Urban Agriculture: the Green City
(Project: Sky Village, Rodøvre, DK (2008) by MVRDV + ADEPT | © MVRDV + ADEPT)
Urban agriculture is hot. The production of food in and around cities is getting more and more attention, with activities ranging from community rooftop gardens, supermarkets for locally produced products and urban food strategies developed by major cities. Many initiatives, especially in Europe and North-America, are focused on education, reconnecting the urban dwellers with the bio-physical origins of food, and promoting citizen involvement. The potential of urban agriculture, especially for cities in developing countries, goes beyond these points. It may contribute to food security, poverty alleviation, improved food quality and greener and more livable cities, while saving energy, water, waste and space. The growing urban demand for food also brings new possibilities for smallholder farming in the ‘hinterland’. However, many challenges have to be overcome for urban agriculture initiatives to reach their full potential. There is still a widespread lack of knowledge by city authorities, urban planners, businesses and development cooperation actors of the multiple benefits, constraints, preconditions and needed policies of urban agriculture.
The increasing urbanization rate demands alternatives to feed the urban population. This final FoodFirst conference discussed urban agricultureâ??s potential to establish food security, improve quality, poverty alleviation, and greener, more livable cities, while saving energy, water, waste and space.
Resurrecting urban agriculture
Lia van Wesenbeeck, Senior researcher of the Center for World Food Studies at the Vrije Universiteit van Amsterdam, moderated the conference. Doeke Faber, President of the FoodFirst steering group, introduced the topic urban agriculture. He argued that it is not a new creation but a resurrection: two decades ago, urban agriculture was common practice in the city, but throughout the years it has been relocated to the rural areas. Thus, although this phenomenon is not revolutionary, reintegrating urban agriculture requires a change in the nature and architecture of city planning. It requires turning consumers into producers and changing the landscape of cities. According to Faber, we are used to having plenty of food, and accepted the stringing world hunger. Therefore he stressed urban agriculture as a necessary development, to promote solutions for global problems at a local level, to benefit from the growing popularity of local markets and consumersâ?? wishes for local products. He ended looking forward to the World Expo at Milan in 2015 that will promote the development of green cities and address worldwide food security.
Providing land to the poor
First keynote speaker Diana Lee-Smith, the founder of the Mazingira Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, outlined current implementations, policy prospects and dilemmas at the grassroots levels in urban agricultural Africa. This non-profit organization is concerned with equitable development and environmental sustainability. It has an interdisciplinary approach to the issues of human settlements and environmental management, gender, health and environmental awareness, peace, cooperation and environment. Using slides of agricultural situations, she discussed the challenges to achieve food security amongst the poor population in Africa. â??It is expected that over 500 million Africans will live in cities by 2020. The rich and middle income population do more urban agriculture than the poor in relation to their numbers, making the poor much more food insecure, 77% in some places. The poor have often limited access to land compared to middle income and richer populations; therefore urban agriculture mainly brings food security to higher incomes.â?? She stressed the need to link farmers to policy processes. Urban agriculture benefits farmers in two ways: it provides food security of the urban poor, and it intensifies the agricultural production within the city.
Thus, the emphasis should be on providing land for the poor, because urban agriculture will otherwise benefit those who already have land, the richer population. Additionally, a lack of infrastructure creates problems, for example in Nairobi, where during clashes in January 2008 the only railway line was torn up. The single-line track built around 1900 provided the only distribution and passenger service to neighbouring countries, now cutting off the entire region. Other issues arise with polluted land; in poorer areas many people live on dumpsites, where they produce their food. Lee-Smith summed up countries that have implemented policies for urban agriculture already. Tanzania has had supportive laws and policies for two decades. Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Cameroon and others tolerate urban agriculture but lack the policy framework to support it. Kenya has a draft policy. Cape Town has an urban agricultural policy and policy unit in the City Council since 2007, providing services to framers and consultative forums.
She concluded by stressing the need for international support, the IDRC in Canada has been supporting research and policy development since the 1980s, Urban Harvest – the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) – supported policy and institutional development in three African countries from 2002 to 2012. Other examples include the RUAF foundation, an international network that provides training, technical support and policy advice. Answering the moderatorâ??s question, Lee-Smith stressed that African cities have much to offer. Enhancing its agricultural capacity – especially to improve the food security of slum dwellers – should be done by building on existing projects. This summer, the first Urban Agriculture Summit in Toronto focused on existing North-South exchanges and collaboration. Lee-Smith emphasized the need to increase the farmers understanding of health risks based on scientific knowledge, best practices, and the risks of contamination.
Linking rural and urban
The second keynote speaker, Alberto Rodriguez, Director of CETEC, Cali in Colombia elaborated on developing a city market in an area with frequent armed conflict. CETEC creates alliances, organizing smallholders in rural Columbia, to achieve food security by connecting rural and urban areas and improving access to markets. Cali is a city in the Southwest of the country with 2,5 million inhabitants. During Colombiaâ??s debt crisis in the 1980s, the â??lost decadeâ??, the economy shrunk and drug trafficking and violence further destabilized the market. CETEC started in 1985 to look for alternatives to link smallholders to the markets. The organization now works with 28 rural organizations with 1200 participating families, 12 urban organizations, and second grade organizations that help with political representation. Using the example of sugarcane, Rodriguez illustrated CETECs integrated and diversifying approach: stimulating crop diversification, allocating funding for the investments, organizing the distribution, addressing technological adaptation, and creating an increase of value in the production chain. The last phase of the products is marketing, for which they have created alliances within the city between the producers, the processing companies, the consultancy companies, and the top private sector, including supermarkets and the financial sector. Creating these peaceful relationships is extremely important, especially in a country with frequent armed conflict.
Progress has been made. Rodriguez mentioned that the self-sufficiency of food products has grown, generating 1170 extra jobs per year. Tomatoes are now sold in supermarkets. And environmental sustainability is on the agenda. However, new problems arose due to the free trade agreements. Rodriguez emphasized that the subsidies of the United States on their agricultural products interfere with the export possibilities for Colombia. Therefore the export of the mining industry has outgrown agricultural export. Additionally, the production of biofuels competes with food production in the city. Answering the question from the moderator about the competition with the US, Rodriguez said that thereâ??s no guarantee for success but to continue with the efforts.
Do it yourself: from tiles to strawberries
Lisa Alix presented her initiative â??Urban Gardening â?? From Tiles to Strawberriesâ?? â?? motivating citizens to transfer a neglected city terrain into a city garden. The initiative is a roadmap for future â??Food Guerillasâ??: how to find the owner, finding other participants and how to deal with polluted land. And then: â??turning boring patches of land and dog walking areas into strawberries and flowers.â??
The Garden City
After the break, the conference remained in Dutch spheres. Adri Duivestijn, Deputy Major of Almere, gave an overview of the development of the city in the field of urban agriculture and green city development. Almere is only 30 years old, and quite different from other cities as it is built on reclaimed land â?? the city is â??a 100% manmade.â?? Duivestijn referred to Ebenezer Howard as one of the Founding Fathers for the cityâ??s green orientation, who developed the City Garden Concept: â??Town and country must be married.â?? As a result, Almere is not created as a compact city but poly-nuclear, having several city centers. Most of it is designed by the well-known architect Rem Koolhaas. An important aspect is also the cityâ??s focus on the middle class, giving them access to a green environment. However, a downside of this planned approach is that Almereâ??s inhabitants did not participate in the development of the city, most of it happened on â??blue printâ?? and in standardization, with the focus on quantity instead of quality; whole blocks of houses were built in similar style. Therefore in 2006 a new urban policy was initiated with the so-called Almere Principles, which state: â??cultivate diversity, connect place and context, combine city and nature, anticipate change, continue innovation, design healthy systems, and empower people to make the city to be a liveable and healthy city in 2010.â?? An illustration is the Homeruskwartier, a project where people can build their own house, or school, or farm.
The final keynote speaker, Anna Meroni, President of Nutrice Milano, presented this project, an initiative that uses public urban spaces for communal agricultural projects. The first pilot was â??the Earth Marketâ??. Milan didnâ??t have a farmers market before, and the goal was to experiment with food services â?? for example a weekly vegetable box service. Meroni elaborated on the challenge to find a sustainable approach and continuous supply, because soon the demand outgrows supply. Meroni explained the strategy: training farmers, setting up local distribution services, setting up a cooperative supermarket, and integrate research and teaching. Another urban agricultural activity was the vegetable garden on the campus of Milanâ??s university. Showing a short film of the project, Meroni illustrated how the use of public land connects people to the university and integrates a plot with the city culture. However, as the universityâ??s soil appeared polluted, possibilities were limited. To cope with the polluted soil and to continue the gardening project boxes are being used.
An integrated rural and urban approach
During the panel discussion all keynote speakers were invited to the stage to discuss effective strategies for urban agricultural approaches. The main questions were: â??What can we learn from each other?â??, â??how to deal with pollution?â??, and: â??what are the roles for all stakeholders?â?? Lee-Smith said that for effective food distribution, networks are essential. Duivestijn mentioned that integrating food with city life is necessary. Meroni stressed that ownership is key — it should be transferred to the market to manage the service. A remark from the audience (Africa Studiescentrum) added that food chains should be short, within the city or its periphery. Frans van de Boom, NCDO, asked how to deal with pollution. Lee-Smith said that pesticides are hardly used in Africa, because they are expensive. She promoted the use of â?? cheaper â?? human waste. According to her, human waste should be encouraged in agriculture, because although it was seen as unhealthy, if treated, human waste provides a good alternative to pesticides. A good approach is starting with treating sewerage waste: â??only in the 21th century we started to understand the human risks of contamination but we havenâ??t transformed the system.â?? She said the sewer was designed to get rid of human waste, not to treat it and reuse it.
A sustainable approach
The final discussions emphasized stakeholder involvement and financial struggles. Rodriquez said that experiences showed that urban and periphery-urban areas work together to complement their production and achieve higher volumes. Lee-Smith agreed that both urban and rural should be part of an agricultural approached. To create sustainability, Rodriguez stressed the need for political will and financial involvement. Meroni agreed that a lack of sustainable funding undermines a permanent project. According to Meroni, sustainability should be the main strategy, not only because of ideology but also for a value-adding approach: â??the more you can add value at the beginning, and the quicker you get to the consumer, the more revenue both sides make: the producer saves distribution costs and the consumer has an affordable and qualitative product.â?? Lee-Smith said she struggled to bring in donors to her organizationâ??s projects. According to Duivestijn, it is a struggle to combine small-scale agricultural city development with the open competition for food production. Rodriguez remarked that the USâ??s free trade agreements created conflict between smallholders and large-scale food production in Colombia. The production of corn in Colombia is now only profitable if it is part of a production chain, for example as chicken food.
Hans Hoogeveen, Director General of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, closed this final FoodFirst conference by summing the key lessons of food security: â??we have learnt that there is much more to think about food and food security. And how important the partnership is â?? joining hands between politics, research institutes, civil society and the private sector, addressing and discussing issues is the way forward.â?? In 2022, the Floriade will be hosted in the Netherlands again, this time in Almere. Hoogeveen stressed the importance to continue talks about food and agriculture in urban areas, especially in relation to conflict, climate change, and migration. Cities occupy only 2% of land surface, but 60% of people are living in the cities. Therefore, these initiatives should continue, to enhance resilience to climate change, reduce emission, address the gap between rich and poor, and to address health and environmental risks. â??Hunger for action can only be stilled by sharing knowledge and transferring skills.â?? He referred to Kofi Annan, who said that PPPs, public private partnerships, should be private public partnership, because the private sector knows how to act, and the government should provide the framework. Therefore he promoted scaling up the initiative: for every dollar spent in private sector investment to alleviate climate change, the government should add a dollar in public sector investment. These forms of partnership are needed.
The circle is closing
Herafter Jos van Gennip, chair of the FoodFirst Coalition, made his final closing remarks ending the FoodFirst series: â??The circle is closing.â?? He emphasized the new perspectives that were addressed during the conferences, discussing climate change, deepening ideas and policies, the priority of a comprehensive approach in international cooperation, and cooperatives with the Netherlands, especially now a new cabinet is forming. He thanked the core of participants for forming a community between the four actors; civil society, research institutions, the government and the private sector. And after thanking everybody who helped to organize, facilitate, fund, develop and coordinate the conferences, he looked forward. The road to Milanâ??s Expo in 2015 and Almereâ??s Floriade in 2022. â??Some new initiatives are already on the table to continue achieving a new era of food security.â??
And then the conference ended with a last moment of inspiration. Elma Roelvink presented her project â??Pluk de Stadâ?? [Harvesting the City], a website where you can find and share trees, bushes, flowers and all other edible things in your city, when to pluck it and recipes to prepare it.
Urban Agriculture: the Green City
Lia van Wesenbeeck(r), Senior researcher of the Center for World Food Studies at the Vrije Universiteit van Amsterdam, moderated the conference
Report: Karlijn Muiderman