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Urban agriculture

Urban garden cooperative workers laying down irrigation lines in a lettuce bed in Caracas ©FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

The rapid growth of cities in the developing world is placing enormous demands on urban food supply systems.

Agriculture – including horticulture, livestock, fisheries, forestry, and fodder and milk production – is increasingly spreading to towns and cities. Urban agriculture provides fresh food, generates employment, recycles urban wastes, creates greenbelts, and strengthens cities’ resilience to climate change.

FAO's role in urban agriculture

Urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) can be defined as the growing of plants and the raising of animals within and around cities.

Urban and peri-urban agriculture provides food products from different types of crops (grains, root crops, vegetables, mushrooms, fruits), animals (poultry, rabbits, goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, guinea pigs, fish, etc.) as well as non-food products (e.g. aromatic and medicinal herbs, ornamental plants, tree products).

UPA includes trees managed for producing fruit and fuelwood, as well as tree systems integrated and managed with crops (agroforestry) and small-scale aquaculture.

Food security

UPA can make an important contribution to household food security, especially in times of crisis or food shortages.

Produce is either consumed by the producers, or sold in urban markets, such as the increasingly popular weekend farmers’ markets found in many cities.

Because locally produced food requires less transportation and refrigeration, it can supply nearby markets with fresher and more nutritious products at competitive prices.

Consumers - especially low-income residents - enjoy easier access to fresh produce, greater choice and better prices.

Urban farming

Vegetables have a short production cycle; some can be harvested within 60 days of planting, so are well suited for urban farming.

Garden plots can be up to 15 times more productive than rural holdings. An area of just one square metre can provide 20 kg of food a year.

Urban vegetable growers spend less on transport, packaging and storage, and can sell directly through street food stands and market stalls. More income goes to them instead of middlemen.

Urban agriculture provides employment and incomes for poor women and other disadvantaged groups.

Horticulture can generate one job every 100 sq m garden in production, input supply, marketing and value-addition from producer to consumer.

However, in many countries, UPA goes unrecognized in agricultural policies and urban planning.

Growers often operate without permits. Since it is officially "invisible", the sector receives no public assistance or oversight in many cities.

Urban agriculture carries health and environmental risks – potential use of contaminated land and water smells and noise pollution, and inappropriate use of pesticides and of raw organic manure that can leak into water sources. These issues require proper attention.

FAO’s role

FAO supports the transformation of UPA into a recognized urban land use and economic activity, integrated into national and local agricultural development strategies, food and nutrition programmes, and urban planning.

It helps national and regional governments and city administrations optimize their policies and support services for urban and peri-urban agriculture, and improve production, processing and marketing systems.

Its technical programmes support the work of many UPA partners in cities and urban areas.

It helps member countries to develop the sector via data collection on UPA’s contribution to food security.

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