photo credit: RUAF (http://ruaf.iwmi.org/project-overview.aspx)

photo credit: RUAF (http://ruaf.iwmi.org/project-overview.aspx)

Most people don’t usually associate agriculture with cities, but there are over 800 million people worldwide practicing urban farming. More people now live in cities than rural areas, making urban food security more important than ever before.

This increased urbanization typically means more poverty, more overcrowding, increased malnutrition, and water management problems. But farming in the cities can help alleviate many of these problems. A small garden can provide fresh produce for an urban family that might otherwise not have access to vegetables–most urban farmers use their harvest to supplement diets that are dependent on what is available at the market or store and what they can afford.

Farms are also innovative. Backyard gardens or roof top gardens, exposed directly to the sky, maximize water supply where there is often poor access to irrigation. Plastic buckets, tires, and other “trash” can be used to contain soil for smaller gardens. Integrated fish farming has even been used in some areas just outside of cities to both treat human waste and provide fish for human consumption.

While encouraging urban agriculture could help to improve nutrition, sanitation, and resource management in cities, there is often little institutional or official support for farmers in large cities. Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture & Food Security (RUAF Foundation) introduced a program called Cities Farming for the Future in Accra, Ghana, in 2005, to promote “collaboration between urban authorities with citizens, farmers, civil organizations, private sector companies and other governmental entities in the preparation, implementation and evaluation of policies and related action plans.”

The result has been a general increased awareness of the role urban agriculture can play both in providing food and in creating a more sanitary and sustainable urban environment; increased and improved education regarding urban farming; increased government incentivizing of urban agriculture; a farmers’ association and recognition from the Ghana Agricultural Workers Union; revised agriculture bye-laws; and policy maker outreach.

RUAF is not alone in its work to make urban agriculture an integral part of city planning and infrastructure. The FAO Food for the Cities program promotes dialogue and partnerships between institutions, government agencies, and non-profits as well as grass-roots organizations regarding urban agriculture. And the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) created an initiative to gather and share information on urban agriculture called Urban Harvest. Urban Harvest also helps to create partnerships between national and international efforts to encourage the integration of city life and sustainable food production on a local level. Senior researcher Danielle Nierenberg will be visiting some of these Urban Harvest projects next week when she is in Nairobi, Kenya.

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