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

    Development Cooperation,
    1975 to 1995

    The 1970s

    There was very little international reporting or attention to urban agriculture until the late 1970s. More documentation was produced in the 1980s.

    The best reported, and perhaps the most outstanding of the urban agriculture development programs of the 1970s, was Operation Feed Yourselves (OFY) in Ghana. Having said that, it also needs to be mentioned that somewhat similar programs, with more or less success, were going on in Zaire, Côte d'Ivoire and other West African countries, with French Government and FAO support.

    OFY began with the premise that much of Ghana's food imports could be grown within the country, particularly in cities and near factories. The objectives were import substitution, self-sufficiency in maize, rice, livestock, fish, poultry and vegetables. The government determined what could be produced, and what inputs were necessary, and then assisted families, associations, and businesses in acquiring the means of production. It promoted the formation of farmers' associations in and near settlements.

    The results of both the technological changes and the organizational changes can still be found in Ghana. From 1970 to 1974 (the program continued to 1976) production of plantain increased from 200,000 acres to 849,000, okra from 18,000 to 47,000 and rice from 136,000 to 2,265,000 acres. Vegetable production, given an emphasis in urbanizing areas, increased between three and four times.

    In central Africa, there was a major example of development cooperation in urban agriculture carried out in Lusaka, Zambia. It began with AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) assisting some squatters on the urban fringe to raise vegetables and small livestock to feed their family and friends. The success of the project attracted UNICEF, who expanded the project and added school gardens and training. At that time, in the mid-1970s, the World Bank arrived on the scene with a major squatter area upgrading project. The AFSC/UNICEF urban agriculture project was folded into the WB project, and rain-fed farms at the edge of the city were added to the smaller irrigated farms near homes.

    A most significant element in this story is the policy shift of the Lusaka local corporation, which went from banning agriculture to regulating and encouraging it, according to UNICEF data and policy dialogue. Since then, several academic studies have been done on UA in Lusaka, including a PhD dissertation.

    The most typical development cooperation activities of the 1970s were home or household gardens, and school and community gardens. Save the Children, FAO and other international aid organizations supported household and community gardens with the prime objective of improving the family diet. In some cases, participants were removed from the program if they were caught selling any of the farm product.

    No quick overview can do justice to this massive global effort, which continues to the present day. In the early days, the concept was partially to spread the European pattern of backyard and allotment gardens. In later years, it became more influenced by home garden practice in developing countries, for instance Indonesia and the Philippines. In these places, the typical farming system was more complex and included more benefits than are generally achieved in Europe.

    Unfortunately, many if not most household and community garden projects were evaluated to be a failure, and the intervention lost support. This purported failure also damaged the reputation of urban agriculture, although there was neither any intervention in other systems or methods of urban agriculture, nor any evaluation of its costs and benefits.

    It would not be unfair to say that in the 1970s most development professionals considered:

    1. rural to urban migration to be an ephemeral phenomenon,

    2. that urban agriculture was attributable to the short-term incidence of rural farmers migrating to the city, and

    3. doing something that was inappropriate in the long term.

    The 1980s

    It is reasonable to say that the urban agriculture development cooperation of the 1980s will be remembered for the research done by the "Food-Energy Nexus" project of the United Nations University. This study commissioned papers from many regions -- Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia -- and many countries reported on the status of food and energy production within and near towns and cities. In five years, it published 24 UA papers, co-published nine more and archived nine unpublished papers on urban agriculture. The final report was published in 1992.

    For the first time, in one related body of reports, urban agriculture was exposed as a global phenomenon, thriving in diverse economies, climates, and cultures. Unexpected data were reported: cities that were more than 100 percent self-sufficient in production of vegetables and small livestock and exporting to other cities and rural places; cities where the majority of the resident families were engaged in raising food; cities where 60 percent and more of the land space was in agricultural land use; and, perhaps most surprising, evidence that urban agriculture was increasing not decreasing in the 1980s. The reports point to two sociological findings: 1) that the urban farmers were not the recent in-migrants but long-term residents, and 2) that they were not only the poor, but included all income categories.

    In the 1980s, IDRC was engaged in studies of the use of urban waste as an input to urban agriculture, urban food distribution systems, and urban food security and sponsored some 30 studies in 24 countries.

    At the same time UNICEF carried out a global study with Urban Resources Systems on community and household gardens. SIDA and other development agencies were, in the 1980s, supporting farmers' cooperatives in the Zonas Verdes in Maputo and other Mozambican cities. SIDA also supported urban agriculture extension services in Lesotho and Botswana.

    Several local NGOs and community organizations were active in supporting urban farming: Human Settlements in Zambia, Undungu Society in Kenya, SODEM and CET in Chile, and the Urban Food Foundation in the Philippines.

    In the Western Hemisphere, the Interamerican Foundation (IAF) was funding urban agriculture production, research, and training in Chile, and contributed to world-class models. In Peru, Oxfam and others were supporting women's community gardens. This effort has expanded to producing for community kitchens, for market, and a national program supported by the national and local governments (HUFACAM). Lately, it has done outstanding work in hydroponics and guinea pig rearing (REDE).

    The rapidly spreading "popular hydroponics" movement in Latin America -- in at least eight countries -- began with an early 1980s UNDP-funded project in the Ciudad Bolivar section of Bogota, which houses about one million squatters. It is now being supported by FAO and several other development cooperation organizations.

    One of the more visionary projects in urban agriculture was the "Street Food" project supported by USAID. This study in Africa, Asia and Latin America opened our eyes to the prevalence and relevance of informal marketing of raw and processed, locally-produced food products. Again, what had been perceived to be marginal and ephemeral was defined as significant and permanent. In Bogor, Indonesia one of fifteen jobs in the city was found to be in Street Food, not counting the related jobs in agricultural production. FAO, IDRC and USAID have been active in street food studies for more than ten years.

    In the 1980s, GTZ became active in the field of urban waste and its use in urban agriculture. The World Bank also supported composting projects and in some cases related it to urban food production.

    In the middle of the decade, a benchmark study was carried out by the Mazingira Institute in Kenya with IDRC support. Following the UNU lead, it measured food and fuel production and it included a range of settlements, from small to large, in different climactic and cultural zones. This seven-volume study statistically put to rest several myths about urban agriculture: two-thirds of all urban Kenyan households were found to be farmers -- 63 percent in Nairobi. The poorest of the poor and the new urban in-migrants were never found to be farmers. Only one-quarter of the Kenyan urban farmers was farming their own land. Fully one quarter found that the food they produced was absolutely essential to their physical survival. More than two thirds of the Kenyan urban farmers were women.

    The 1990s

    Development cooperation in urban agriculture began the 1990s with the UNDP "Urban Agriculture Initiative." The idea behind this study was for one expert -- with a support team -- to visit six countries in each of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and report on "What's so," and therefore "What's to be done." This study has resulted in the book "Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Cities," which is currently being distributed worldwide. The eighteen countries visited intentionally included some that had previously been reported on, such as the Philippines, Kenya and Chile, but also countries not in the literature. This was a work of discovery, not data collection. In four years, the following has been achieved: the first comprehensive book on urban agriculture; the urban agriculture network of more than 3,000 members in 40 countries; and the formation of the SGUA (Support Group for Urban Agriculture). This group is the child of the UNDP's Urban Agriculture Advisory Committee (UAAC) formed in 1991.

    The original work of the UNDP UA initiative has been carried forward with support from IDRC, UNICEF, WB, GTZ, CARE and others, to include reports on 25 countries. At the same time, as these numerous field trips were being made, data was being collected on an equal number of other countries from literature and through participation in several conferences and workshops, (India, Indonesia, Bolivia, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, Germany, Canada, UK, USA) and visits with experts at UN University, Urban Resource Systems (USA), AVRDC, Taiwan, FAO, GTZ, Mazingira Institute, the University of the Philippines, CET (Chile), Xochimillco (Mexico), Rodale USA, NRI (UK), ETC Foundation (Netherlands) and several others. This body of information is the foundation of several masters and doctoral papers, and many projects.

    IDRC built upon its work in Kenya by commissioning a study of six cities of all sizes in Tanzania and has supported 25 studies on many aspects of urban agriculture, from wastewater management in Vietnam to dairying in West Africa. It has supported workshops in Bolivia, India, and Canada, and hosted the Third Meeting of the SGUA (see IDRC's Cities Feeding People Report 17). In 1994, UNICEF commissioned feasibility studies of urban agriculture projects for women and children in Colombia, Eritrea and Côte d'Ivoire. It has also included urban agriculture in its "Primary Environmental Care" strategy.

    Examples of CARE's work in urban agriculture are two urban agriculture projects in Haiti on inner city slums and peri-urban market production. AVRDC (Asian Vegetable Research and Development Centre) is supporting urban agriculture in South East Asia (Vietnam), Central America (Costa Rica) and East Africa (Tanzania). The government of Taiwan is supporting urban agriculture in Panama, amongst other places. JICA has a long history of supporting urban agriculture, beginning in Brazil, and including Africa and Asia. The Natural Resources Institute (NRI) in UK has been concentrating its urban agriculture work in Africa and currently is managing a global research effort into peri-urban production. It has an applied project underway in Tanzania, and studies in Ghana and Nigeria. The World Bank has published an urban agriculture study of Sub-saharan Africa Urban Agriculture: An Opportunity for Environmentally Sustainable Development in Sub-Saharan Africa, AFTES, March 1996. The Bank has recently funded a workshop in Calcutta, and its EDI/EN division is currently designing a policy training program.

    The German technical assistance agency (GTZ) has a large vegetable production project underway in Tanzania and is supporting studies in such related areas as waste management and forestry. FAO has recently published a volume on urban forestry and will be including an article on urban farming in their forthcoming annual publication, State of Food and Agriculture.

    Italy is supporting the Pro-Huerta project in Argentina. This project has had a remark able growth curve -- from 1990 to 1994 it has grown from 40,000 to 550,000 participants and from 100 to 1,100 civic partners. These 1,100 partners may be comparable to the 14,500 organizations belonging to Germany's community gardening association representing two million participants.

    USAID has been supporting a project in Russia (St. Petersburg) that is not only feeding the poor, but has reached inside of the prison system. France (CORAF), in concert with FAO and WB, is supporting a regional study of vegetable production for cities in West Africa.

    The African Development Bank is supporting at least ten urban agriculture projects from Addis Ababa to Maputo, and from fuel to fish. The Asian Development Bank is funding urban agriculture projects in several countries on seaweed, fish and shrimp, mushrooms, and horticulture. A pioneering program at UNCHS (Habitat) is called "Sustainable Cities" (SCP). The first project in the program - the Sustainable Dar es Salaam Project - has included urban agriculture with participation of IDRC, NRI and GTZ. It is considering including urban agriculture in its projects in Accra and Madras.

    The 1990s finds development support for urban agriculture to be small, but widespread and growing, while most international aid is shrinking.

    Publications, Degrees and Workshops:

    The 1990s have been remarkable not only in the number of international cooperation agencies engaged in UA, but also in the number of publications, conferences/workshops and university degrees earned on the subject.

    A quick look at the Inter University Library list under 'Urban Agriculture' and 'Urban Farming' in March 1996 found 71 titles, all published in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s:

       Number of titles
     1970s  4
     1980s 34
     1990s (five years) 33

    The distribution of these titles by country indicates interest and capacity, but also the size of the national publishing industry:

      Number of titles
     USA 19
    JAPAN 18
    EUROPE * 10
     AFRICA (all East) 9
     UK 8
    CANADA 3
    ASIA ** 2

    * Spain 3, France 2, Italy 2, Germany 1, Russia 1, Netherlands 1;
    ** China 1, Bangladesh 1

    Clearly, from the viewpoint of university libraries, Japan leads the world in urban agriculture scholarship, followed by East Africa. All but one of the books published in Japan are about urban agriculture in that country, whereas the USA publications are mostly about countries in the South. China, the world's leader in urban agriculture on the soil, is not recognizing it as a field of research. Only two books are from the former socialist countries (Russia and China). The most significant fact by far is that the 1980s exceeded the 1970s by a factor of eight and that the 1990s were experiencing double the number of publications than the 1980s from 1990 through 1994.

    Actual publications and unpublished articles make up a far larger collection than the library listings. A large percentage of these are in the library of the Urban Agriculture Network, but there are many more that are not documented in one single place.

    In the 1970s and 1980s, an article would be published occasionally in geography, city planning, agriculture or anthropological periodicals. There were more in Japan than in Europe or North America, and fewer still in developing countries. In the 1990s, the phenomenon began of entire issues of periodicals being devoted to urban agriculture including: "Habitat International," "Hunger Notes," "African Urban Quarterly," "ILEIA Newsletter," "Intermediate Technology Journal," "IDRC Reports," "International Ag-Sieve," and "Urban Perspectives."

    Whereas in the 1970s and 1980s articles were limited to specialized magazines and newsletters, in the 1990s articles began appearing in general interest periodicals such as: "The World Paper," "In-Context," "Choices," "Journal of the American Planning Association," "New Renaissance" and "Environment and Urbanization," "Scientific American," and "New Scientist." Significantly, in 1995 IDRC began publishing a series of documents under the title "Cities Feeding People" with 18 titles published to date.

    With more in recognition of UA through projects and publications, an increase in degree candidates and degrees granted was predictable. The first undergraduate degree program is slated to begin in Pretoria, South Africa (The Technikon) in 1996/97. Previously, degrees had been at the masters and doctorate level at schools such as the University of London, University of California at Berkeley, MIT, Clark University, and the University of British Colombia.

    In the early 1990s, conferences and workshops on UA are exploding. In the decade of the 1980s there were only half-a-dozen workshops, if one includes those organized around household gardens. In 1996 we have already learned of workshops in Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Mexico, and Germany.

    From 1991 to 1995, each regional workshop increased in the number of participants, organizations and countries attending: Jakarta, Ottawa, York UK, London, Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg, Leipzig, La Paz, Havana, Calcutta. Sadly, only three of these workshops have had their proceedings published to date.

    Many conferences in the 1990s are including panels on urban agriculture: Manchester Global Forum, 1994, World Future Society, 1996, UNCED Global Summit, 1992, and Habitat II, 1996.

    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