Urban agriculture in developing countries

In 2008 World Band launched Global Food Crises Response Program that was a reaction for food crises. The prices of food drastically increased and the effects were the most significant in the most vulnerable groups in developing countries. The world was shocked by the scale of the crisis. Even counties consider as developed experienced the food crisis, mainly by increase of food prices. Nevertheless the Global North did not have to struggle with food shortages and threat of famine. This global food crises started the global debate about the modern system of food production and food distribution. The food crises is connected to plenty of issues. One of them is climate change. The extensive system of production of food and industrialized agriculture lead to the situation when agriculture contribute about 18% of anthropogenic green-house gases (GHG). And the about 50% of the land is used for agriculture (IPCC 2007)  Even though the scale of agriculture is so huge there are still problem with satisfying the basic need for millions of people around the world. More often those are people in cities who face the problem of famine and malnutrition. What are the possible solutions for dealing with food shortages and limited access to nutritious food?

In case of cities, one of the solution is urban agriculture. In this literature review I will describe the main idea of urban agriculture and explore how it may improve live in the cities in developing countries.

The very basic definition of urban agriculture may be as following:

Urban agriculture can be briefly defined as the growing of plants and trees and rearing of livestock within or on the fringe of cities (intra-urban and periurban agriculture, respectively), including related input provision, processing and marketing activities and services. (Zeewu et al. 2010:1).

The idea of urban agriculture tried to break the traditional opposition between the rural and the urban areas. The rural areas are usually the agriculture land while the urban areas are perceived more as the place of massive consumption. Cities are the opposition of village. The urban agriculture is one of the solution of food crises and climate changes as its connects rural with urban. It introduces the agriculture into cities so that city dwellers can benefit  from the food produced by “urban” farmers. There are more advantages of urban agriculture. Not only direct profit of having food produced in the city. The pluses may be divided into three categories: environmental, social and economic ( Zeeuw et al. 2010; Nuget 2007; Smith et al. 2001). I will start analysis from the environmental aspect of urban agriculture. Urban agriculture decrease carbon footprint as food is produced close to the customers. In case of food produced in different countries or even different continents the cost and pollution produced during the process of transportation is few time higher that in the case of food produced in the cities ( Zeeuw et al. 2010). Another environmental aspect of urban agriculture is maintaining of green spaces in the cites. The green spaces provide many benefits for the city dwellers. Smith in his article pointed out those environmental advantages of green spaces: habitation for wildlife, reduction of temperature, increase of  humidity, improvement of air quality, noise reduction and reduction of vulnerability for disasters (2001). Some of those effect are solutions for problems caused by climate changes. For instance rise of temperature, which is cities very often results in heat waves. Or high risk of disaster such as flood or landslides that can be reduced by maintaining green or agriculture areas. The environmental effect are always with relation with social aspects of urban life. So the green areas may improve quality of life in the cites by providing space for leisure time and physical activities. It is also natural protection from sun and heavy rain ( Smith et al. 2001).

The second group of positive effects of urban agriculture is the social one. All authors (Zeeuw et al. 2010; Nuget 2007; Smith et al. 2001 ) highlighted the impact that urban agriculture have on local communities. The most important is access to fresh and nutrient food that has positive impact on health and well-being of the people. Zeeuw and his colleges have focused on urban agriculture in developing countries. They underlined the importance of urban agriculture especially in marginalized communities form marginalized areas of a city (2010). What positive input urban agriculture may have on the community level?

First of all in decreases the cost of food. In many cities the people from low-income group have to spend a big percentage of their income on food. If they have cultivate the farm on their own they do not need to spend money of some products. The saving may be then invested in improvement of the agriculture area. The household becomes more independent form prices on the food market. In cases of some developing countries it also means independence from international aid. Urban agriculture also provides the job opportunities, especially for unskilled workers. In the city there are almost no job opportunities for this group of worker. Urban farms may create job places for the people with low level of education. In that sense, when urban farm not only provide food but also integrate community and empowers people it is crucial to mention the gender aspect. Women who look after household may gain respect on the community by having prosperous farm (Zeeuw et al. 2010). The urban farms also provide vegetables and fruit that should be integral part of children’s daily menu. Many households need to struggle with financial problems and they may postpone the issue of proper development of their kids. The urban farms allows parents to get free healthy products. The urban farming also enforces the food security and stabilizes the local food market ( Zeeuw et al. 2010). Food security means that there is no threat of food shortages. As long as the urban agriculture is well planned and is developed in sustainable way the basic needs of local community is secure. The other issue is food market. The prices on global food market are dependent on many factors. The prices of oil, the wars or conflict, the strategic decision on US or European Union – it is very difficult to predict and be able to react for the dynamic of global market. In case of global crisis it is usually the poor who are the most harmed. That is why getting as much independence as possible from the global market make those groups less vulnerable for effects of next food crisis.

The last advantage mentioned by Zeeuw and his colleges is that urban agriculture can be used as a survival strategy in extremely marginalized communities such as refugees camps (2010). Very often they are physically and symbolically isolated from the city. They cannot use the services that a city offers. In such condition only farming and producing food may be the life saving strategy.

The last dimension of urban agriculture is the economic one. It is connected with the social dimension but both Zeeuw (et. al) and Smith (et. al) separately highlighted the economic aspects of urban agriculture as an important component of city’s economy ( 2010, 2001). Urban farming may significantly improve incomes of the households if the family is able to create small business out of “private” farm. Why city dwellers need to buy products imported from different country when they can purchase the local one. What is also important, because of urban agriculture local economy is more diversified. Especially in case of cities which specialize in one field or industry it is important to develop various sectors of economy. It creates more job opportunities and secure the labor market from crisis. There are not only job directly connected with farming but whole agricultural business has opportunity to grow. Last but not least argument in favor of urban agriculture is relatively low input that is needed to start. Starting farming does not require a big investment and it can be done by small cost.

To sum up the idea of urban agriculture can be beneficial for urban communities. It can be empowering for marginalized groups and economically profitable. The main question is how to incorporated this idea in the strategies of governance? Zeeuw proposed to include urban agriculture in various urban policies (2010). Urban agriculture should be incorporate in environmental policy as it has significantly positive effect on environment. It the social policy it helps empower marginalized groups, especially women, and it integrates communities around common issue. In economic policy urban agriculture may be introduced as an element that diversifies local labor market and gives job opportunities for unskilled workers.

The kind of urban agriculture policy has been introduced in Havana, the capital of Cuba. This cased is known as first successful urban agriculture project ( Koont 2009; Novo and Murphy 2008). After the collapse of Soviet Union, Cuba, which was dependent on food imported from Soviet Union, faced the food crisis. The only solution for that crisis was to start growing own food. However the scale of the problem was so huge that Fidel Castro decided to grow food everywhere, even in the cities. With the full support of government the first urban agriculture policy was lunched. It integrated various program:

(..) integrating: 1) access to land; 2) extension services; 3) research and technology development; 4) new supply stores for small farmers; and 5) new marketing schemes and organisation of selling points for urban producers.(Koont 2009: 333)

People got access to land so that they could farm. Urban agriculture included popular gardens, basic co-operative production units,  state co-operative production units, individual farms and state farms and intensive farms. Moreover the government every year invest in research in order to improve the agriculture. In the field of urban agriculture in 1998 was working 117 000 people and around 26 500 people in jobs related to urban agriculture.

Even though it is such an successful case one cannot forget that effectiveness of various policed in Cuba is related with the political regime. During the food crises Cuba was under the US embargo and it lost its main ally – the Soviet Union. It the situation of having been cut off the global market Cuba introduced urban agriculture. Politically this case study is controversial but speaking in term is technical aspects of urban policy making it is a solid example that urban agriculture can be effective.

The literature about urban agriculture refers to different aspects of this phenomenon. Nevertheless, it generally supports the idea of farming in the city. Urban agriculture can be one of the adaptation techniques towards climate changes. It help city dwellers to reduce carbon footprint and be more sustainable. Despite many advantages of urban agriculture it is still political issue to incorporate it into urban policy. In case of Cuba the political context played very important role. If the government had not controlled the implementation of the policy I might not be such a success. Urban agriculture has the potential especially for cities in developing countries. However only good urban governance allows to incorporate this idea into general urban policies.


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Koont, Sinan. „The Urban Agriculture of Havana.” Monthly Review, 2009: 44-63.

Mario Gonzalez Novo, Catherine Murphy. „URBAN AGRICULTURE IN THE CITY OF HAVANA: A POPULAR RESPONSE TO A CRISIS.” Trabajo Popular , 2008: 329-347.


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