On an increasingly urban planet, one practice that's gained importance in both the developing and developed worlds is urban farming. In the cities of the global north, urban garden plots serve as community hubs, education centers, much-needed wild space, and of course, a means of obtaining cheap, fresh, local food.
In developing cities, particularly megacities where droves of rural citizens are arriving all the time, this last point is particularly significant. Having survived on small-scale subsistence farming prior to relocation, many people face not only extreme poverty, but a new degree of food insecurity in a place where they don't rely on themselves to grow their own sustenance. Using the farming skills they brought with them from the countryside to grow food in the city can generate income and provide the most nutritionally rich food available.
A lengthy scientific paper from Swiss environmental researchers evaluates urban agriculture in the developing world as a key factor not only for food security, and poverty alleviation, but also public health and sustainable resource management.
The direct impacts are improved health conditions amongst urban farmers thanks to a richer vitamin and protein diet. Furthermore, more appropriate waste management practices lead to a decrease in health risks. Sustainable resource management implies a more efficient use of resources, including a reduction and reuse of waste flows whenever possible. Closing the nutrient loop in the urban environment by reusing the so-called waste as fertilisers in urban agriculture is an option to the prevalent open-loop and linear urban systems.
The paper also points out that women comprise the vast majority of urban farmers in developing megacities. By cultivating small plots in the city, women can fulfill their traditional role of taking care of the home, while leveraging some economic advantage for the family by producing a bit of surplus to sell. Zaid covered a number of these issues in his series Postcards from the Global Food System, particularly the third article, in which he discusses some of the problems of a thinning rural culture and the disadvantages of urban agriculture in slums compared with a rural farming life. Nevertheless, as the trend continues towards developing world cities with populations in the billions, preserving farming skills after leaving a farming life behind appears to be one of the best strategies for megacity subsistence.
The coming world will be the challenge that everyone is born for.....who will be able to link up himself?
There's an important land-planning strategy for urban farming. If you can get hold of a copy of A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander and colleagues, you'll find that one of the first Patterns is City-Country Fingers. The idea is to zone land to encourage cities to develop in a "starfish" kind of form: interlocking fingers of farmland and urban land, each about 1 mile (1.5 to 2 kilometers) wide. This brings farmer and market close together, encourages the kind of urban density that makes cities "green", and can keep essential ecosystem services close to large populations of people.
Great to hear a more academic spin on this topic. Right out of college, I worked with an urban agriculture org, using a variety of gardening innovations to grow food in the city with the intention of cobbling together regional food networks. I've seen it work splendidly, and I've also seen it fall on its face. I guess I'm looking for validation -- is this one of the key world-changing components that I've been telling myself it is?
They actually have a website too, for those who are interested: