Urban Agriculture (UA) is not a new phenomenon per se. Although it begun in the 1970s, it is not until the past two decades that the practice gained popularity in many cities in both the third world countries in Africa and developed countries, including America. The practice has increasingly become common as urban residents, activists, and organizations take up abandoned pieces of land in metropolitan centers to convert them into productive resources through agriculture.
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Urban and peripheral urban agriculture has numerous benefits, such as improving the economic wellbeing of the residents, creating job opportunities, incubating other local businesses, improving access to affordable healthy foods, and encouraging savings on foodstuffs.
Moreover, urban agriculture promotes a sense of community and the formation of social networks among neighborhoods as residents interact to buy agricultural products from urban farmers. This research paper critically analyses the impact of urban agriculture on the local economy.
- How does urban agriculture improve the local economy?
The methodology is based on qualitative research methods that include urban agriculture journals and reports from various countries where the practice is common. The preparation of the journals involved conducting interviews with the urban farmers and surveys on the certainty of the farming practices. These tools led to the collection of adequate information on the crops and livestock involved in urban agriculture. It also revealed how the overall activities influenced the economic livelihoods of urban dwellers.
A growing body of literature asserts that urban agriculture has increasingly become a common practice in many cities around the world. Rigorous research conducted to investigate the urban livelihoods, markets, ecosystems, and health revealed that urban agriculture plays a vital economic role in the local economy of the cities involved. A myriad of push factors such as the improvement of the health of urban dwellers and evasion from political shocks, poverty, lack of jobs, and hiked foodstuff prices drive the need for urban agriculture.1
Urban farmers across the globe have different reasons for indulging in urban farming. Regardless of the factors, urban farming has been empirically shown to have inevitable impacts on the urban economy. It entails a variety of activities including crop and vegetable growing, forestry and flower farming, and keeping livestock such as pigs, poultry, and ducks among others
Creation of Employment and Income Generation
Urban agriculture has led to the establishment of employment opportunities that have generated incomes for many families. Both low and high-income entrepreneurs opt to adopt urban farming as their favorite industry. According to the urban food consumption reports from various urban economists, people continue to purchase foodstuffs regardless of the economic stresses posed by the global, regional, and/or local forces.2
Spending on food in urban centers did not change markedly in many cities, even during the past economic downturn. Urban farmers have unraveled this phenomenon as the driving factor for farming since the risk posed by the market forces such as the demand for food and price drops is considerably low in the metropolitan environments. For this reason, urban agriculture has become a source of employment for many people.
The employment multiplier effect created by urban agriculture on the economy is unmatched. Many people are involved in the actual farming, supply of farm inputs, storage services, transportation, packaging, marketing, and food processing, among other activities. These processes involve people from the urban environment who are close to the farming lands. This situation increases the jobs available in the cities and surrounding areas.
The research reveals that urban farmers across the globe obtain a competitive income through the practice regardless of whether the practices are informal, formally recognized, and/or illegal. The generation of income is not solely determined by the size of the farmlands. In developing countries such as Kenya, poultry farms that are found on the outskirts of the Nairobi Capital City supply almost the entire metropolitan with broilers and eggs.3 The business of egg supply and retailing has become a major employer for many youths in Nairobi.
Similarly, in Jakarta, farmers run profitable vegetable farms on the apportioned lands in exchange for the racetrack services inside the acreage.4 In Bamako, Mali, entrepreneurs chap alternative fertilizers mainly from the compost manure obtained from the excavations of dumped garbage. They supply it to farmers at favorable prices. About one-fifth of the urban families have indulged in urban agriculture, with most of the farmers having no alternative sources of income.
In fact, a report released by the 1988 Census Bureau indicated that urban agriculture was the second major source of jobs in the Dar-es-Salaam district in Tanzania.5 Approximately two million people engaged in urban farming as the primary source of their livelihoods. In Manila, the urban food production farmers’ cooperatives comprise up to 500 small-scale livestock businesses involving the supply of milk, leather, beef, mutton, and skin, among other products.
The jobs created by the supply chain and processing of the products obtained from urban agriculture have significantly boosted the economic value of the practice as exhibited in the national revenue. Such urban agricultural practices have resulted in the creation of jobs that have become source of income for many metropolitan families around the world, especially in areas such as North America, Argentina, Colombia, Zambia, Thailand, and Asian countries such as India among others.
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The urban farmers have an unbeatable competitive advantage due to their proximity to the markets in the metropolitan zones.6 They have access to information about the market prices and demand changes besides the short distance between them and the processing industries. This situation influences various market forces that determine the demand and supply of the products, thereby leveraging the prices and access to affordable storage services.
Additionally, the food processing industries and marketing corporations take advantage of the urban farmers owing to their closeness to their stores, a situation that promotes the timely supply and control of product quality. Urban agriculture provides opportunities for unskilled youth, homemakers, and elderly people who participate in farming practices.
For instance, in Lusaka, Zambia, urban agriculture creates job opportunities for unskilled people. The practice entails activities such as butchering and harvesting of farm produce. These activities do not need formal training; hence, the retirees, jobless teenagers, and women can perform them.
Economic Utilization of Land
Urban agriculture is done mostly on informally or illegally acquired land that has been abandoned or dumped with garbage. Such sites are commonly associated with hideouts for substance abusers, criminal gangs, and insect breeding grounds, especially if the areas have stagnating water. Land economists have recognized urban farmers as the most significant players in the urban economy.
Various researchers also reveal that the practice thrives in varying land perspectives ranging from the rich metropolitan farmlands of Tokyo in Japan to the poor informally acquired urban lands in Kampala, Uganda.7 Similarly, it can be found in densely populated cities such as Hong Kong or low-density capitals such as Managua. Urban agriculture generates income from non-permanently acquired land that is either free or renewed at low rent rates.
It leads to the utilization of wetlands, idle water, and sloppy landscapes that are unsuitable for any other commercial use. They are made agriculturally useful, thereby contributing greatly to the local economy. The agricultural lands that have rugged topography within the city centers contribute to environmental conservation and sustainability.
This land can be adversely affected by the heavy rains, a situation that can lead to flooding in the cities. Urban agriculture is commonly practiced in large tracks of lands owned by public facilities such as hospitals, factories, military bases, and airports. It is a common practice for flower farmers to seize such large idle lands to promote aesthetics besides earning some income.8
City forests such as the Karura forest in Nairobi are used for camping events conducted by various charity groups. This practice supports local tourism.9 The fee imposed during such events goes to the farmers who take care of the forest observing environmental conservation. The forest attracts visitors from both local and international dimensions; hence, it is a source of revenue for the urban county government of the city.
The idea of growing the forest was to put the idle land into economic use. Urban agriculture has received warm attention by land economists since it generates a substantial amount of economic returns through job creation and income generation despite the fact that it is usually conducted on considerably small pieces of informally or temporarily acquired lands.
Garbage sites in the cities have been reclaimed with a view of putting them into extensive agricultural use. For example, in Calcutta, India, the municipal corporation has leased the main garbage dump for farming due to its rich and unutilized compost richness. Over 800 hectares of garbage dumps have been leased to convert them into economically viable urban agricultural lands.
Today, the small-scale farmers and cooperative societies account for between 200 and 400 tons of over 35 different vegetable varieties that are sold at favorable prices in Calcutta daily. Through cooperation with the informal recycling industries, dumped materials were removed to leave behind the rich organic compost that was capable of supporting the agricultural crops for many years without necessarily having to purchase inorganic fertilizers.10 Large facilities such as airports have excessive lands to support future expansions.
Such spacious tracks of land have been leased out to urban farmers to grow seasonal crops such as maize and beans, tomatoes, and vegetables. The economics of land change is evident in instances where urban agriculture is mixed with other land uses. This phenomenon owes to the usufruct principle, which states that an additional economically viable use can be added to the existing land uses, provided the new land use does not prevent the prevalent or future ownership’s from reaping the benefits.
This economic principle has been applied by both private and public organizations that own large tracks of unused lands to earn additional income in the form of rent from the urban farmers. It has been applied in Jakarta, where land in elevated highways is utilized for urban agriculture.11 This practice helps in lowering the maintenance costs for public and private facilities.
For instance, roadsides and parks are variously used productively for agricultural activities, as exemplified in the West Bengal Highway. Commonly, flower trees that provide an aesthetic value surround golf and athletics playfields. In that manner, they create a friendly ground for human activity besides supporting the conservation of the environment; hence, such urban agricultural activities are paramount to the mitigation of global climate change.
Urban Agriculture Diversifies the Urban Local Economy
Urban agriculture contributes to the local economy since it diversifies the trade and industry base in the cities. Owing to the fact that the economic sectors in the metropolitan regions rely on the trade patterns, they are vulnerable to major shocks, including political and globally induced economic factors such as the upsurge of fuel prices, economic crises, and inflation other forces.
Despite the urban agriculture being associated with the unskilled, disadvantaged groups, elderly, and minority groups, it buffers farmers from the effects of economic meltdowns. Various works show that urban agricultural activities increase during the times of major crises. For instance, in Berlin, Havana, and Moscow, among other cities in Northern Europe, there was an increased use of urban land for farming in 1945.
The collapse of the former USSR and armed struggles in Congo and the Gaza Strip in Intifada, among other regional crises, forced the urban people to embrace urban agriculture as a source of income and livelihoods to alleviate the scarcity of jobs. As the crises reduced and normalcy resumed, people abandoned urban farming as they returned to formal jobs. This empirical evidence implies that urban agriculture serves as a buffer against sectorial shocks caused by different forms of crises in the metropolises12.
The agricultural sector in the urban centers is not too stringent; hence, the entry to such activities is easy. The most important factor that contributes to the urban agricultural activities during the times of crisis is the need to provide the most essential commodities whose utilization goes up when people are not actively involved in work-related activities.13 For instance, during the recent economic downturn, the demand for food went up around urban residential places since more people were jobless following the closure of many firms.
Improving Food Security and Reducing costs
Food security in urban centers is a significant economic aspect that many people can overlook easily. The economic value of food shortage can be realized in a case where people in a city cannot gain access to potatoes due to a shortage stemming from the supply constraints caused by the heavy rains in the plantations. Such situations can lead to the closure of businesses, especially the ones using the farm produce in production.
The distribution channels, including the trucking and city supply chain, are rendered out of business during the crisis.14 Employees working in the production, transportation, distribution, and processing of potatoes and their products are also put out of business. The multiplier effect of agriculture can go a long way to affect even the supply of machinery used in the processing and production of potato crisps provided there is a shortage of the commodity in the market.
The urban farms producing the same crop can help the situation by supplying the desperate market with the potatoes. This mediation can serve the market temporarily as the primary sources return to normalcy. In this way, urban agriculture improves food security and alleviates costly interdependent effects that can adversely affect urban lives.
It is worth noting that the food industry is among the largest economic activities in the urban regions. Various researchers attest most food processing and production activities occur in the cities where the established systems and technology are available. The presence of urban agricultural activities is a crucial factor that contributes to the feeding of the acute demand for food, which accounts for a significant proportion of the country’s agricultural sector.
In fact, the US Department of Agriculture reports that approximately one-third of the county’s agricultural production comes from urban areas.15 In China, about 90% of the vegetable supplies come from the urban agricultural activities embraced in more than 18 cities. In Kampala, Uganda, the urban poultry farmers were the main suppliers of broiler products and eggs to the city in 1970. Urban agriculture enables low-income earners to produce food that can rather be unaffordable due to the high market prices in the cities.
Furthermore, in countries where the rural supply of food to the cities falls short due to the acute demand, the governments are forced to import food mainly to feed the bulging urban populations. Examples of countries faced with this scenario include Egypt and Tanzania. Urban agriculture can help change this negative trend and save the importation costs that governments incur.
The government can support urban agriculture through the implementation of proper policies besides addressing the land issues to allow the farmers to carry out economic activities more confidently. In this manner, food security in such urban regions will improve significantly.
The paper has presented the economic value of urban agriculture to local economies. It has critically elaborated on the economic benefits ranging from the provision of employment opportunities for the jobless urban communities, improving food security, buffering harsh trade and industry crises, and sectoral shocks to the diversification of the local urban economy.
An analysis of the economic impact of the practice on the urban economy is present with numerous examples drawn from around the world where the practice is common. A plethora of factors contributes to the emerging and increased urban agricultural activities in the metropolitan regions, especially in developing countries. Such factors are categorized into economic, social, and political dimensions, as aforementioned in the essay.
De Bon, Hubert, Laurent Parrot, and Paule Moustier. “Sustainable urban agriculture in developing countries. A review.” Agronomy for sustainable development 30, no. 1 (2010): 21-32.
Ellis, Frank, and James Sumberg. “Food production, urban areas and policy responses.” World Development 26, no. 2 (1998): 213-225.
Hoornweg, Daniel, and Paul Munro-Faure. “Urban Agriculture for Sustainable Poverty Alleviation and Food Security.” Position paper, FAO Africa. Web.
Koscica, Milica. “Agropolis: The Role of Urban Agriculture in Addressing Food Insecurity in Developing Cities.” Journal of International Affairs 67, no. 2 (2014): 177-186.
Maxwell, Daniel G. “Alternative food security strategy: A household analysis of urban agriculture in Kampala.” World Development 23, no. 10 (1995): 1669-1681.
Memon, Pyar Ali, and Diana Lee-Smith. “Urban agriculture in Kenya.” Canadian Journal of African Studies/La Revue canadienne des études africaines 27, no. 1 (1993): 25-42.
Padgham, Jon, Jason Jabbour, and Katie Dietrich. “Managing change and building resilience: A Multi-Stressor Analysis of Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture in Africa and Asia.” Urban Climate 12, no. 1 (2015): 183-204.
Vitiello, Domenic, and Laura Wolf-Powers. “Growing food to grow cities? The potential of agriculture for economic and community development in the urban United States.” Community Development Journal 49, no. 4 (2014): 508-523.
1 Padgham, Jon, Jason Jabbour, and Katie Dietrich. “Managing change and building resilience: A Multi-Stressor Analysis of Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture in Africa and Asia.” Urban Climate 12, no. 1 (2015): 183.
2 Memon, Pyar Ali, and Diana Lee-Smith. “Urban agriculture in Kenya.” Canadian Journal of African Studies/La Revue Canadienne des études africaines 27, no. 1 (1993): 25
3 Memon, 26.
4 Ibid, 26.
5 Padgham, Jabbour, and Dietrich, 190.
6 Koscica, Milica. “Agropolis: The Role of Urban Agriculture in Addressing Food Insecurity in Developing Cities.” Journal of International Affairs 67, no. 2 (2014): 177.
7 Maxwell, Daniel G. “Alternative food security strategy: A household analysis of urban agriculture in Kampala.” World Development 23, no. 10 (1995): 1669.
8 Maxwell, 1680.
9 Memon and Lee-Smith, 33.
10 Hoornweg, Daniel, and Paul Munro-Faure. “Urban Agriculture for Sustainable Poverty Alleviation and Food Security.” Position paper, FAO Africa.
11 Hoornweg and Munro-Faure, 12.
12 Ellis, Frank, and James Sumberg. “Food production, urban areas, and policy responses.” World Development 26, no. 2 (1998): 214.
13 De Bon, Hubert, Laurent Parrot, and Paule Moustier. “Sustainable urban agriculture in developing countries. A review.” Agronomy for sustainable development 30, no. 1 (2010): 21.
14 De Bon, Parrot, and Moustier, 23.
15 Vitiello, Domenic, and Laura Wolf-Powers. “Growing food to grow cities? The potential of agriculture for economic and community development in the urban United States.” Community Development Journal 49, no. 4 (2014): 508.