Urban agriculture or urban farming is the practice of cultivation, processing, and distribution of food in or around cities and towns (urban areas).
Urban agriculture also involves animal husbandry, aquaculture, agroforestry, beekeeping, and horticulture.
Some school of thought has defined urban agriculture as an industry that produces, processes, and markets food, fuel, and other outputs, largely in response to the daily demand of consumers within a town or city.
Typically urban agriculture applies intensive production methods, frequently using and reusing natural resources and urban wastes, to yield a diverse array of fauna and flora that directly contributes to the food security, health, livelihood, and environment of the household and community.
CAST, which is an acronym for Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, defines urban agriculture to include aspects of environmental health, remediation, and even recreation.
Simply put, urban agriculture is growing or producing food in a city or heavily populated municipality.
Urban agriculture is a complex system encompassing a spectrum of interests, ranging from a traditional core of activities associated with the production, processing, marketing, distribution, and consumption, to a multiplicity of other benefits and services that are less widely known and documented like:
- recreation and leisure;
- economic vitality and business entrepreneurship,
- individual health and well-being;
- community health and wellbeing;
- landscape beautification; and
- Environmental restoration and remediation.
Urban agriculture can reflect varying levels of economic and social development and maybe a social movement for sustainable communities. For some people, food security, nutrition, and income generation are key motivations for the practice of urban farming. But in any case, direct access to fresh vegetables, fruits, and meat products through urban agriculture can improve food safety and security.
Urban agriculture is often confused with community gardening or subsistence farming, but the fact is that they are very different things. What distinguishes urban agriculture from subsistence farming is that urban farming assumes a level of commerce, the growing of product to be sold as opposed to being grown for personal consumption or sharing. In subsistence farming, there is no such commercial activity.
You don’t have to have a large tract of land to be an urban farm. An individual or neighborhood group can start and run an urban farm. Also, there is no one sales outlet for an urban farm, as food can be sold to restaurants, a farmers market, or given to a local soup kitchen. The idea is that the food is raised primarily to be moved from the grower to the user.
Why Urban Agriculture?
The rapid urbanization that is taking place is accompanied by a rapid increase in urban poverty and urban food insecurity. By next year, which is 2020, the developing countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America will be home to some 75% of all urban dwellers, and to eight of the anticipated nine mega-cities with populations that exceed 20 million.
It is expected that by that 2020, almost 85% of the poor in Latin America, and about 40-45% of the poor in Africa and Asia will be concentrated in towns and cities.
Most cities in developing countries have great difficulties to cope with this rapid migration and development. They are unable to create sufficient formal employment opportunities for the migrants and the poor.
These cities also have increasing problems with the disposal of urban wastes, and maintaining air and river water quality. Urban agriculture provides a complementary strategy to reduce urban poverty and food insecurity and additionally enhancing urban environmental management.
Urban agriculture plays a vital part in augmenting urban food security. The costs of supplying food to cities and towns, based on rural production and imports continue to increase. The food supplies do not satisfy the demand, especially of the poorer sectors of the population.
In addition to food security, urban farming contributes to local economic development, poverty alleviation and social inclusion of women, and the urban poor.
It also contributes to the greening of the city and the productive reuse of urban wastes, which are the main reasons why Municipalities and international organizations are supporting urban agriculture.
Impact Of Urban Agriculture
Urban agriculture can play an important role in the urban environmental management system since a growing city will produce more and more wastewater and organic wastes.
Urban agriculture can help to solve such waste management problems by turning urban wastes into a productive resource.
Here are ways urban agriculture can contribute to the improved health of communities:
- Reduce Carbon Emissions: Urban farms cut down on the significant amount of fossil fuel consumption necessary to transport, package, and sell food, by localizing produce. Urban agriculture helps consumers by providing them with the opportunity to purchase food that was grown within their cities.
- Innovative Techniques: As city spaces lack the wide-open fertile grounds of traditional farming methods, urban farmers are tasked with finding creative and innovative solutions to dealing with challenges like waste, space, resources, and energy. Thus, more efficient innovations are created to improve the quality and quantity of food production.
- Job Creation: Urban farms create opportunities to involve the community, and create job (and volunteer) opportunities in big cities, where poverty and hunger are ever-present issues. Any increase in small businesses stimulates the local economy and supports the community by creating jobs right where people live.
- Economic Growth: Based on their proximity to consumers, urban farms stimulate the local economy by circulating income. The distribution network is less complicated, and farmers are more connected to their market and able to adapt quickly to demand, maximizing profit.
- Community Building: everybody needs food, and urban agriculture brings people together with food as the common interest. The overall health of a city or town is benefited by increasing its capacity to create an environment that truly sustains its residents.
- Public Health: An increasing section of urban dwellers suffer from malnutrition and a variety of other diet-related health issues. Thus, bringing fresh and nutritious food to local communities has many direct health benefits, and involving individuals in the farm itself provides an opportunity for exercise.
- Food Quality: Smaller scale, local markets provide the opportunity for farmers to foster more unique varieties of produce and preserve biodiversity by cultivating heirloom varieties or those with lower shelf-stability. The proximity and connectedness to market allow for fresh, nutritious produce to become available to many city dwellers that have never had access to this in the past.
- Food Security: Issues of access to food are absolutely prevalent in urban areas. However, urban agriculture helps to correct this by reducing the price of healthy food and eliminating the middleman, thus, increasing the opportunity for community members in need to participate in the growing of this food.
- Education: Urban agriculture addresses the disconnection to where our food comes from, by involving children and adults alike in education around sustainable, local agriculture. This directly increases the health of our future food systems.
- Green Space: Lastly, agriculture in cities provides more green space, which contributes to the health of city ecosystems in a variety of ways. This green space adds aesthetic appeal, reduces runoff from rain, provides restful spaces for the community, and counters the heat island effect (fixes carbon through photosynthesis).
Urban Agriculture And Prevention Of Industrial Pollution Of Soils And Water
Contamination of soils, rivers, and streams by industry is a growing obstacle for urban dwellers and safe urban food production. City waste and industrial waste streams should be separated or treated at the source.
Increasing pollution and contamination of the city’s domestic wastewater with industrial wastewater sewage is a major limitation to the continued viability of irrigated farms, as well as fish farming.
In many cities, the continuity of the existing potential for growing aquatic vegetables and fish using urban water system will depend on the city’s ability to coordinate and develop strategies that will effectively separate toxic industrial waste from domestic sewage.
Urban agriculture can become a dynamic economic sector that quickly adapts to changing urban conditions and demands, with the potential of intensifying its productivity and diversifying its functions for the urban populace.
However, governmental policy should create the proper framework conditions for optimal development of the social, economic and ecological benefits of urban agriculture. This will help reduce the negative effects on public health and the environment.
Some types of urban agriculture can have bad consequences on the environment and public health if improperly managed or not well located.
The sustainability of urban agriculture and agriculture as a whole is closely related to its contributions to the development of a sustainable and resilient society that is environmentally-healthy, socially inclusive, productive and food-secured.