Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


United Nations Publication

Urban Agriculture:
Food, Jobs and Sustainable Cities

[UN Publication]
Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs and
Sustainable Cities

UNDP, Habitat II Series, 1996

Authors: Jac Smit, Annu Ratta and Joe Nasr
The Urban Agriculture Network

Jac Smit, one of the authors, grew up in a professor's family with agricultural antecedents. By age twenty he had worked in poultry, dairy, fruit, vegetable and ornamental horticulture production and been engaged in direct marketing in six of the United States.

He went on to take a technical degree in agriculture from SUNY and after defining his life objective as "ecologically sustainable cities" moved on to a master's degree in City and Regional planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

As a professional city planner he carried this commitment to over thirty countries on five continents. In 1990 he switched from, urban regional planning with some agriculture, to full time urban agriculture. After a world study tour, visiting 20 countries, he founded The Urban Agriculture Network [TUAN]. TUAN today is the repository of the world's leading UA library and is linked to hundreds of UA organizations globally.

Is urban farming a marginal activity practiced for survival by the poor and a relic from rural habits, or is it a modern economic activity with major significance for food security, stable family incomes and a livable urban environment? That is the question explored by the book: Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Cities.

The book is based on exploratory trips made to over 20 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America by the Urban Agriculture Initiative of the UNDP, and on extensive research and information gathering from diverse sources over many years. This 300 page book fills the information gap about urban agriculture.

For the first time one document presents the experience of urban farming in countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America:

Urban agriculture offers towns and cities the benefits of income generation, hunger reduction and nutrition improvement, environment enhancement and sustainable management. However, there are also risks. It can be environmentally degrading, and unhygienic if poorly practiced.

This book analyzes the current and potential benefits, costs and constraints of urban farming. Future steps are then suggested, based on an analysis of the lessons from current and past practices. The book makes extensive use of case studies [50], photos [63] and tables [20]. Appendices include further information on other readings and addresses of experts worldwide.

This book will be a useful tool for development agencies, NGO's, community organizations, government agencies, international agencies, research institutions, agencies dealing with poverty, hunger, nutrition, urban management or sustainable development. It will help them get a clearer picture of the relevance and scope of urban farming within their objective, and help them define their strategy in urban agriculture. It is likely to become a core document in university courses.


Cities and Towns Visited by
The Urban Agriculture Network, 1991-95

Table of Contents


21st Century Cities
What Would the World be Like in the 21st Century if Cities Were Nutritionally Self-Reliant? Paper delivered by Jac Smit in Marmaris, Turkey on April 20, 1996

International Sustainable Agriculture Issues Report
At the April 29, 1994 WSAA Brown Bag meeting, Jac Smit of the Urban Agriculture Network spoke about the increasingly important role of urban agriculture in sustainable agriculture.


This book has four main purposes:

  1. to present a comprehensive picture of urban agriculture in Asia, Africa and Latin America;

  2. to define a distinct industry that needs to be recognized and treated as such;

  3. to persuade leaders in government, non-governmental organizations, research institutions and other public and private entities to conduct research, support action projects and eliminate unnecessary constraints to the growth of the urban agriculture industry and

  4. to foster a climate that empowers practitioners and the agencies that back them to fulfill the industry's potential for improving public well being and the quality of urban life.

The book reveals that urban agriculture has been overlooked, underestimated and underreported. It outlines the historical prejudices and biases against urban farming, which for the most part are either unfounded or obsolete. Actual problems that can result from ill-practised cultivation and animal rearing in urbanized areas are identified, as are the many benefits of well-planned and well-executed urban agriculture.

Additionally, the volume reviews the history and current status of urban farming in terms of its relevance for the future, describes some of the urban agricultural enterprises that exist in a score of countries and explores potential methods of promoting the urban agriculture industry.

Through extensive interviews and correspondence, it has become clear that urban agriculture has been underrated in all but a handful of countries and mostly overlooked by the international development community. During the 1980s, the industry was in a period of rapid growth which included a transfer of methods, particularly from Asia to Africa and Latin America. Nutritionists, energy specialists, geographers, urban planners, agriculturists and social scientists began to report on this growth at an unprecedented rate, each from his own point of view. This book is, we believe, the first effort to pull together their findings. We therefore consider it to be a "wake-up call".

As an industry, urban agriculture is closely linked to several urban, ecological, social and economic systems. It provides economic benefits for urban farmers and their communities and cities. It enhances the living environment and can improve efficiency in urban management. It contributes to better public health (if practised properly) and furthers social participation in the community. It can play an important role in reducing some types of hazards and in aiding the survivors of others.

Because of these multiple linkages and benefits, urban agriculture more than most other industries requires partnerships between public and private interests to achieve its potential. Yet urban farmers by and large believe that they are isolated pioneers without support. They have difficulty accomplishing what other industries consider routine, such as buying necessary inputs (seeds, fertilizer and tools), borrowing capital or buying insurance, acquiring a manual or obtaining instructions on how to produce a new product or crop or even protecting their activities against theft. Through solidarity and dissemination of knowledge, urban farmers should have a more secure foundation that ensures better returns for their efforts.

This volume focuses on urban agriculture in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It makes only occasional references to urban agriculture in Europe, the Middle East, the Pacific islands, the Caribbean and North America. This was a decision made at the outset because it was foreseen that the greatest potential benefits could be realized in the developing regions represented by the countries visited. However, the findings and conclusions of this document do refer to reports on other geographic areas where the information is available. It is important to note that some wealthy countries, including Japan and the Netherlands, have long been leaders in urban agriculture.

The intended audience for this book includes policy-makers, researchers, development agency staff, government agencies, non-governmental organizations and private organizations concerned with food security as well as those involved in agricultural production, processing and marketing; urban hunger and nutrition; micro-enterprise development; the urban environment and waste management. The priority audience is in the developing countries but includes international agencies and readers with related concerns in industrial countries. For instance, recent books on 'green' and ecological cities have chapters on urban agriculture, and it is hoped that this book will resonate with some of their readers. There is also considerable interest in urban agriculture among the supporters of sustainable agriculture.


The findings and conclusions are based on field research conducted by UNDP consultants from The Urban Agriculture Network in 18 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America during 1991 and 1992, supplemented by additional trips to several other countries, along with desk and library research that reviewed studies from the early 197Os through 1995. More than 300 interviews and more than 100 site visits were conducted with farmers, government officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations, community groups and research institutes. Important information was also obtained through visits to research and operating agencies of the United Nations and participation in workshops and conferences.

The book is thus not the work of one author or even a team, but has literally hundreds of committed authors: the members of The Urban Agriculture Network. The beginnings of the network date to early 1991, when UNDP/DGIP, with the technical support of the Urban Development Unit, launched this benchmark study of urban agriculture to provide a common base of knowledge on the issues, strengths, problems and concerns related to urban farming. By emphasizing a global field visit approach, UNDP enabled a network to form gradually, with the study authors initially acting as its central node.

Reading and using this book

Part I of this book outlines just how significant urban agriculture is and why its processes fit into the urban food and ecological systems. It provides an overview of urban farming today and in the past, including some success stories from different regions of the globe. Part II gives a detailed characterization of urban farming defining who the farmers are, where farming is undertaken, what crops are farmed and how, and which actors play a key role in the activity. Part III discusses the benefits of urban farming and the problems it can cause when poorly practised, as well as the constraints farmers face. Finally, part IV looks to the future to define a strategy for promoting urban farming throughout the world.

Various readers may wish to use this volume in different ways. Leaders of development agencies may be less interested than farmers in studying the many examples of different urban agricultural enterprises. They may, however, wish at least to scan the case studies in parts I and II, which present snapshots of particular applications. Part IV, on the other hand, is addressed to their municipal, regional and global agendas and may be of less interest to practitioners.

Certainly farmers know all too well the information in the chapter in part III on the constraints facing urban agriculture. This book nonetheless can provide them with useful comparative information as well as serve as a source of ideas from other countries and regions. Perhaps a sense of belonging to a global community of fellow practitioners will emerge from their reading of parts I and II.

Some specialists will know far more than what can be found in this book on their particular area of interest; they may, however, be able to integrate that focused knowledge into other domains with which they are less familiar. A sanitation specialist, for example, may be surprised by the significant links of waste to the urban food system.

All readers will gain from part III, which contains chapters on the benefits, problems and constraints of urban agriculture. If a consensus can be found about what can and should be done, a new urgency will be created to break the shackles that are retarding urban agriculture's development.

As you read, keep sight of some of the broader implications of farming in the city: towns, cities and metropolises that are ecologically sustainable; an opportunity for the poor to become nutritionally self-reliant and to supplement their income; and a thriving industry that contributes to economic development. This is the promise that farming holds for urban areas.

Some public officials, business leaders, leaders of non-governmental organizations and other key individuals may already be persuaded of the merits of urban agriculture. It is hoped that this book will help convince others as well.



Cities and Towns Visited by
The Urban Agriculture Network, 1991-95

The Urban Agriculture Network visited 18 developing countries between fall 1991 and spring 1992 during four study trips funded by UNDP. During the preparation of this report, the authors also visited cities in 12 additional countries for conferences, interviews or field observations; these cities are denoted with an asterisk (*). The towns and cities visited included a wide range of cultures, economies and climates.


India: Bhatpara, Burdwan, Calcutta, New Delhi

Indonesia: Bandung, Bogor, Jakarta

Philippines: Cavite, Los Baños, Manila

Taiwan: Kaohsiung, Taichung, Tainan, Taipei

Thailand: Bangkok, Samut Sakhon


Egypt: Cairo*

Lebanon: Beirut*


France: Amiens*, Pads*

Germany: Berlin*, Frankfurt am Main, Freiburg im Breisgau*, Leipzig*, Zschortau*

Italy: Rome*

Netherlands: Amers Foort*, Amsterdam*

United Kingdom: Chatham*, London*, Manchester*


Côte d'lvoire: Abidjan, Agboville, Bingerville*, Dabou, Danane*, Yamoussoukrou*

Eritrea: Asmara*, Dubarwa*, Keren*

Kenya: Nairobi, Naivasha, Ngong

Senegal: Dakar, Louga, Saint-Louis, Thiès

Tanzania: Arusha*, Bagamoyo, Dar es Salaam, Dodoma*, Lushoto*, Mehru*, Morogoro

Uganda: Kampala*

Zambia: Lusaka


Argentina: Buenos Aires, Lomas de Zamora, San Isidro

Bolivia: El Alto*, La Paz*

Brazil: Curitiba, Rio Branco do Sul, Rio de Janeiro

Chile: Maipú, Santiago

Colombia: Bogotá, Cali*, Medellín*, Villa de Leyva*, Zipaquirá

Peru: Chosica, Lima, Villa El Salvador


Haiti: Port-au-Prince*

Mexico: Coyoacan, Culhuacan, Mexico City

Nicaragua: Managua, Nagarotte

Panama: Colón, La Chorrera, Panama City


Canada: Ottawa*

United States: Baltimore*, Chicago*, New York*, Philadelphia*, Providence*, San Francisco*

Table of Contents and Illustrations from
Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Cities

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Revised February 12, 2008

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture