Few of us might be aware that 2008 was the first year in history, when the world’s urban population (more than three billion), exceeded the number of those living in rural areas. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), by 2020, the developing countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America will be home to some 75 per cent of all urban dwellers.

The situation in India is no different. Indian cities are home to an estimated 340 million people, almost equivalent to 30 per cent of the total population. As evident in majority of the industrialised countries, India is experiencing a shift over time from a largely rural and agrarian population residing in villages to urban, non-agriculture centres.

Rapid urbanisation in developing nations is accompanied by a rapid increase in urban poverty and urban food insecurity. This scenario is further aggravated by the fact that high food inflation, which by now is a global phenomenon, is expected to continue.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates, by 2050, global food demand will increase by 70 per cent in order to feed the global population of 9.3 billion. This is going to put tremendous pressure on already scarce land and water resources implying an urgent need for an alternative way to combat food shortages. Urban agriculture, although not a panacea for food insecurity, has the potential to provide millions with some secure access to food.

What is urban agriculture?

According to FAO urban agriculture can be defined as: “An industry that produces, processes and markets food and fuel, largely in response to the daily demand of consumers within a town, city, or metropolis, on land and water dispersed throughout the urban and peri-urban area, applying intensive production methods, using and reusing natural resources and urban wastes to yield a diversity of crops and livestock.”

Along with the urbanisation process, particularly in developed nations, urban agriculture has evolved from a simple, traditional and informal activity into a commercial and professional initiative and a key element in food security strategies.

Urban agriculture was officially recognised by the 15th FAO-COAG (Council of Australian Governments) session in Rome during January 1999 and subsequently at the World Food Summit in 2002.

Advantages of Urban Agriculture

Easy access to fresh, nutritious food for lower income consumers, and income generation potential.

Supply to urban food markets, street food and food processing, providing additional employment and income

Water harvesting, water re-use, and urban wastes re-cycling to provide water, animal feed and fertilisers to provide for the requirements of urban agriculture

Integration of urban agriculture with urban greening programmes which can provide fuelwood for urban residents, reduce urban pollution and temperatures, as well as offer recreation opportunities to improve quality of life for all urban residents Urban Agriculture – The Indian Context

Urban agriculture in India is just witnessing the beginning with few initiatives in some of the cities, such as:

- Composting and vermiculture (prominent in cities such as Kolkata and Chennai)

- Advances in dairying/animal husbandry in urban and peri-urban areas (Bangalore)

- Urban Agro-forestry (Hyderabad)

- Horticulture production activities in cities (Delhi) and

- Terrace farming in Mumbai

In Hyderabad, it was found that households that produce vegetables saved 20 per cent of their total food expenditures by retaining part of the produce for household consumption

As India progresses towards a rapid phase of urbanisation and as the concept of sustainable cities becomes increasingly acceptable, there are opportunities to build environmentally and economically sound urban agriculture systems, involving waste and water management that can be incorporated from the beginning itself and make it an integral part of urban planning.

Way Forward

Urban agriculture is probably the most efficient tool available which can help manage city’s waste by utilising it for food cultivation and creating jobs. It creates a diverse ecology where fruit trees, vegetable plantations and even fishing, etc. could coexist and build a wholly ecologically sustainable scenario. In India, the concept is still at nascent stage and there is a need for greater awareness about urban agriculture. Socially-oriented enterprises can play a significant role to diffuse knowledge-intensive techniques in this area.

The Government at the same time should facilitate urban agriculture through different various bodies such as municipalities, cooperative societies etc.

Land policies in and around cities need to be designed in such a way that it accepts agriculture as a legitimate usage of land. Urban agriculture has to be integrated in the agriculture policies and urban planning; and should, therefore, be brought under the purview of regulatory framework. Similar to the different countries such as China, Australia, the US, South America, Europe, etc. where targets have been set to make cities greener and sustainable, India should also promote urban agriculture which is necessary for the sustainability of its bursting cities and people.

(The author is Founder, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, YES Bank.)

(This article was published on September 16, 2012)
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