Short foods chains; marketing and entreprise development in urban agriculture

Economic impacts

In many cities in developing countries (but also in some cities in Western countries !) the number of urban poor is rapidly increasing. For them 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. By producing their own food the urban poor can save substantially on food expenditures (often more than 50-70% of their total household expenditures. Through barter and sales of surpluses they may gain a complementary or main income.

But urban agriculture is not only a survival strategy. In most cities part of the urban farmers have developed into small commercial farmers and also a small number of larger enterprises may exist. All taken together, urban agriculture often represents a substantial –but often overlooked- urban economic sector.

Micro enterprise development

The area of micro and small enterprises related to urban agriculture is a very interesting one that is worth much more attention. Business opportunities in urban agriculture abound, resulting in different kind of enterprises that can be classified into three major categories (apart from the agricultural production enterprises):

  • Processing enterprises (i.e. food preparation, packaging, milling, drying and others),
  • Input delivery enterprises (i.e. agricultural supplies such as fertilizers, compost, soil media, seeds, pesticides, water, tools, feeds),
  • Service delivery enterprises (i.e. special labour services such as milking, animal health assistance, bookkeeping, transport and others).

Such enterprises are often overlooked by informal sector programmes and more attention is needed for provision of training, management assistance, credit and marketing information to these micro- and small entrepreneurs.


The available literature on marketing focuses mainly on marketing from the rural areas to the cities and exports, with an emphasis on the formal and central city markets. The literature dealing with marketing of products of urban farming mainly deals with marketing of vegetables grown in the periurban area of the cities. Much less information is available on marketing systems in urban livestock, aquaculture and intra-urban forms of agriculture. Happily enough there is also growing attention being paid to informal food marketing and distribution systems (e.g. ‘farmers’ markets’, street vending of food, consumer supported agriculture, box schemes, etcetera). Such innovative informal urban food marketing and distribution systems need to be studied much more and local initiatives in this field deserve more policy support.

For an extensive introduction and review of literature on these subjects, please go to State of the art. This paper assesses the socio-economic impacts of urban agriculture on income generation, poverty alleviation, urban food supply, livelihoods, as well as indirect costs and benefits for society including environmental externalities. Two levels of analysis are considered to assess this impact: the household and the city. The paper also discusses the opportunities and constraints for the de development of viable small scale commercial urban production of food, looking especially at developing countries.

Go to RUAF publications for an overview of RUAF publications on this topic (most of which are available online). You may also view the articles in the Urban Agriculture Magazine on this topic or use the Search option.

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