Urban Food Systems

Attention to urban food security and (multi-functional) intra- and peri-urban agriculture has increased markedly during the last couple of decades. Various cities in developed and in developing countries have designed innovative food and/or urban agriculture policies and are implementing programmes to strengthen the urban food system and stimulate local food production and multi functional land use in the city region. 
Urban agriculture contributes to a wide variety of urban issues and is increasingly integrated in urban land use planning and urban sector programmes (social inclusion and poverty alleviation, local economic development, environmental management, climate change strategies, amongst others) and used as a tool in sustainable city development.

Urban Food Policies and Strategies

Urban agriculture comprises a variety of livelihood systems, ranging from subsistence production and processing at household level to fully commercialised agriculture. The contributions of urban agriculture to various policy goals are manifold and relate a.o to poverty alleviation, food security, environmental and waste management, local economic development, social and community development and community adaptation to climate change. Once national or municipal authorities understand how urban agriculture can contribute to their policy goals, they often seek to facilitate the development of urban agriculture by means of pro-active policies and intervention strategies that enhance the socio-economic and nutritional benefits of urban agriculture, while reducing potential associated health and environmental risks.

Planning Process and Tools

Urban agriculture is a multi sectoral and multi disciplinary phenomenon and relates to various policy domains like poverty alleviation, environmental and waste management, local economic development, and social development and inclusion. This implies that when designing policies and programmes on urban agriculture a wide range of often disconnected actors such as urban producers and their organisations, NGOs, researchers, private organisations and different departments of local and national government should be involved in a participatory planning process.

Agriculture in Urban Design and Landuse planning

Although public awareness for farming activities in cities is rapidly increasing, agriculture is still in many cases not yet fully integrated into urban design and land use planning as a consequence best and highly productive soils are gradually becoming built-up areas, thereby losing the potential for food production as well as other functions in the urban system. Adopting an urban design concept that views urban agriculture as an important part of the urban infrastructure, recognition of agriculture as a formal urban land use and inclusion of urban agriculture in urban development and zonification plans are crucual steps towards sustainable urban development.

Short foods chains; marketing and entreprise development in urban agriculture

For many urban poor in many cities in developing countries (but also in some cities in Western countries !) production and selling of food and other products (compost, ornamental plants, herbs, tree seedlings, lodging for agri-tourists, etcetera) is often an important part of their survival strategy (food, cash savings,  additional income). But in most cities also an important group of small scale commercial farmers and a small number of larger agro-production units exist, while urban agriculture also generates different kind of enterprises in input delivery, processing, marketing and service delivery (i.e. animal health assistance, bookkeeping). More attention is needed for provision of training, management assistance, credit and marketing information to these micro- and small entrepreneurs.

Food Security, Nutrition and Health

In many cities in the world poverty and food insecurity is rapidly increasing. For many urban poor producing their own food in back yards, community gardens and on public or private land is an important survival strategy. But other (intra- and peri-) urban farmers also produce fresh vegetables, herbs, fruits, eggs, milk, meat, fish and other products for the quickly growing urban market and in many cities a substantial part of the food consumed in cities, especially perishable products, is covered by farmers in the intra- and peri-urban areas. Strengthening urban agriculture is an important strategy to enhance access of the urban poor to fresh and nutritious food and improve the nutrition of important categories of the urban population. But there are also some health risks associated to urban agriculture that have to be managed actively.  

Productive reuse of wastes & wastewater

Urban agriculture plays an important role in transforming urban wastes and wastewater into valuable resources. Many cities have growing problems to dispose of all solid wastes and wastewater generated in the city. The fast growth of the urban population growth leads to a substantial increase in the volume of urban organic wastes and wastewater produced. Collection and disposal of solid wastes can consume up to 50% of the operating budget of a Municipality Therefore, Municipalities seek to reduce the costs on wastes management. 

Urban Agriculture and Emergencies

Emergency situations often result in people fleeing their homes, who have to remain in refugee camps or in and around urban areas for extended periods. Many displaced people, engage in agriculture for subsistence and market production. And where in past periods local authorities and relief agencies often did not allow such activities for fear of people settling permanently and land conflicts, nowadays such activities are actively supported amongst others applying "low space" technologies (like gardening in containers, hanging bags, etcetera). In the LRRD process (Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development) urban agriculture may offer good options for the provision of fresh vegetables and other perishables to the population of these “new towns” in addition to generating some income, and enhancing self-reliance. 

Urban Agriculture and Climate Change

Climate change is affecting cities in various ways. The urban poor, often located in the most vulnerable parts of cities and lacking the capacity to adapt to climate-related impacts, will be hit hardest. Urban agriculture and forestry can contribute in various ways to urban climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies with important development co-benefits. Urban policies regarding climate change should consider food security and poverty considerations and integrate urban agriculture in adaptation and mitigation strategies.   

Multifunctional Land Use

Next to the provision of fresh food and animal feed, urban agriculture may play other functions in the city system, and combine different functions in one area of land (multi-functionality). Municipal authorities increasingly understand the role (intra- and peri-) urban farmers can play in environmental management (like the recycling of urban wastes, urban stormwater management, lowering urban temperatures and dust, maintaining urban biodiversity) while innovative farmers in and around cities are offering nowadays a variety of recreational services (staying on farm, horse riding, etcetera), playing a role in maintaining the cultural landscape and other services (e.g., on farm care for elderly people or with people with a psychological, eco-education, ...) in response to the demands of citizens and city region managers. 

Technology Development and Extension

The urban setting offers special advantages for food production, but also presents particular challenges. In order to make urban agriculture sustainable, safe and profitable, more research is needed, especially practical, adapted (action-) research in close cooperation with the producers and related agro-entreprises. Also policy makers and urban agriculture practitioners are requesting more research data on the health, social, economic and ecological impacts of urban agriculture as a basis for policy decisions and project design and management. ​A strong need exists for well integrated multidisciplinary studies on urban agriculture on household, community and city level, applying participatory and gender sensitive methods. Linking research and monitoring more directly to policy making, action planning and imple​mentation is another strong need.

Financing Urban Agriculture

While political support for urban agriculture has been increasing over the past years, financial support for urban small scale producers and agro-entrepreneurs remains limited: existing micro-finance institutions, banks, and micro-credit initiatives seldom allocate resources and loans to urban and peri- urban agriculture. Little is known about the credit and finance needs of urban producers and small scale agro-entreprises and the informal financing mechanisms used by them to facilitate access to inputs and services and/or to expand their operations.The choice of the most appropriate finan

Urban Horticulture

Urban and peri-urban crop production is taking place in many farm systems (specialized or part of mixed crop-animal farms; vegetables only or also herbs, fruits or staple crops; or focussing on flowers or ornamental plants), locations (in peri-urban open fields, in home gardens, on grounds of schools and hospitals, on vacant public lands), in varying scales, input levels and degree of market orientation (subsistence, mixed subsistence/market, small commercial, large commercial) and using different technologies (choice of species, irrigation techniques used, greenhouses, hydroponics, roof top gardens, etcetera).

Urban Livestock production

Animal production is and has been part of urban agriculture in many cities in the South. It occurs in a multitude of forms (mixed farms or specialized livestock keepers; species, herd size, free roaming or confined, husbandry practices), scales and degree of market orientation (subsistence, mixed subsistence/commercial, small commercial, large commercial) and locations (back yards, roof tops, peri-urban areas, urban public vacant spaces) each with its own problems and opportunities.

Urban (agro-)Forestry

Urban forestry includes garden and farm trees, street trees, trees in parks and open spaces; woodlands, trees and woodlands along rivers and trees in farmland (agro-forestry). Urban forests provide tangible (e.g. food, energy, timber, fodder) and less tangible environmental and societal benefits and services, like its contribution to urban greening, nature conservation and biodiversity management, improvement of the urban microclimate (less dust, more shade, lower temperatures), provision of opportunities for recreation and maintenance of buffer zones and protection of urban water resources.

Urban Aquaculture

Urban aquaculture is the “farming" of aquatic organisms, including fish, molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic plants within the urban environment (rivers, ponds, lakes, canals). Farming implies some form of intervention in the rearing process to enhance production, such as the regular stocking, feeding, protection from predators, etc. Farming also implies individual or corporate ownership of the stock being cultivated. Urban aquaculture systems can de differentiated according to location, species, environment concerned, and the intensity of production.