Key issues and courses of action for municipal policy making on urban agriculture

de Zeeuw, H., M. Dubbeling, R. van Veenhuizen and J. Wilbers, 2007. Adapted from an earlier article published under this title in: “Urban Agriculture Magazine 16: Formulating effective policies on urban agriculture”. RUAF Foundation. Leusden, the Netherlands.

This paper will present the main key issues for effective policy making on urban agriculture as well as possible courses of action for each of these issues. The five key issues include the following:

  • Creating a conducive policy environment for urban agriculture and its formal acceptance as an urban land use,
  • Enhancing access to vacant urban land and land tenure security,
  • Delivering adequate support services to enhance the productivity and economic viability of urban agriculture,
  • Promoting gender equity and social inclusion, and
  • Taking measures to reduce the health and environmental risks associated with urban agriculture.

The suggested courses of action have been identified and applied in the past decade by policy makers and practitioners in the field of urban agriculture and presented during various international and regional conferences and issue-based workshops1.

Creating a conducive policy environment

Revision of existing policies and regulations

Formal acceptance of urban agriculture as a legitimate use of urban land is a crucial first step towards effective regulation and facilitation of the development of urban agriculture. Existing policies and bye-laws regarding urban agriculture, as well as sector policies that include norms and regulations on issues related to health, the environment, etc. will need to be reviewed in order to identify and subsequently remove (unsubstantiated) legal restrictions that may exist.

Another essential step is to include urban agriculture as a separate land use category in land use plans and change existing zoning categories to include urban agriculture.

“Urban agriculture is mainly an informal activity in Maranguape, introduced to the city by migrant workers. Urban agriculture, however, has to be integrated into the municipal planning as part of the Main Urban Development Plan.” Raimundo Marcelo Carvalho da Silva, Mayor of Maranguape, Brazil (IPES/UMP-LAC, 2003).

Kampala (Uganda), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Havana (Cuba) and Harare (Zimbabwe) all recently revised or are revising their bye-laws and regulations in order to replace colonial bye-laws and international sanitation standards that were seen as excessive, unenforceable or inappropriate to local conditions.

Adequate institutional arrangements

A second important step is the creation of an institutional home for urban agriculture. Conventionally, sector policies have been defined under the assumption that agriculture refers to the rural sphere and will be attended to by institutions other than the urban ones. However, most agricultural organisations do not operate in the urban sphere. As a consequence, urban agriculture still receives little policy and planning attention and development support or it suffers from conflicting jurisdictions. At the same time, urban farmers are often uncertain as to which department, organisation or programme is responsible for them.

Municipal authorities can play a key role in filling this gap by:

  • Selecting a leading department or institute in the field of urban agriculture; often a change in the institutional mandate of that organisation will be needed and often a special urban agriculture department, unit or office will have to be created within the leading institute. Several cities, like Nairobi (Kenya) and Accra (Ghana), have created a municipal agricultural department. In Villa Mara del Triunfo, Lima (Peru), an urban agriculture unit was created under the Department of Economic Development (with a yearly budget of US$ 35,000), while at the same time urban agriculture was included as a priority area in the Concerted Economic Development Plan (2001–2010).

  • Establishing an interdepartmental ore inter-institutional committee on urban food production and consumption to enhance coordination and institutional commitment. In Cape Town (South Africa), an inter-departmental working group was established in 2002 to coordinate the urban agriculture activities of various municipal and provincial departments and facilitate integrated policy development. In Toronto (Canada), the Toronto Food Policy Council ( was set up in 1991 to involve business and community groups in the development of policies and programmes that promote urban food security and the creation of an equitable urban food system. A similar council can be found in Vancouver (Canada).

Measures to enhance access to vacant urban land and land tenure security

Land is a very important resource for urban agriculture2 and its availability, accessibility and suitability for agriculture should be of particular concern to those who want to promote urban farming as a strategy for social inclusion, enhanced food security, poverty reduction and local economic development. City governments can facilitate access of urban farmers to available urban open spaces in the following ways (for more information, see also the proceedings of the RUAF-UN Habitat E-conference “Optimising Agricultural Land Use in the City Area”, 2003, at

Mapping of vacant land

Contrary to common belief, even in highly urbanised areas a surprisingly high number of vacant spaces can be found that could be used for agriculture on a temporary or permanent basis. In the city of Chicago (USA), for example, researchers identified 70,000 vacant lots. Various other cities, like Cienfuegos (Cuba), Piura (Peru), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Rosario (Argentina) and Cagayan de Oro (Philippines), have made an inventory of the available vacant open land in the city (using methods like community mapping and/or Geographic Information Systems) and analysed its suitability for agricultural use, which creates a good starting point for enhancing access of urban farmers to land.

Temporary leasing of vacant municipal land

The cities of Havana (Cuba), Cagayan de Oro (the Philippines), Lima (Peru), Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) and Governador Valadares (Brazil), amongst others, have formulated a city ordinance that regulates the (temporary) use of vacant municipal land by organised groups of urban farmers.

“Considering the alarming rate of unemployment in the city of Rosario and the need to promote productive activities, the Municipality is committed to assigning land under contracts with farmer groups for farming purposes. Lots should have the minimal services for carrying out the proposed tasks.” Pablo Javkin, Councillor Rosario Municipality, Argentina.(IPES/UMP-LAC, 2003)

Vacant municipal land might be land earmarked for future other uses (residential areas, industrial areas, hospital or school), or could be located in zones that are not fit for construction (flood zones, buffer zones, land under power lines, etc.), but may be given in short or medium term temporal lease to (groups of) urban poor for gardening purposes. In the city of Cape Town (South Africa), underutilised land around public facilities, road verges, etc., are leased out to groups of urban poor households. NeighborSpace in Chicago (USA), an organisation which is independent from but works in close collaboration with the City Council, liaises between the city (as land owner) and community gardeners who want to use the land. However, often those in need of land are not aware of such opportunities and information campaigns are an important accompanying measure.

Promoting use of vacant private lands

In order to enhance access of urban farmers to privately owned (vacant) land the Municipality of Rosario (Argentina) created a Municipal Agricultural Land Bank (a cadastral-based land registry) and brings those in need of agricultural land in contact with the owners of vacant land. It also hires vacant land from private landowners to lease it out to community groups interested in using this land productively.

Another effective instrument used in Rosario to encourage private or institutional landowners to make vacant land available to poor urban groups interested in farming is the increase of municipal taxes on idle urban land and reduction of taxes for landowners who make idle land available for (temporary) farming.

The city of Cagayan d’Oro (the Philippines), assists associations of the urban poor in establishing (allotment) gardens on privately owned land, which has proved to be a successful strategy. The organisers have learned that it is necessary to define clear land management conditions (e.g. type of crops that can be grown, no building of structures on the land, methods of waste management) and to help the allotment gardeners learn about the required practices and how to apply them.

Municipalities or NGO’s mediating between landowners and poor urban farmers should promote the provision of longer-term leases, which allow producers to invest in the soil and farm infrastructure. Such leases should be for at least five years, but preferably longer. Landowners however might be more willing to agree to a longer-term lease with an association of farmers (that leases the plots to their members on the basis of annually renewable contracts), instead of with individual farmers out of fear that the latter might start seeing the land as property and will refuse to leave the plot once the lease contract ends.

Demarcation of zones for urban agriculture

Dar es Salaam and Dodoma (Tanzania), Dakar (Senegal), Maputo (Mozambique), Bissau (Guinee Bissau), Pretoria (South Africa), Kathmandu (Nepal), Accra (Ghana) and Harare (Zimbabwe) are examples of the many cities that have demarcated zones for urban agriculture as a form of permanent land use. These zones are intended to support agriculture and/or to protect open green areas from being built upon, to create buffer zones between conflicting land uses (e.g. between residential and industrial areas) or to reserve inner city space for future uses. In Beijing (China), specific urban agricultural types and activities are promoted in the different peri-urban zones of the city. In Ho Chi Minh City and to a lesser extent in Hanoi (Vietnam), areas in and on the periphery of the city are also set aside for aquaculture. Such urban agricultural zones are more sustainable if located in areas that are not well suited for construction or where construction is not desirable, such as flood plains, under power lines, in parks or in nature conservation areas. The City Master Plan of Setif (Algeria), includes the creation of a green strip west of the city on the flood-prone fields of the Boussellam wadi valley.

Promotion of multifunctional land use

Under certain conditions urban farming can be combined with other compatible land uses. Farmers may provide recreational services to urban citizens, receive youth groups to provide ecological education, act as co-managers of parks, and their land may also be used as water storage areas, nature reserves, fire break zones, flood zones, etc. Aquaculture in urban or peri-urban lakes or ponds may be combined with other (water and fish related) recreational activities like angling, boating, a fish restaurant, etcetera, which proved successful model in Bangkok (Thailand). Agriculture and aquaculture may be linked to wastewater treatment and reuse e.g. in constructed wetlands like is practiced in Calcutta (India) at a massive scale and what could become an integral part of management of (peri-)urban green open spaces. By doing so the management costs of such areas may be reduced, and protection against unofficial uses and informal re-zoning may be enhanced.

The Municipality of Beijing (China) is promoting the development of peri-urban agro-tourism both in the form of larger agro-recreational parks as well as family-based agro-tourism: farmers diversifying their activities by offering services to urban tourists (food, accommodation, sales of fresh and processed products, functioning as tourist guide, horse riding, etc.). The local government made agro-tourism part of municipal and district level planning; established an agro-tourism association and information dissemination service; assists interested farmers with business planning, tax exemptions and funding of infrastructure development, and provides subsidised water and electricity.

Relocation of urban farmers

Farmers who are located in areas where their activities may cause serious health and/or environmental impacts may have to be relocated. In the case of planned conversion of agricultural areas for other land uses, the urban farmers could be supplied with alternative land areas and be assisted with basic infrastructure development (water, fence) in their new locations. In Jakarta (Indonesia), 275 dairy cattle farmers with over 5,500 cows have been relocated from the inner city area (where intensive cattle breeding caused disease and waste problems) to a peri-urban area. In Amsterdam (the Netherlands), a community garden was relocated after the municipality decided to start constructing houses in the area. During the period 1986–1989 Montreal (Canada) relocated 12 gardens.

Integration in social housing projects

Cities like Vancouver (Canada) Colombo (Sri Lanka), Kampala (Uganda), Rosario (Argentina) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) are experimenting with the inclusion of space for home and/or community gardening in new public housing projects and slum-upgrading schemes. Some cities also promote the recycling of grey household wastewater for use in home gardens and educate farmers regarding prevention of health risks.

Measures to enhance the productivity and economic viability of urban agriculture

Urban agriculture tends to be highly dynamic and innovative, in part because of its proximity to the urban consumers and the special urban conditions the farmers operate in, though its development is often constrained by urban farmers’ limited access to training, extension services, credit, etc. Agricultural research and extension services and other support organisations have - until recently - given relatively little attention to agriculture in the (peri)urban environment, or if doing so, only to the larger-scale commercial agro-enterprises.

Hence there is ample scope for enhancing productivity and profitability in urban agriculture. Municipalities and other urban actors can play an important role, especially by stimulating and coordinating production, developing joint programmes with relevant sector organisations, co-funding, providing licenses, supplying compost and basic infrastructure, etc. as will be shown below.

“Municipalities should give more attention to the link between food supply and local agricultural production. Several municipal initiatives can be used to provide incentives for programmes such as farmers’ markets, home delivery of fresh products, training courses for family farming, assignment of vacant lots to food production, and the use of differential taxes for land under production.” Project “Fome Zero” (Zero Hunger), a proposal for a food security policy for Brazil. Administration of Luiz Incio Lula da Silva. (IPES/UMP-LAC, 2003a)

Farmer training

Governmental organisations and the private sector should be stimulated to provide training, technical advice and extension services to urban farmers, with a strong emphasis on ecological farming practices, proper management of health risks, farm development (e.g. intensification and diversification), enterprise management and marketing. Cost-sharing systems (among farmers, municipality, governmental organisations, private enterprises) will be needed to ensure sustainability of the extension system. Education and extension institutions should be encouraged to include urban agriculture in their curricula and programmes.

Recently initiated urban agriculture programmes include training and education activities. The Urban Agriculture Programme of Rosario (Argentina) provides technical assistance and training to producer groups. The Cape Town (South Africa) policy on urban agriculture calls upon the services of the research, training and support organisations in and around the city to provide the urban farmers with training on business administration, technical skills, marketing, etc. In Chicago (USA) both the municipality and NGOs like Heifer and Growing Power provide capacity building and training activities for community gardeners. They jointly seek to find political support in initiatives like Chicago Organic and The Chicago Food Policy Council.

Strengthening farmers’ organisations

Most urban farmers are poorly organised and usually in an informal way. They therefore lack sufficient channels and power to voice their needs. This limits the representation of their interests in urban policy making and planning at the various levels and hampers their participation in development programmes. Well-functioning farmers’ organisations can negotiate access to land, adequate tenure arrangements and access to credit. Such organisations may also take up roles in farmer training and extension, infrastructure development, processing and marketing, and control / certification of the quality of the products marketed. In Bangkok (Thailand) for example, associations of aquaculture farmers were instrumental in negotiating fair prices for producers or negotiating contracts directly with wholesalers and retailers. The municipality of Montevideo (Uruguay) is working together with the Uruguayan Organic Producers Association (APODU) to address commercialisation issues (e.g. through establishment of the market in Montevideo) and funding.

Development of appropriate technologies

Urban agriculture is performed under specific conditions that require technologies different to those used in the rural context. Such specific conditions include limited availability of space and the high price of urban land, proximity to large numbers of people (and thus a need for safe production methods), use of urban resources (organic waste and wastewater), and possibilities for direct producer-consumer contacts. Most available agricultural technologies have to be adapted for use under these conditions whilst new technologies have to be developed to respond to specific urban needs (e.g. non-soil production technologies for use on roofs and in cellars; development of safe and economic practices for reuse of wastewater).

Special attention has to be given to the introduction of ecological farming practices (like integrated pest and disease management, ecological soil fertility management, soil and water conservation, etc.), space intensive and water saving technologies, health risk reducing practices and the creation of farmer study clubs and field schools that actively engage in the technology development and assessment process.

The Botswana policy paper urges research and extension institutions to develop and disseminate technologies with and to small-scale urban farmers. The following technologies are mentioned: (a) adaptable cultivars (e.g. cabbage, tomato, union, etc.), (b) water saving techniques (e.g. drip irrigation system or micro-irrigation system), and © appropriate production practices (e.g. hydroponics, concrete benches, protected agriculture).

A considerable number of (local) governmental institutes pay attention to agro-ecological practices in their urban agriculture programmes, including:

  • In Montreal (Canada), the municipal community gardening programme has a clear focus on ecological gardening methods, which is exemplified by the fact that only environmentally friendly methods to control bugs, plant diseases and weed infestation are allowed in the city’s community garden parks.
  • The national urban agriculture programme in Cuba prohibits the use of agrochemicals in the city and has two sub-programmes specifically geared to the development and stimulation of organic composting and agro-ecological integration to ensure that newly developed techniques do not harm the environment.

Enhancing access to water, inputs and basic infrastructure

Municipalities can play an important role in enhancing access of urban farmers to water and production inputs. Access to a year-round supply of low-cost water is of crucial importance as well as access to (composted or fresh) organic materials and other sources of nutrients (like wastewater).

The city of Bulawayo (Zimbabwe), provides treated wastewater to poor urban farmers in community gardens, while the cities of Gaza (Palestinian Authority) and Tafila (Jordan) promote the collection and reuse of grey household water in home and community gardens.

Mexico City (Mexico) promotes systems for rainwater collection and storage, construction of wells and the establishment of localised water-efficient irrigation systems (e.g. drip irrigation) in urban agriculture to stimulate production and to reduce the demand for potable water. The municipality of Cape Town (South Africa) supplies community gardener groups with a basic infrastructure (a fence, a tool shed, a tank and hoses for irrigation), composted organic wastes and up to a certain amount of free water daily. In addition, it provides community groups that wish to start gardening activities with a “start-up kit for survivalist gardeners”, consisting of a pickaxe, spade, rake, watering can, seeds and compost. The start-up kit is further supplemented by skills training and extension services.

Enhancing access of urban farmers to credit and finance

Improved access of urban farmers to credit and finance (with an emphasis on women-producers and the resource-poor farmers) is very much needed. Municipalities may stimulate existing credit institutions to establish special credit schemes for urban farmers (e.g. by creating a guarantee fund) or to allow their participation in existing credit schemes for the informal sector (this often also requires revision of the loan conditions).

The Botswana policy paper recommends the Ministry of Agriculture to encourage existing savings and credit cooperatives to provide credit also to urban farmers for their farming businesses.

The inclusion of urban agriculture in the municipal budget is also an essential component in the promotion of urban agriculture activities. In many cities, such as those noted above, the city council allocates resources to support its policy and programme on urban agriculture (infrastructure development, training, marketing support, start-up kits, etc).

“Local governments should show a clear commitment to the development of urban agriculture, mobilising existing local resources, integrating urban agriculture in the municipal structure, expanding it nationwide, and allotting funds from the municipal budgets for carrying out urban agriculture activities.” Quito Declaration, signed by 40 cities. Quito, Ecuador. April 2000. (IPES/UMP-LAC, 2003b)

Facilitating direct marketing by urban farmers

Due to the low status of urban agriculture and the usual exclusive focus on food imported from rural areas and the exterior, the creation of an infrastructure for direct local marketing of fresh urban-produced food and local small processing of locally produced food has received little attention in most cities. However, some municipalities do facilitate the marketing of surpluses by poor urban farmers by providing them access to existing city markets, assisting them in the creation of farmers’ markets (infrastructure development, licenses, control of product quality), authorising food box schemes and/or supporting the establishment of “green labels” for ecologically grown and safe urban food. An example is the Budapest municipality (Hungary), who assisted Biokultura, the local organisation of urban and peri-urban farmers create a weekly organic farmers’ market. Biokultura has its own organic certifying institute.

Many cities in the USA and Canada provide space for farmers’ markets to organised local farmers. Examples include the city of Vancouver (Canada) and the work of the Rainbow Coalition in Milwaukee and Chicago, which organises the cooperative sale of organic farm produce through farmers’ markets and food box schemes.

Supporting micro-enterprise development

Some municipalities promote the development of small-scale enterprises, such as suppliers of ecological farm inputs (compost, earthworms, seeds and plant materials, bio-pesticides) and processing enterprises (food preservation, packaging, street vending, transport) by:

  • providing start-up licenses and subsidies or tax reductions to micro and small entrepreneurs,
  • providing technical and management assistance to micro- and small enterprises,
  • providing subsidies and technical assistance for local infrastructure and equipment for small-scale food preservation and storage facilities.

In Ghana, the municipality of Accra-Tema cooperated with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in the establishment of a milk collection system in order to encourage dairy farming in the peri-urban areas of the municipality. In Brasilia FD (Brazil), the PROVE programme supports the development of small agro-processing and/or packaging units managed by urban farmers’ groups and assists them in setting up quality labels and other marketing strategies. The PROVE products began to be sold in supermarkets as a result of an agreement between the local government, supermarkets and producers.

The small scale of production and rapid turnover of capital of small urban producers often impedes them from buying even small amounts of good-quality inputs at affordable prices. Therefore, some municipal programmes develop mechanisms for collective purchasing and sales in small units to urban farmers. In Havana (Cuba), farmers’ stores (Tiendas del Agricultor) have been installed in the various neighbourhoods. In these stores, urban farmers can buy equipment, seeds, natural fertilisers, and bio-formulas in small quantities and at low prices. In addition, these stores offer technical assistance.

Measures to promote gender equity and social inclusion

Urban agriculture projects could be designed in such a way as to specifically involve disadvantaged groups such as children, youth, disabled people, women, recent immigrants without jobs, or elderly people, and with the aim to integrate them into socio-economic city-life. Many of these groups are especially at the risk of food insecurity, given their often lesser access to rural and urban land, as well as to technical assistance and credit resources. Many examples show us urban agriculture providing an excluded group of urbanites with a source of income and economic survival, and new connections to an unfamiliar urban society; or in other words, assimilation into the larger urban economic and social network (Bailkey, Wilbers and van Veenhuizen, 2007)

Gender affirmative actions

The percentage of poor female-led households is generally increasing in many developing countries. In many cities, women already constitute the majority of urban farmers. However they often experience limited access to education, land ownership and access to financial resources. In Fortaleza (Brazil), Banco Palmas created the “Incubadora Femenina”, a food security project seeking to involve women at risk. The project includes providing information, visits to farmer’s markets and an “urban agriculture laboratory” where women learn farming activities. They are thus prepared to start their own family farming operations, cultivating fresh vegetables and medicinal herbs. The municipality of Oa (Ecuador) promoted the use of municipal and private land for farming as part of the municipal Economic Development Plan, prioritizing women and senior citizens.

School and children’s gardens

Extensive and mounting evidence shows that school-based garden programs have significant health effects on young people. In these non-traditional learning labs, youth become familiar with good and healthy food, especially the fruits and vegetables critical to reducing obesity and chronic diseases. It is precisely these foods that are missing from our children’s usual diets. School garden programs teach a skill and a lifetime hobby that provides exercise, mental stimulation, and social interactions. Children receive practical entrees to biological and environmental sciences, math, geography, and social studies. Additionally, reports show that these advantages accrue to students that have trouble succeeding in school as well as those who excel. Amongst many other cities, the cities of Antananarivo (Madagascar), Rosario (Argentina), Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) and Gampaha (Sri Lanka) are promoting schoolgarden programmes.

Supporting youth entrepreneurs through urban agriculture

For a growing number of urban youth, in the face of shrinking formal employment, market-oriented urban agriculture and related enterprises provide a relatively accessible entry into the urban job market. They can earn an income, save on food, learn another trade and perhaps set up a small business. In Portland (USA), a youth employment program, Food Works engages 14–21 year olds in all aspects of planning and running an entrepreneurial farm business. Working side by side with gardens’ staff, community residents, local farmers, business owners and non-profit leaders, Food Works’ Crew Members learn business, leadership, organic agriculture and other work skills. Crew Members also receive school credit for their work and are supported to transition into other employment opportunities and post secondary education (for more information on Food Works, please look at:

HIV-AIDS mitigation through urban agriculture

Families affected by HIV/Aids tend to have higher expenses due to costs related to treatment of the infections. Meanwhile, family income tends to go down due to loss of strength and status of the HIV/Aids-affected family members leading to further socioeconomic deterioration. Urban agriculture projects can make important contributions to mitigate the impacts of HIV and Aids at the individual, family and community level. Its benefits include improved nutrition of HIV/Aids affected families, savings on food expenditures, added income from the sale of surpluses, and community mobilization to respond to HIV and Aids. Although, adequate nutrition cannot cure HIV-infection, it can substantially enhance the life expectancy and quality of life of HIV-infected persons. It also improves the response to treatment. In Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) 12 allotment gardens were recently established by the city council in selected areas in the high-density and low-income areas of the city. The beneficiaries of the garden allotments are HIV-affected households, the elderly, widows and the destitute. In order to avoid the stigmatisation associated with HIV, each garden draws from a mixed group of beneficiaries. The garden allotments, which largely produce vegetables, have contributed to food security and local community development. The HIV-affected households feel less discriminated against as they work with other community members in their gardens.

Supporting migrants

In Cologne (Germany) intercultural gardens are promoted to allow immigrants to rent plots of land and plant gardens. They can work side-by- side with Germans — pursuing their gardening hobby, carving out a niche for themselves in a foreign country and improving their German. Many of the foreign gardeners cultivate plants and herbs from their home countries, which they otherwise can’t find in Germany. An intercultural garden club in Cologne was created in 2005 and has about 30 members, eight of them very active. The gardeners are originally from Turkey, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia, Japan, Poland and Germany (for more information, please look at: In Beijing (China) half a million peri-urban migrants are producing a large share of the city’s fruits and vegetables consumption, however till recently without any acknowledgement or support. The Beijing Agricultural Bureau is now supporting them to form cooperatives and provides technical assistance in ecological production techniques and marketing.

Pro-poor urban agriculture policies

To facilitate participation in urban agriculture by low-income producers and the most vulnerable groups, selection criteria should favour social inclusion. Apart from specifically targeting women, children, youth, migrants, HIV-AIDS infected and the urban poor (see examples given above), cities have also experimented other innovative measures that enhance the urban poor’s access to land and water resources, training and information and financing. For example, instead of requiring actual collateral or reserves for getting a loan, other types of joint guarantee, which may be more accessible to low-income groups, exist to cover non-payment risks, such as group credits with joint guarantees. In Brasilia DF (Brazil), the PROVE Program created a state fund with a non-monetary guarantee in the form of “Mobile Agro-industries”, metal constructions that can be transported on a truck. Since these constructions are both mobile and durable, the same one mobile agro-industry could be used as collateral for getting loans for a large number of producers.

Measures to reduce the health and environmental risks associated with urban agriculture

Rather than restricting urban agriculture out of fear of - often unspecified health and environmental risks, which has often turned out to be an ineffective strategy, cities are choosing more and more to design a series of accompanying measures to reduce these risks. These include improving coordination between health, agriculture and environmental departments, farmer and consumer education on managing health and environmental risks, and prevention of industrial pollution.

Improved coordination between health, agriculture and environmental departments

The most important measure is to create mechanisms of close cooperation between agriculture, health and environment/waste management departments to assess actual health and environmental risks associated with urban agriculture and to design effective preventive/mitigating strategies for which the participation of all these sectors is required. In Kampala (Uganda), for example, health and agricultural and town planning specialists closely cooperated in the development of a series of ordinances on urban agriculture livestock and fisheries. In Phnom Penh (Cambodia) steps are being taken to improve the coordination between municipal departments, universities and private organisations for controlling and monitoring the microbiological and chemical quality of wastewater-fed fish and plants in order to reduce a number of health problems (especially skin infections) related to wastewater-fed aquaculture.

Health considerations when setting aside zones for urban agriculture

Many cities identify zones where certain types of urban agriculture are allowed (often also defining certain management conditions for each of these urban agriculture types) and where other types are excluded (due to expected negative effects in the given local circumstances), in order to reduce health and environmental risks. When preparing such zoning and related regulations, factors like population density, the ecological sensitivity of the area concerned, proximity to polluting industries and proximity to sources of drinking water should be taken into account as well as the potential risks related to certain types of urban agriculture. Furthermore, the available means to enforce the zonification and related regulations should be taken into account.

A city may want to avoid having free-roaming cattle and major concentrations of stall-fed dairy cattle or pigs in central districts (due to traffic, bad smells, flies and waste management problems). For example, the city of Cape Town (South Africa) is planning to relocate larger-scale dairy farmers from the inner city to public land in the peri-urban area. Also, it may be prudent to keep intensive horticulture and poultry keeping out of areas that are sources of drinking water (due to the risk of water contamination from use of chemical fertilisers or pesticides) or to prevent mono-cropping in river stream beds (due to erosion problems or siltation of dams). Proper location of arable crops in relation to sources of contamination is also important to reduce the effects of air pollution. Leafy vegetables, for example, should not be kept within 50–75 metres of a main road. Production of food crops close to industries that emit certain toxic chemicals should also be discouraged.

Farmer education on the management of health and environmental risks

Health risks associated with urban farming can be reduced substantially if farmers are made well aware of these risks and know how to prevent them. Examples of preventive measures that can be implemented by farmers themselves are the following:

  • Promotion of ecological farming methods to reduce risks related to intensive use of agrochemicals.
  • Health risks related to raising animals in close proximity to homes and workplaces can be diminished through adequate animal housing on the site, adoption of hygienic measures in relation to animal feed, adequate animal waste management, regular cleaning and disinfection of the stables, etc.
  • Health risks related to the use of wastewater can be reduced by using adequate irrigation practices and by choosing the right crops. Untreated wastewater should preferably not be used for food crops (especially not fresh leafy vegetables), but may be used for growing trees or shrubs, crops for industrial use and other non-edible plants (ornamentals, flowers). In Xochimilco (Mexico), urban producers shifted from vegetable growing to a lucrative floriculture when untreated canal water became unfit for growing food. In Hyderabad (India), farmers shifted from production of paddy (rice) to fodder grass when river water, which is used for irrigation, gradually became more polluted.
  • Food fish farmers facing increasing pollution and food safety problems can be stimulated to switch to ornamental fish production, as was done in Bangkok (Thailand) and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam). Vegetable producers in Ho Chi Minh City have begun cultivating ornamental plants for the growing urban middle class. In this way, the already available skills and expertise in aquatic production systems are optimally used, whilst a market and export industry that brings in cash is strengthened.
  • In areas contaminated with heavy metals (due to heavy traffic close by or industry), crops with a high uptake of heavy metals and nitrates like celery, parsley, leek, lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets and radishes should be discouraged, in favour of crops that present less risk like gourds, onions, garlic and fruit trees and shrubs. In severely polluted areas, farmers should consider growing non-edible plants rather than food crops, or production should be limited to containers, raised beds or other systems using special growing media.

Education of food vendors and consumers

Crops can become contaminated not only during production but also during the marketing and food preparation stages. Access to clean water and sanitation facilities in markets should be provided. A food-hygiene course should also be provided to small food processors and vendors (e.g. licenses could be provided/renewed only after an applicant followed such a course with success). Consumers need to be educated regarding washing or scraping of crops, heating of milk and meat products and securing hygienic conditions during food handling. They also need education regarding the importance of fresh nutritious foods and medicinal herbs and their preparation. A FAO project on making street foods safer, among other places in Dakar (Senegal), is training food vendors, food inspectors and consumers in food hygiene issues (for more information, please look at:

Prevention of industrial pollution of soils and water by industry

Contamination of soils, rivers and streams by industry is a growing obstacle to safe urban food production. Separation of city waste (residential and office areas) and industrial waste streams and treatment of industrial wastes at the source should be promoted. In areas where contamination might occur (e.g. downwind and downstream of industrial areas) periodic testing of soils and water quality in agricultural plots might be needed.
Increasing pollution and contamination of cities’ domestic wastewater with industrial wastewater effluents is a major constraint to the continued viability of irrigated urban agriculture as well as to aquaculture. In many South-East Asian cities, the continuity of the existing potential for growing aquatic vegetables and fish using urban wastewater will depend on the city planners’ ability to coordinate and develop strategies for effective separation of toxic industrial waste from domestic sewage. There are already encouraging examples in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) of relocation of urban industries to industrial parks which allow for more effective treatment and monitoring of effluents. In the medium term, enforcing existing pollution control legislation to control contaminants at their source and monitoring and regulation of industrial wastewater discharge into public water sources can be effective in reducing health risks. When serious soil pollution is detected, farmers could be trained to rehabilitate the polluted soils with bio-remedial methods and/or farmers could be relocated (de Zeeuw, Dubbeling, van Veenhuizen and Wilbers, 2006).

Last edited by Godsil.   Page last modified on August 25, 2008

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