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Posted October 2000

Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture (UPA) on the policy agenda: Virtual conference and information market

A joint venture of the FAO Interdepartmental Working Group (IDWG) - Food for the Cities (FFC) and the Resource Centre for Urban Agriculture and Forestry (RUAF/ETC)

Rachel Nugent,
FAO Comparative Agricultural Development Service (ESAC)
Axel Drescher,
University of Freiburg / FAO Rural Institutions and Participation Service (SDAR)

By 2015 about 26 cities in the world are expected to have a population of 10 million or more To feed a city of this size today - for example Tokyo, São Paulo or Mexico City - at least 6000 tonnes of food must be imported each day (FAO-SOFA 1998).

Large cities have been perceived as mushrooming out of control and representing a major problem for humankind. If urbanisation is indeed out of control, then the emergence of a new generation of very large cities may undermine any progress towards sustainable development 1.

The challenge of supplying nutritionally adequate and safe food to city dwellers is substantial. Accomplishing this task under conditions of growth and congestion demands that policy-makers seize opportunities for integrating resource management and planning efforts, understanding potential linkages between rural and urban areas, and anticipating the changing needs of a country's citizens - both rural and urban.

Part of the reason for the observed growth in UPA is due to its adaptability and mobility compared with rural agriculture. As cities expand physically, the frontiers between urban, peri-urban and rural activity blur and merge, presenting opportunities for beneficial linkages.

Urban agriculture has been defined as ` industry that produces, processes and markets food and fuel, largely in response to the daily demand of consumers within a town, city or metropolis, on land and water dispersed throughout the urban and peri-urban area, applying intensive production methods, using and reusing natural resources and urban wastes, to yield a diversity of crops and livestock. 2 " Go to more detailed information on the latest definitions on urban agriculture.

The need to address issues associated with urban and peri-urban agriculture is a pressing one, as urban populations in both developed and developing countries continue to increase. The world's current population is split about equally between cities and rural areas, according to the report, with urban areas expected to surpass rural areas in population around the year 2005. In 30 years' time, the worldwide urban population is expected to double.

The importance of UPA

Urban conditions are conducive to intensive production of perishable foods (fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products, fish), according to local ecological conditions and habitat. These foods, which are rich in essential nutrients, are consumed by urban consumers. Some are consumed by the households involved in production, processing and distribution and therefore contribute directly to their food security. However, in order to improve household food security and nutrition, it is important that this food is safe and adequately selected, prepared and distributed. within the family. Nutrition education and consumer information are therefore needed

Urban agriculture can contribute to the following:

Important issues for FAO's activities related to urban and peri-urban food production are:

The FAO COAG recognised the growing importance of UPA in 1999 and recommended that an interdisciplinary and inter-departmental group be established on urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA). Growth in urban poverty, food insecurity, and malnutrition have accompanied rapid urbanisation in cities of the South, especially in Africa and Asia. UPA has been estimated to involve 800 million people and provide 15 percent of all urban food needs. These figures have been increasing due to urbanisation trends. In response, in accordance with FAO's Strategic Framework, Food for the Cities was declared a Priority Area for Inter-Disciplinary Action in the Medium-Term Plan. The IDWG-FFC accepted a co-ordinating role for the above activities.

Details on the Electronic Conference on Urban and Peri-urban agriculture on the Policy Agenda

As a consequence of the above, FAO, together with the Resource Centre for Urban Agriculture and Forestry (RUAF), based in ETC-International (Leusden, The Netherlands), hosted a virtual conference on Urban and peri-urban agriculture on the policy agenda, which ran from 21 August to 30 September 2000. The conference is also considered to be a follow-up to the 1999 live-conference "Growing cities, growing food: Urban agriculture on the policy agenda", of which ETC/RUAF was a co-organiser. Go to more information on this conference, including papers and poster presentations.

The conference invited everyone interested in urban and peri-urban agriculture and especially urban planners and municipalities, researchers and practitioners to participate by sharing needs, research results, questions, and project ideas.

Three central themes were discussed by conference participants in three separate workshops:

There were three rounds of discussions. For each of these, different opening questions were formulated for each group.

In the first session (August 21 - September 1), the conference focused on: Fact-finding and situation analysis.

In the second session (September 4 - September 15), we tried to assess Policy options for UPA and urban planning.

In the final session (September 18 - September 29), we turned to questions related to the Planning and implementation of such measures.

The weekly contributions and the discussion papers are available on the conference web page.

The Information Market

A second component of the electronic conference is the information market. The information market makes available a wide range of related case studies and other documentation as well as links to relevant websites, journals and resource organization of interest to participants. During the conference participants had the chance to submit contributions (papers, announcements of conferences, and other related information) which is now available on the information market.

Paper collections related to food security and nutrition, health and environment and urban planning can be found at:

Technically the conference was organised as three independent, moderated mailing-lists, backstopped by a forth email address, where all incoming mails could be screened and eventually be re-directed. All technical problems, like back bouncing mails (very common), people who could not register properly and others, were managed via this last address. This organisation structure has proved to be very useful.


The conference was of great interest for participants from all over the world, including Asia, Latin America, Eastern- and Western Europe, East- West- and Southern Africa, the United States of America, Canada and others. The total number of participants was more then 680. The food security and nutrition discussion was of greatest interest. This group counted for approx. 280 participants, while the health and environment and the planning groups had little more then 200 each.

The evaluation of the database of participants is not yet completed. Nevertheless it seems, the interest of government employees was overwhelming. Preliminary evaluation gives a figure of more than 100 participants from those organisation. Final evaluation will be available end of October, 2000. The quick information exchange between South and North and vice versa, as well as an intensive South-South communication are great advantages of an electronic conference and help to learn from each other. The participants used the opportunity not only to present their point of view to the others but also to ask questions.

Selected contributions from the conference

From the food security and nutrition group: We asked what products offer the best potential for UPA production. You said again that it depends on the city. Climate, water availability, and competition from rural agriculture are important determinants of which products are grown. Some of the answers also implied that those products with relatively low investment requirements were likely to be more favoured by low-income households, while middle-income farmers chose more input-intensive techniques.

We asked who is doing UPA, when and why. Most often you told us women are involved, though not predominantly in every city. Men were more likely to be involved in production for market, in cases where women were too busy with other occupation, in production sites far from home or would join their wives during the week-end. You presented a surprising picture of the socio-economic classes involved in UPA, telling us that many middle-high income people are involved. This occurred especially where markets were readily available and where the poor could not obtain land or were squeezed out by land development. In Nakuru Kenya, a study found that the poor are much less likely to be farmers than high-income urban dwellers. In many cities, the better-off farmers also obtained much higher yields due to investments in their plots and the means to acquire better seeds. Most UPA farming is seasonal. The reasons for UPA production were varied, with many contributors saying it is for subsistence while many others said it was for income. Clearly the answer varies according to city conditions.

We asked who are the consumers of UPA and how it contributes to their diets. Most respondents discussed the fresh vegetables and dairy that was available for diversifying diet, and by implication, improving nutrition. However, in Harare, a study which looked at UPA on open public spaces found that maize was the predominant crop. The benefit to farmers was increased quantity of diet, rather than quality. This appears to be a special case based on the particular research area of the study. Results of a study on nutrition impacts in Nakuru, Kenya found that wasting was lower among UPA families (during the harvest season), but stunting was no different between farming and non-farming families.

We asked how income earned from UPA is used. Those who responded to this question said income from UPA is used to purchase non-food household needs or other foods. Several said it was earned and controlled by women.

In the health and environment group lively discussion has developed around the questions: does UPA promote malaria risks in cities? How can the contamination of irrigation water and solid organic wastes best be managed ? What are major environmental effects of UPA ?

The use of Geographic Information Systems for Urban Planning processes was suggested in the Planning workshop but also adopted from the health and environment group. One participant wrote: Due to my job background, I agree with suggestion of using Geographical Information System (GIS), remote sensing and GPS (Global Positioning System) to collect accurate and geo-referenced information about main cities in the world. This should include socio-economic and health information (so this approach is of interest for all three groups in this E-conference). This would help epidemiological studies on particular diseases or understanding issues regarding uneven distribution of food, social services, ect. As for UPA itself, I believe that aim of such a geographical data base should not be "planning", but rather "promotion" of activities which are half way between recreation-education-health care and food production. Nevertheless the need for GIS-accompanying fieldwork was stressed as well.

The need for an integral and practical approach to waste water management and re-use in agriculture got an important discussion point. Ecological sanitation offer the possibility of reuse of waste water close to home by families themselves. This can surely be a significant benefit to family and community health and well being, saving expenditure on commercial fertilisers, preventing pollution of water bodies and ground water with pathogens and placing nutrients in the wrong place, saving water, improving soils, providing income and nutrition.

Serious problems were reported from Poland: The region of Upper Silesia is the most densely populated, highly industrialized, trafficked, and intensely polluted area in Poland. Nevertheless, regional residents raise 40-50 percent of the locally consumed, yet often highly contaminated, fruits and vegetables. The greatest problems are in heavy metals (especially lead, cadmium, and to some degree zinc and nickel) and inorganic inputs from conventional agriculture also have posed measurable threats.

Measures to be taken are proposed:

In the planning group, the question of how to integrate UPA into municipal planning policies was a major issue. The question of "how to sell the idea of UPA" to local governments - what are the benefits, advantages of supporting this activity was also brought forward by participants. One participant from Argentina wrote: UPA can contribute to the welfare of the people in small cities there, thereby reducing the migration process from small towns to large cities. He thinks that UPA not only contributes to food but also to an element of urban habitat improvement and bio-cultural diversity. Civil society and participation of the urban population is a crucial point in the formulation of urban policies.

Some key issues for Latin America are:

  1. The creation of markets for local produce.
  2. The promotion of (organic) agricultural and forestry use of vacant municipal, state and private (peri)urban lands.
  3. Recycling of all "green wastes" into compost. It is proposed that in future a certain percentage of the tax that is collected by the Municipal Cleaning Office for collection of wastes will be re-invested in the municipal UA programme.
  4. In the newly granted "Permits for new constructions", it is established that the vegetable material that is discarded will have to be used in the composting project.
  5. Inclusion of UPA in zoning plans.

Can policies interventions negatively effect the urban poor ? From Tanzania a case is reported where 3,000 hectares in a peri-urban area were put aside for urban dwellers to do farming. This had no positive but rather negative consequences for the urban poor. They couldn't afford to travel to the areas and at the same time the programme was targeted to lessen the extent to which urban dwellers can farm in town to increase their earnings. Obviously monitoring and evaluation of interventions are urgently needed.

The Gender Focal Point of UNCHS (Habitat) suggested that urban planning for UA should always examine the gender profile of urban farmers as well as taking a definite stand on alleviation of urban poverty through better food security for the urban poor.

Also in this group, as in the group on food security and nutrition, it got very clear, that local conditions are varying widely among regions and continents. We will need locally adapted solutions and recommendations for UPA. Regional differences in culture, policy, climate, soils etc. determine different types of UPA. Cultural habits and values are strongly influencing the type of UPA that we find in certain areas, and day-to-day life requires easy access to land like home gardens for women who have to care for household and children. Planning does not take into account the household livelihood strategy of growing food, nor the need for outdoor activities and social interaction, but rather is guided by statistics of population density and urban sprawl.

Final evaluation of the contribution is still outstanding at the present stage. The proceedings will be ready in November 2000 and made available on the SD Dimensions web site.

Some major preliminary recommendations for the support of urban farmers and urban food production are nevertheless:

1 PANOS Briefing 34, June 1999

2 Smit et al, 1996,"Food, Jobs, and Sustainable Cities," UNDP.

3 Seeth et al., 1998, cited by Nugent, 2000, "Growing Cities, Growing Food, DSE.

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