UA Magazine no. 20 – Water for Urban Agriculture

Sustainable Use of Water in Urban Agriculture

In developing countries, many cities suffer from water scarcity because the water resources are not sufficient or are polluted, or because the capacity to treat and distribute the water is limited. As a greater proportion of economic activity is concentrated in space-confined urban areas, and competition for scare natural resources increases, the development of new (re)sources of water will be needed.  Alternative water resources that could be put to productive use in the city are rainwater or stormwater and wastewater.

Although the proportion of people with access to sanitation services in urban areas is considerably greater than in rural areas, insufficient sanitation facilities in many countries has led to the degradation of the quality of water resources.  Moreover, improved living standards and socio-economic conditions have led to the generation of waste and wastewater which are mostly discharged untreated into the environment. The volume (and value) of untreated human waste which flows directly into water courses and pollutes the environment is of concern.

Global food demand is increasing and the current food crisis is hitting the urban areas, thereby seriously impacting the urban poor in particular. This has also pushed agriculture higher on the political agenda in recent times with requests for more applicable, diverse and flexible food systems. Farming in and around urban agglomerations is a way of providing some of this food as well as serving other urban functions.


Water, sanitation and food problems affect people directly. Maintaining a healthy environment calls for sustainable management of urban resources. Cities need a longer-term and broader vision of the use of urban space to reduce poverty and promote sustainability. Access to affordable water, good sanitation and food is essential. Achieving these goals will require integrated approaches and multi-stakeholder participation in the development of service provision and facilitation, and in the management of urban water.

In this issue of the UA-Magazine, the importance of the water-sanitation-agriculture nexus is highlighted. Increasingly it is realised that urban agriculture may contribute to resolving urban problems related to water and waste/wastewater management as well as poverty, social exclusion, and the environment. This issue is a collaborative effort of RUAF, SWITCH and SuSanA.

SWITCH (Sustainable Water Management Improves Tomorrow’s Cities’ Health; is an EU-funded action research programme being implemented and co-funded by a cross-disciplinary team of 33 partner institutions from across the globe, including 17 from the EU and 12 from developing countries. SWITCH promotes innovation in integrated urban water management (IUWM) and has organised its training, research and demonstration activities in thematic work packages, which are embedded in the independent city ‘learning alliances’. Some of its experiences are presented in this issue.

The Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) is an open global competence network of more than 90 organisations active in the field of sustainable sanitation that are developing joint initiatives in support of the UN International Year of Sanitation, 2008. More on SuSanA and some experiences with the use of sustainable sanitation for urban agriculture are presented here.