urban context. What urban farmers have achieved and what they dare to pursue, despite minimal support, in the very heart of our metropolises is a resounding tribute to human ingenuity.

Perhaps some of the more startling revelations of studies are that UA is far from being merely a poor person's subsistence, an informal activity, or an illegal business. It is even less the accidental or temporary pursuit of recent migrants from rural areas. Above all, UA in the South generally replicates on a massive scale the efforts of increasingly urban people to meet their basic need for food that is affordable and in adequate quantity. Without this food, there can be no sustainable city, economy, or government.

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revised, June 12,1995

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