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As the world's cities grow, the role of urban farmers becomes increasingly important. The percentage of urban families engaged in agriculture varies from 10 percent in some large cities in North America to as many as 80 percent in some smaller Siberian and Asian cities. The informal activities of city farmers require increasing financial and technical support.

The Move to the City

IN 1994, 45 percent of the world's population lived in cities. It is expected that this percentage will increase to more than 50 percent by the year 2000 and to 65 percent by 2025. The fastest growth in urbanization is in the large cities of developing countries. Latin America has the highest proportion of urban dwellers, followed by Asia and Africa. But the rate of urban growth is highest in Africa, at 4.4 percent a year, followed by 3.7 percent a year in Asia. While only 37 percent of the population of developing countries lived in urban centres in 1995, this figure is projected to rise to 57 percent by the year 2025 - and 84 percent of the population of developed countries will be urbanized by the same date.

In 1990, 288 cities in developing countries had a population of more than 1 million people, housing some 814.5 million people. By the year 2000, there will be 391 such cities, housing 1146 million inhabitants. By then, too, less than half of the world population will be suppliers of food. In the developing countries, rural population numbers will peak between 2015 and 2020. By 2025 the rural population will be smaller than the urban population in every region of the world. Furthermore, rural-urban migration, which accounts for at least 50 percent of urban growth, has had negative effects on the rural population, including a talent drain, an increase in the proportion of old people, and feminization.

Conditions in many cities in developing countries are appalling. At least 600 million urban people in developing countries live in 'health-hand life-threatening conditions'. Supplies of food and water are frequently inadequate, and sanitation is often lacking (see box below). The growth of cities will trigger important transformation in the countryside as an increasing share of food production will have to be directed to feeding towns. But urban agriculture can contribute in a significant fashion.

One of the major efforts of the next 25 years must therefore be to develop urban farming systems, which can supply much of the food cities require without expensive transport costs. Such systems can also ease urban waste disposal problems, since wastewater and organic refuse are potential inputs for urban farmers.

>Much of the fruit and vegetables sold in urban markets
is grown within or near the city.

Water for Thirsty Cities

Water is essential to good health and economic progress. Yet almost 300 million city residents in the developing world are without safe water and about 600 million lack adequate sanitation facilities. Four million deaths of infants and children occur each year around the world, as a result of this.

In many cases, the urban poor are not provided with adequate water because governments think they are unable or unwilling to pay for services. Yet they are often already paying a price up to ten times higher to private water vendors than their richer neighbors pay for water piped to their homes.

Investing in the infrastucture needed to provide adequate water and sanitation facilities can sharply reduce health costs and loss of labour as a result of illness. It can also release women for productive activities by reducing the burden of collecting water for cooking, laundry and other household uses

Percentage of population living in urban areas will increase in all areas by the year 2025
but the largest increases will be in developing countries.

The Importance of Urban Agriculture

CITY FARMING has a long tradition in both Asia and Europe. In the past, it was practiced mainly because it bought the product close to the consumer at a time when transport was slow and communication poor. City farming was then for survival; for many of today's poor urban dwellers, it is still a route to survival - but, in addition, it also provides freshness, dietary variety and aesthetic enjoyment.

Urban agriculture offers benefits that rural agriculture cannot provide. It takes place on rooftops, in backyards, in community vegetable and fruit gardens, and on unused or public spaces. Typical products include fruit, vegetables, fish, staples such as cassava, maize and beans, as well as berries, nuts, herbs and spices. Small livestock and the occasional cow are kept.

City farmers are usually long-term urban residents, moderately poor and often women. Since most city farming takes place in the infommal sector, it is poorly documented. However, it is estimated that urban farming provides direct earnings for at least 100 million people.

Urban agriculture provides a number of major benefits:

Most households in developing countries
would farm if they had access to land

Policies to Promote City Farming

URBAN farmers face active discrimination by city authorities in many countries. Yet there are many things that could be done to promote city farming.

City farming: key facts

'Officially sanctioned and promoted, urban agriculture could become an important component of urban development and make more food available to the urban poor...

'Urban agriculture can also provide fresher and cheaper produce, more green space, the clearing of garbage dumps and recycling of household waste.'

World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, Oxford, 1987.

This fact sheet was prepared in collaboration with the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat)

For further information, please contact:
Food and Agriculture Organization
Vialle delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy.
Information Division, Tel: (39-6) 5225-3276/5225-4781/5225-4243
Horticultural Crops Group: Tel: (39 6) 5225-4658 Internet:
United Nations Centre for Human Settlements
PO Box 30030, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel.: (254-2) 621234
Facsimile: (254-2) 624266/7

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