samedi 8 septembre 2012

Agriculture in Urban Planning


Mark Redwood
Urban agriculture (UA) has long been dismissed as a fringe activity that has no place in cities; however, its potential is beginning to be realized. In fact, UA is about food self reliance: it involves creating work and is a reaction to food insecurity, particularly for the poor. Contrary to what many believe, UA is found in every city, where it is sometimes hidden, sometimes obvious. If one looks carefully, few spaces in a major city are unused. Valuable vacant land rarely sits idle and is often taken over – either formally, or informally – and made productive. Urban agriculture is a long-established livelihood activity that occurs at all scales, from the small family-held market garden to the large agri-business located on the fringe of a city. It supplies food to the city and income to those who farm. Above all, UA is making an important contribution to food security for those who do not have easy access. In essence, UA is the true realization of the statement that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.
In the 21st century, food comes with baggage. Mechanized farming and the increased yields associated with fertilizer and pesticide usage have reduced employment. Accordingly, farmers are relocating to cities in search of work. As wealth spreads, appetites change, and food is travelling further and further from where it is produced as people demand specialty goods. While food choices increase for the wealthy few, others are exposed to nutrition and health risks because of their lack of secure food sources. Market changes associated with biofuels, high oil prices and inflation are raising the cost of basic goods, which leads people to seek alternative ways to secure their food.
Meanwhile, the historic separation of the uses of ‘urban’ land from what has traditionally been considered ‘rural’ has relegated UA to a position of being a minor economic sector at best or irrelevant at worst. In general, policy has followed suit. Many cities, for different reasons, have ignored the contribution of UA and settled on disingenuous prohibition of the activity. But this is changing for the better, since acceptance of UA is growing in many municipalities (Mougeot, 2006; Van Veenhuizen, 2006).
The fourth World Urban Forum in 2006 showcased the crucial importance of UA in cities of the 21st century. During the forum, statistics were presented which show that by 2006 more than 50 percent of the world’s population is living in urban areas. Moreover, projections indicate that by 2050 it is expected that two-thirds of humanity will live in urban areas. Thus, the Forum confronted delegates with the challenges of such a rapid and historic change in human geography. The Forum was also notable for bringing UA in from the fringe and introducing it during a major international event whose attendees included mayors, government ministers, international organizations, researchers and members of civil society. Urban agriculture was the main topic in a number of networking events, product launches and in the booths of at least 20 institutional partners and eight cities. Around 1000 delegates attended the networking events that took place specifically on UA. The acknowledgement of UA and its presence at such a major event is indicative of wide changes that are taking place with regard to the politics of how cities are viewed and how the value of land – and food production – is perceived.

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