Urban farming against hunger
1 February 2007, Rome - The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has opened a new front in its battle against hunger and malnutrition - in the world's cities where most of global population growth is set to take place over the next decades.
"Urban agriculture" may seem a contradiction, but that is what FAO is supporting as one element in urban food supply systems in response to the surging size of the cities of the developing world - and to their fast-advancing slums - according to Alison Hodder, senior horticulturist with the Crop and Grassland Service.
This year will be the first time in history that the world's urban population - more than three billion people - exceeds the number of those living in rural areas. Currently, one third of city dwellers, one billion people, live in slums, and in many cities of sub-Saharan Africa they account for three quarters of all urban residents.
By 2030, some two thirds of the world's people will be living in cities, according to UN projections, which also predict that the world's population will rise to nine billion by 2050. "There will be a huge increase in urban populations," says Alexander Müller, Acting Head of FAO's Agriculture and Consumer Department. "Making sure they have the food they need will pose an unprecedented challenge."
Under its ongoing "Food for the Cities" programme, an interdisciplinary initiative, FAO is therefore helping a number of cities to support urban and peri-urban agriculture so that they can increasingly contribute to the job of feeding themselves.
Allotment gardens in Africa
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Gabon, Mozambique, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Egypt and Mali are all participating in FAO-backed "urban agriculture" initiatives in Africa.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, FAO is working alongside city authorities to help develop 800 hectares of urban land in several cities like Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Kisangani into allotment gardens. The aim is to produce fresh vegetables - and extra income - for 16 000 participating families, or roughly 80 000 people.
All food under the project is being grown in line with the principles of good agricultural practices and according to strict quality norms ensuring that the produce is fresh, safe and healthy. The scheme has the added advantage of providing the congested city with more green spaces.
"Urban agriculture doesn't conflict with traditional rural-based farming," says Wilfried Baudoin, a retired FAO expert who continues to collaborate on the subject. "Given the state of the roads, transporting highly perishable produce like leafy vegetables into the cities quite often just isn't an option."
Baudoin also plays down fears among some city governments officials that growing food in cities could help accelerate rural-urban migration. "There have always been vegetable patches in cities. We just help people to grow food better, more safely and more profitably."
In Namibia, for example, a group of some 75 urban allotment farmers has been helped to sign a contract with a supermarket. In Dakar, Senegal, families have set up kiosks in their neighbourhoods to market their surplus produce and each one earns an extra dollar a day or more.
Home-grown in Latin America
As for the specific issue of slums, a novel approach is being experimented by FAO in the Colombian cities of Bogota and Medellin, where a pilot project is being run to support vegetable production by internally displaced persons. "This project is giving a whole new dimension to the concept of 'home-grown'," says Juan Izquierdo, FAO's Plant Production and Protection Officer in Latin America.
With limited access to land, local experts assisted by FAO have taught hundreds of families living in "barrios" how to produce their own vegetables right inside their homes in micro-gardens using a curious array of containers including recycled water bottles, old tyres and trays. The techniques used are based on substrate growing or simplified hydroponics (in which water substitutes for soil), and recipients are positioned wherever there is enough space and light -- on windowsills, in courtyards and even on the stairs. Every month, each family's "garden" yields some 25 kg of produce including lettuce, beans, tomatoes and onions. Any surpluses are sold off for cash to neighbours or through a cooperative set up under the project.
Media Relations, FAO
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