Urban Agriculture Notes

City Farmer: Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture

(with special reference to Africa)


2.2 Post-Industrial Revolution City Farming

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

It follows that the divorce of agriculture from cities, of food production from urban economies, is very recent in the urban history of humanity. It also has not been universal and is showing signs of weakening both in the North and the South.

The reasons for which UA would be disregarded by governments and planners of western urban economies still need to be clarified. Lee-Smith and Memon (1994:70) recognise that the exclusion of agriculture as a permanent urban function in western contemporary urbanism can be explained by cultural connotations assigned to country and city dating back to the Greco-Roman period, which was later reinforced by recent urbanism associated with the Industrial Revolution. On the other hand, Greco-Roman archaeological remains, current liberal practices in the Mediterranean heartland, plus garden-city paradigms transferred from Europe to colonies or ex-colonies (greenbelt towns of US and garden-city colonial cores of Asian and African cities), point to a very complex arena of visions. Zoning started to sanitize the core of medieval Dutch cities as early as in the 17th century (Wagenaar, 1992: 165-176). However, the sanitation argument of West European colonial powers against large-scale food production in many African cities was wrongly aimed. In the industrializing metropolises of the North, pathologies and epidemics had their origins in hazardous and polluting manufacturing technologies and in workers' substandard living conditions rather than in urban food production itself.

The prevailing eighteenth-century philosophical view in Western Europe opposed natural to artificial, nature to civilization, natural man to urban man (Marshall, 1992: 223). This view, along with the privatization of land ownership, the privilege to grow food on private land by the elite who least needed to, might better explain the divorce between urban and agriculture. This separation was being formalized when cities and urban workers could have gained much from urban agriculture. Wartime rationing induced exceptions to this rule in Europe and North America, not dissimilarly to situations which post-colonial African cities have been facing more enduringly.

In the North and South, particularly in the last twenty years, urbanization has been putting the practicality of cities' exclusive reliance on often distant and unreliable rural food production into question; urbanization has also been challenging the morality of depriving the urban poor from accessing unbuilt urban land for feeding themselves and others. The divorce is being revisited and changes are being considered, albeit based on different arguments. In the urban areas of several newly independent countries of the South, particularly those where local governance is representative and progressive, bylaws inherited from the colonial era are being changed and urban food production is tolerated if not supported. In the North, urban governments are rediscovering UA as a means to recover and utilize more fully resources such as space and energy. In both North and South, cities may eventually reduce food brought in from other areas, while extending the useful life of the resources they still require. For many decades now, this utopia has become a reality in major Asian metropolises.

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revised, June 12,1995

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