Urban Agriculture, Progress and Prospect: 1975-2005
by Jac Smit (TUAN)


    At the time of the so-called cultural revolution in China in the 1960s, a policy and program was established to achieve nutritional self-reliance for all administrative districts, including urban districts. District boundaries and administrative structures were organized to this end. Land use, waste management, food marketing, credit and agricultural input plans and programs were established, and to this day China's large and small cities are among the most efficient in food production.

    Two items of recent data are worthy of note regarding China's pro-urban agriculture policy: 1) urban poultry and pork production are increasing by double digits per year in response to changing food demand and increasing family incomes, and 2) infant mortality and other childhood health indicators are better for Chinese cities than for most other developing countries, and some developed countries.

    We have mentioned the fact above, and the impact of the policy shift of the OFY program in Ghana and the AFSC project in Lusaka. Singapore today has policy and regulation firmly favoring urban agriculture, as does Hong Kong. In the 1970s, for a time Singapore removed swine raising from the permitted urban uses. In the 1980s, it was reinstated and today Singapore is self-reliant in pork.

    Curitiba, Brazil, began policy and program initiatives in the 1970s to make use of idle land for food and fuel production, using urban waste. It is now frequently cited as a bellwether for environmental planning and development. Sao Paulo in the 1990s learned from Curitiba (some of the same planners), and included urban agriculture in its new policy plan.

    Mozambique was faced with a civil war at the dawn of independence. An early decision of the socialist government was to invite peoples' cooperatives to transform the cities' open spaces into farms. The results are now known worldwide. A third or more of the nutritional requirements of towns and cities were produced in the urban areas, and that percentage is significantly higher for protein and micro-nutrients. The policy has been continued after the war and is supported by ADB and other international development cooperation agencies.

    In 1989, Russia withdrew its support from Cuba, particularly for food and agriculture. Cuba, with an 80 percent urban population, turned around its policy 180 degrees to encourage urban agriculture. In 1995, Cuba hosted a week-long regional urban agriculture conference. Today in Cuba a would-be urban farmer can gain access to land and water through the national association of women. Inputs are available through State supported AgStores in many neighborhoods. And, women can sell their products at street markets which were closed for 30 years. Policy is also changing in Europe and North America. The States of Massachusetts and New Jersey (90 percent urban population) promote locally grown products. In North America, the cities of Toronto, Chattanooga, Hartford, and many others, have food policy councils which promote local nutritional self-reliance. Seattle has included a farm at the core of each of its communities that restructure the city in its long term plan.

    In Europe, the Milan, Hamburg and Freiberg local authorities are well known for pro-urban agriculture policies and programs. In the United Kingdom, ten or more cities are supporting city farms.

    While, cities and countries are changing their urban agriculture policies, international development cooperation agencies are lagging behind. However, there are a few bright spots on the horizon. In 1994, the UNDP hosted the World Mayors Colloquium. The mayors listed urban agriculture, along with reducing unemployment, as a first step of six in coping with their food insecurity and environmental degradation problems.

    Table 1: [Community, city, national, and global policy roles in urban agriculture] clearly indicates that promoting urban agriculture requires national action to provide the 'infrastructure' for action by municipalities and communities. A small percentage of the world's community of nations is actively supporting it in 1996. Communities and municipalities are promoting UA on their own, but without the desirable muscle. Global programs are today principally supporting community action; to be fully effective, global support is needed at the national and municipal level, as well. This table can be viewed as a clarion call for a Global Urban Agriculture Funding Facility.

    In late 1994, in Vienna, Austria, the CARE International governing council voted to include urban agriculture in its relief and development strategy. In 1996, in Copenhagen, they moved the policy up to program status.

    In 1995, IDRC enhanced the status of its 'Cities Feeding People' project activities to that of a programme and increased its funding at a time of decreased overall budget. At the same time, FAO formed an informal interdepartmental working group on urban agriculture and decided to include a major article on the subject in its next annual report (SOFA). In the UK, the ODA established a special fund for peri-urban agriculture studies and projects. In Sweden, SIDA has drafted a statement to the Global Summit "Habitat II" which includes urban agriculture. In 1996, the German technical development agency, GTZ, is forming an interdepartmental working group on urban agriculture. And last, but perhaps not least, both the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States have passed, and funded, the "Community Food Security Act" which will encourage and support urban community nutritional self-reliance.

    There is a scattered but discernible trend for policy to shift toward favoring urban agriculture in the poorest and richest countries, but still far less than merited by the scale of the activity.

    pointer Return to This Report's Table of Contents pointer

    pointer Return to Contents of Site pointer

Pages maintained by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture Urban Agriculture Notes