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Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs, and Lower Food Miles

Vivek Prasad's picture

Millions of urban dwellers cultivate vegetables and fruit trees in home gardens, both for their families and for sale. In Dakar, 7500 households “grow their own” in micro-gardens. In Malawi, 700 000 urban residents practice home gardening to meet their food needs and earn extra income. Low-income city gardeners in Zambia make US$230 a year from sales. In cities like Bamako, Accra and Kumasi, depending on crop and season, between 60 and 100 per cent of leafy vegetables consumed are produced within the respective cities with employment figures ranging from 1,000 to 15,000 jobs. Even megacities such as Shanghai, with about 15% population growth per year, one of the fastest growing cities on the planet, maintains its urban farming as an important part of its economic system.


Farm plots amidst apartment blocks in Chaozhou, China.

Around 15 percent of the world’s food is now grown in urban areas. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), urban farms already supply food to about 700 million residents of cities, representing about a quarter of the world’s urban population.    

Most cities in developing countries are facing challenges to create formal job opportunities. Urban agriculture can play an important role not only in enhancing food security but also in contributing to the eco-system - improved nutrition, poverty alleviation, local economic development and job creation as well as productive reuse of urban wastes.

Cuba has a system of urban organic farms called Organopónicos, which provides a fresh supply of organic food to the community, neighborhood improvement, beautification of urban areas, as well as employment opportunities. Cuba has more than 7,000 organopónicos, with some 200 gardens in Havana alone, covering more than 35,000 hectares of land, which supply its citizens with 90% of their fruit and vegetables. In Havana, 117,000 jobs in Havana and income for 150,000 low income families were directly provided by urban and peri-urban agriculture.

In Cagayan de Oro City, the Philippines, 9 percent of the economically active population were employed in agriculture. There were 13,000 farmers in the peri-urban area; 40 per cent of all households maintained backyard gardens and 70 per cent of the city’s demand for fish was produced within the city.

In Mumbai India, a Vertical Farming Association has been formed to promote vertical farming and aeroponics, air-based plant growing that requires no soil, no sunlight (LEDs are used instead) and dramatically less water — roughly 95 percent — than conventional growing methods. The targeted groups for his mission are builders, real-estate people, food industry, green house owners, industrialists, and bankers, who own buildings with large roof space.

A sizable area of Bangladesh’s capital city Dhaka and its periphery are engaged in agricultural activities. For example, the business district of Tejgaon in the center of Dhaka has 38 per cent of the land available for agriculture. In addition, about 10 square kilometer of rooftops within the Dhaka City Corporation are vacant and potentially could be used for urban food production.

In developed countries urban agriculture can contribute to the reduction of 'food miles' - with local distribution via farmers' markets and specialized shops. In South London, United Kingdom, Growing Underground is a 7,000 square feet urban farm, which is housed in a network of dark and dingy tunnels originally built as air-raid shelters during World War II. Growing Underground limits the food miles by providing vegetables and salads to local wholesalers and restaurants in London. Similarly in Newark, New Jersey, USA, a 69,000 square-foot former steel factory has been converted into the world's largest urban farm.

Growing Underground, an urban farm in a tunnel.

Urban agriculture has potential for not only to provide fresh and nutritious food for urban consumers but also to create more and better jobs faster for growing youth population. For urban agriculture to play such an instrumental role, appropriate policy instruments must ensure that the sector functions well. Furthermore, strong institutional capacity at all levels of national economies will be needed to deal with challenges that arise from urban agriculture.

Photo credit: Jesse Warren via Flickr, Vivek Prasad, and Zero Carbon Food via Flickr

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Submitted by Pran Ranjan on

In the country like India, the concept of Sack farming, rooftop farming is spreading its popularity in urban, semi urban areas. These are due to two reasons, one is of-course need to do farming as interest but most important part is pure and healthy nutrition requirement for health need as people are becoming conscious for health component.

Submitted by VivekPrasad on

Thanks for your comments, Pran, will be happy to documents some of the experiences.

Submitted by PEDRO DI GIROLAMO on

Very admirable, inspirational and educative realizations ... but still ... I'm worried about the total feeding of the - it is spected - over-populated Big Cities of the not very distant future.
Could be that some grade of economics and population decentralization - or relocalization - would be needed, as says the international ONG 'Local Futures' < > for the Humanity's feeding to be sufficient, healthy and sustainable.

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