Urban agriculture for resilient cities and countrysides
I came to that conclusion when I was in a conference on urban agriculture for resilient cities in Almere, the Netherlands, last week. The event was organised by the RUAF foundation, the international network of Recourse centres on Urban Agriculture and Food security.
The conference was organized on the occasion of RUAF’s 10 years’ anniversary, but it was much more than a teenage party: there were interesting people from the international urban agriculture network, it took place in the inspiring location of city estate de Kamphaan and we had constructive discussions about issues that matter in agriculture, environment and food. Great event. Maybe I should copy the programme and invitation list for my son’s 11th anniversary next week?
We can talk about urban agriculture in different ways: you can see urban agriculture as a typical urban activity with limited geographic scope, a marginal activity in the informal economy, but you can also see it as an essential answer to the question of who is going to feed the world.
Urban agriculture definitely plays an important role in the production of vegetables and other fresh products for a growing urban population. That’s a recognized fact after 10 years of RUAF. In 2030, 60 percent of the world population will live in cities. And a great part of these people will not know where their food comes from and how it is grown. They will be completely dependent on supermarkets and local traders…
Urban farmers will gain importance, not only because they provide fresh food, but also because they show the importance and opportunities of green jobs, waste management and climate mitigation in urban situations. After 10 years of experience and gaining expertise, RUAF knows that the full recognition of urban agriculture depends on participative planning and applied research.
First, in the cities, more and more people gather around scarcer resources like water and land. That makes them vulnerable. Therefore, solutions to urban poverty can only come from participative, multi-stakeholder approaches, in which the poor are taken seriously.
Second, applied research leads to results. I like that and I wish the scientific world was more sensitive to it. Sure, you cannot try new medicines on human beings, but why not try to be more focused on urgent needs while designing research programmes? And why not design the programmes together with stakeholders? Even when dealing with abstract issues like social inclusion, climate mitigation or democratization of the food system, it is possible to choose practical and relevant cases for the poor.
Participative processes can lead to a cross-cutting and multi-functional urban agriculture. RUAF has shown us the way. But why stick to cities? During the conference, I have seen so many results of applied research in urban agriculture. Roof gardens, container gardening, plastic bags or bottles on triangles or other frames. It takes almost no space and little investment. With some care and water vegetables grow everywhere. Also FAO is interested in these techniques and promoting greener cities.
So my motto after RUAFs conference is to mainstream urban technologies for full-stream impact on food security! It would be great to see a triangle frame wit 20 old plastic bottles with tomatoes, lettuce or other vegetables in every compound on the countryside in Africa and Asia. Let’s go for a better nourished world…
Watch also: Feeding and Greening the City - Urban Agriculture in Ghana
Text: Mireille Vermeulen