Food security and urban agriculture

THE use of pesticide is affecting human beings worldwide. Many pesticides have been proven carcinogenic and have been banned or taken off the shelves, not allowed for limited use even. This is not restricted to many dirty dozen chemicals but to several new chemistry and less hazardous pesticides as well.

One way to off-load pesticides from the society is to avoid their deliberate use maximally. Agricultural scientists are making progress in formulating Integrated Pest Management on a number of crops, especially vegetables where the use of pesticides can be reduced to a minimum level as maximum residue limits (MRLs) on vegetables has been posing a threat to public health.

Pesticide Residues in Food Chain

Type of % of samples % of samples

Sample contaminated > MRL


(Brinjal, okra,

bitter gourd,

gourd) 100 60

Fruits (apples) 100 60

Cotton seed

oil 100 65

Cotton seed

cake 100 65

Shallow ground

water 100 30

Source: Ahad et al, 2001

A very limited number of people (only in Karachi) has also reacted to these problems by growing vegetables at few available spaces. The activity is restricted to vegetables on one hand and is very limited on the other. It can be extended to spices too. Small pieces of land in school playgrounds, prison and industrial states are being cultivated but roof tops, ventilator shades and animal sheds and space available in residential premises is rarely used. Urban agriculture includes production and growing of crops on vacant spaces in and around city.

Contribution of urban agriculture to food security appears to be substantial in many developing cities. According to a survey, the urban farming provides 30 per cent of vegetable consumption in Kathmandu; 45 per cent in Hong Kong and 85 per cent in Shanghai.

Advantages of urban agriculture: Urban agriculture focuses on products that can survive with limited inputs and independent of the socio-economic conditions. Urban agriculture provides fresher and cheaper produce, and more green space. The use of organic/vegetative household wastes results in clean environment. It has energy conservation function; i.e,. shortening distance and decreasing losses during storage and transportation and reducing fossil fuel dependency. It compensates 50-60 per cent of income on basic foods of low income group. Urban agriculture is not a substitute to general farming but it is a mean of supplementing the demand of food for a large portion of the society.

The following areas can be further explored, particularly such as kitchen gardening, mushroom cultivation, silkworm rearing for silk production (sericulture), vegetable farming and production of medicinal plants along high value crops.

Constraints: The ownership of a property in use for farming for longer period is in question because the danger of vacating it at any time looms large. It not only discourages farmers but is also a disincentive to invest.

There is no well defined policy/infrastructure in developing countries, especially to allow the practice of urban agriculture without fear and restriction of law. The use of public land presents another problem. Appropriate technologies, education and supportive services, institutes, input equipments and labour are often not affordable. In cities even water is available on money. In the developing countries, the congested housing colonies, narrow roads, streets, way of construction, climate, population-pressure, lack of education and technical know-how, and awareness about the benefit of urban farming, as well as of pesticides hazards are major obstacles.

Urban agriculture is not a universal solution, rather a survival technique for the urban poor to enhance the existing food supplies. Urban agriculture can change the existing incomes and can minimise the hazards of day to day necessities of food with special reference to kitchen grading items. The increase in rodent population at residential sites and the smell of vegetable decomposition can be a nuisance for those who are allergic to it.

Urban agriculture can be improved if following measures/steps are adopted/ implemented: The policy makers and government officials should formulate laws for urban agriculture with special reference to kitchen gardening as a legal practice. It will not only safeguard the right of urban farmers but also remove the fear of eviction of land. Moreover, training should be imparted to urban farmers, city administration and health authorities regarding ill-effects of urban agriculture. The prevention/intention must be taken against the use of biological sensitive areas, and drinking water for irrigation.

Awareness regarding the practice of recycling organic wastes and waste water for agricultural use should be created among the people.

The integration of urban agriculture should be included in land use, planning such zones allotment for urban agriculture in city development plans, use of green areas, vacant plots, school and college grounds, hospitals, parks, railway lines, canal bank (for trees), and rooftops.

New housing schemes should be introduced with adequate space for home gardens and communal gardens. The government should either provide the city lands on lease or on rental basis to urban farmers.

Availability of inputs, technical know-how should be ensured to urban farmers without any hindrance. Arrangement of technical management assistance regarding micro-enterprises farming through training (mushroom cultivation, silkworm rearing, bee-keeping, high value species, horticulture, floriculture, compost processing, plant nurseries, Bio-control rearing units, vermiculture, local seed production, fodder distribution) should be ensured. Moreover, these products can easily be marketed off in some cases.

The micro enterprises of urban agriculture may be given a status of small industry.

The urban agriculture should be integrated with the existing policies like, social development, waste management, environmental care, enterprise development, food security and health, in order to have a share and benefits from them.