An analysis of the effects of urbanization on agriculture has shown that government intervention is needed to regulate agricultural land. While it is beyond doubt that cities will be the net importers of food and other agricultural raw materials, agriculture poses a challenge not only for rural agriculturists but for city people as well. Our analysis has shown that:
City authorities can no longer afford to leave the communication of the preferences of urban consumers to market mechanisms alone. The example of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration enforcing pesticide residue checks for vegetables coming in from the vegetable areas at the urban fringe of the metropolis is a response to some kind of institutional failure.
The growing disconnection between food production and food consumption and better information access has its costs. Consumers are more likely to overreact in cases of reported food scandals and misuse of agricultural technology if they little knowledge of agricultural production processes. Producer-consumer communication can be more effective if consumers are well informed and can thus provide reliable signals to producers and vice versa. Clearly, city authorities can play a role in improving the information environment by accepting agriculture and food production as part of the city life and by introducing institutions to improve the situation.
Agriculture is not and cannot be restricted to non-urban areas. Post harvest and agroindustry developments in general are favoured by urbanization despite claims that it does alleviate rural poverty as in the case of the starch industry in Vietnam (Golletti and Samman 1999). Agricultural crops, like certain types of vegetables are most profitably grown at the urban fringe. The development of technologies that take into account natural resources, environment and human health is a priority research area. Local government policy can stimulate the development and adoption of sustainable technologies by creating a favourable policy framework that discourages the use of potentially harmful technologies such as excessive use of chemical pesticides. Likewise, governments can support agroindustry by avoiding unnecessary bureaucratic procedures and taking into account location theory aspects in land use planning.
Urban migration will continue to take place despite increased efforts for rural development. Therefore, rural development is not a substitute for the engagement of city authorities in agriculture and food issues. Rather the complementary relationship between urban and rural policies needs to be more effectively elaborated and exploited.
Clearly, from a city perspective government intervention is most needed in the land market. Here, economic incentives such as tax rebates or tax relief can provide an incentive to maintain land for agricultural purposes. Regulatory interventions such as agricultural zoning and the public purchase or private transfer of land development rights are other possibilities to reduce the probability of food insecurity for the urban poor. For example, the revision of actual urban zoning by-laws and the integration of urban agriculture in zoning plans indicating in which zones urban agriculture is allowed can be implemented. Also, zones where certain types of farming will be prohibited due to special conditions can be specified. Existing farming units especially in periurban areas can be included in city development plans as green belts or green corridors in order to avoid uncontrolled city growth and the destruction of valuable soil. Buffer zones can be created and inner city areas can be reserved. These areas can then be given to community groups on a medium term lease for agricultural purposes (purposive specific leaseholds). Such periurban and inner city green belts could be given a community title to ensure that such open spaces remain in the public domain.
Finally, city authorities can reduce the negative effects of land speculation by improving the information environment e.g. by improving the dissemination of public information on government projects.
In conclusion, the issues around food production and processing demand that the citys role can no longer be limited to just regulating the food purchase and consumption process. Instead, city authorities must become actively involved in the operation of the entire food chain i.e. by introducing institutions that help to reduce transaction costs. City governments, however, should not get involved in direct interventions on prices and quantities favouring either producers or consumers. If the conflict between rural and urban interests is going to be resolved for the benefit of farmers, processors and consumers urban and rural have a lot to talk about.