According to the United Nations, urbanization is unstoppable. Today, over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and by 2050, 70 percent of humanity will live in cities. As farmland gives way to urban expansion and farmers abandon their posts for urban livelihoods, feeding the cities in an overpopulated world is a growing challenge. One way to bring food security into cities, and at the same time minimize costs and resource consumption, is to bring farming to the concrete jungle.
An international network known as Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food Security (RUAF) is trying to do just that. The central aim of RUAF is to reduce urban poverty and improve food security and environmental management through urban farming. RUAF cooperates with local governments, NGOs, universities, farmers’ organizations, and private enterprises. It emphasizes capacity building among these groups through the formulation of supportive policy, networking and information sharing, and training to promote thriving agriculture markets in and around cities. RUAF is active in 20 cities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
One of RUAF’s pilot initiatives in South Asia and Southeast Asia is in the urban and peri-urban areas of Bangalore, India. In the metropolis of Bangalore itself, the initiative encourages and trains urban residents to grow pesticide-free vegetables in the limited spaces they have—such as yards, terraces, and schools—and to recycle kitchen waste as compost and collect rainwater for their gardens. It is also helping the urban poor find employment that supports the maintenance of green spaces.
Far more food production potential lies in the peri-urban areas surrounding Bangalore, where agricultural areas are rapidly being lost, causing farmers to migrate to the inner city. RUAF is helping to establish economically viable agricultural nodes in the peri-urban zone surrounding Bangalore, believing it is strategically important in addressing urban food security. It is also creating livelihood opportunities in these peri-urban areas, alleviating the push to move into the city.
Magadi is a rapidly growing peri-urban town of 28,000 residents not far from the Bangalore metropolis with great potential for peri-urban agriculture. Forty-six percent of the town’s land area is already under cultivation, though land pressures from nearby Bangalore are evident. RUAF’s vision in the “Magadi City Strategy Agenda for urban/ peri-urban Agriculture” is to transform Magadi into an ecologically sustainable center for urban/ peri-urban agriculture. As the city encroaches, RUAF is hoping that the sustainable and equitable farming that they are helping to strengthen will remain and incorporate into the urban landscape.
By connecting and supporting stakeholders with common interests, RUAF is creating synergies that are strengthening urban farming systems. By promoting self-sustaining ecological agriculture zones around the outskirts of cities, they are further strengthening markets and infrastructure for locally produced food in the world’s growing metropolises. A strong urban/ peri-urban farming system makes affordable, nutritionally rich fresh foods more available to the least food secure urban residents. It also sustains livelihoods in cities and surrounding areas, improving quality of life and easing urban migration pressures.
To learn more about urban farming and food security see: Urban Women Grow Food in Sacks, Re-Directing Ag Funding to Small-Scale Farmers for Improved Food Security, and AFSA Calls on African Leaders to Remember Farmers in Climate Change Negotiations.
By Matt Styslinger