FAO's Programme for Urban and Peri-urban Horticulture
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Photo: FAO/Jon Spaull

Sustainable livelihoods

Urban and peri-urban horticulture provides livelihoods that are resilient to economic downturns and food price hikes, and contribute to cities' economic development

The International Labour Organization estimates that 180 million of the developing world's urban population are jobless and another 550 million earn just enough to survive in the informal economy. Over the next 10 years, almost 500 million people, many of them from rural areas, will enter the jobs market. Unless developing countries create more decent, productive work opportunities, the number of unemployed and working poor could reach 45 percent of their urban populations by 2020.

Urban and peri-urban horticulture offers a pathway out of poverty. It has low start-up costs, short production cycles, and high yields per unit of time and unit of land and water. Its produce has high market value. Because it is very labour intensive, horticulture creates employment for the jobless, particularly people newly arrived from rural areas.

Of the estimated 800 million people engaged worldwide in urban and peri-urban agriculture, 200 million produce for the market and employ another 150 million people full-time. The sector provides directly an estimated 117 000 jobs in Havana and income for 150 000 low-income families, or 24 percent of all households, in Hanoi. FAO calculates that the UPH programme in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has created about 40 jobs for every hectare cultivated, or 66 000 jobs, benefiting indirectly some 330 000 people.

Gardening can be profitable even on a very small scale. In Dakar, women kept 30 percent of the vegetables grown in their micro-gardens for home consumption, and sold surpluses through family kiosks, earning the equivalent of a labourer's wages. In the slum areas of Lima, women practise UPH part-time to earn extra income, and still have time for household tasks and child care.

FAO encourages the use of micro-credit to help growers expand production and start new enterprises. In Lubumbashi, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 6 000 female gardeners used loans to buy inputs and equipment. As their incomes grew, they invested savings in small-scale livestock, vegetable processing and dress-making. The children of Lubumbashi market gardeners now eat on average three meals a day, compared to "less than two" before the project began.

Because the horticulture commodity chain is long and complex, it generates employment in production, input supply, marketing and value-addition from producer to consumer. About 10 percent of Hanoi's skilled labour force is directly engaged in agriculture, while thousands of labourers find work in production of inputs (for example, in seedling nurseries), and food processing and distribution. In Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, UPH has created jobs in a variety of marketing systems, including community and farmers' markets and door-to-door delivery of food baskets.

UPH can play an important role in strategies for Local Economic Development (LED). On urban peripheries and in other areas with land suitable for crop production, horticulture provides a focus for LED programmes, which build on the comparative advantages of local areas to promote economic growth, employment and poverty reduction.