Potential exists in big cities

Apr 25 - May 08, 2005

Urban agriculture means, "to establish and perform an agricultural practice in or near an urban area or city, it has a long and outstanding history. Population growth in the cities increased the demand for food and sustenance. As a result, urban human settlement became segregated from rural animal and crop production areas. Agriculture, until recently, was considered an exclusively rural activity. Today, up to 30% of agricultural production in the United States originates from within metropolitan areas, and up to 15% on a global scale (Smit et al., 1996). In the US and other developed parts of the world, urban agriculture is a convenient novelty full of potential.

In Pakistan, cultivable land area is limited. Moreover, due to twin menace of water logging and salinity, all the cultivable area is not brought under plow or it has very low producing capacity. Unfortunately, in modern times, arable land acreage is decreasing due to soil and environmental degradation. Urban agriculture is an alternative to what has been labeled conventional agriculture. Urban agriculture is not so much an alternative to existing agricultural systems. Urban agriculture (UA) incorporates various elements of modern sustainable agriculture to establish productive reusable, self-contained waste and nutrient cycles. This practice of food production takes place on rooftops, in backyards, in community gardens and in vacant public spaces or around the city. It can be further added better understanding how urban food systems works if we want to comprehensively assess and promote UA's role and impact on the welfare of particular rural and urban communities. UA tends to develop to complement rural and foreign sources of food supply to cities. UA is comparatively affordable source of income and savings and is more profitable than rural-based production.

To understand the concept of UA it can be said that it is an activity for agricultural productions rather food productions fit for consumption by people or livestock; then, mostly cultivated or raised food products (grain, root, vegetable, aromatic and medicinal herbs and fruit crops, and livestock of all shapes and sizes) to meet demand of urban population from their own resources.


Originally urban agriculture was viewed as solely for subsistence purposes, however, the production of crops directly in the city has many additional social, economic and ecological benefits. The following are some of these benefits:

*It improves the aesthetics of the city by increasing the 'green spaces' in an otherwise concrete landscape and also provides recreational opportunities for those who work in the land (Nugent, 1997).

*It allows livestock production. The livestock typically raised in cities include poultry, birds, and smaller animals. It provides milk, meat, eggs, wool and their bi-products.

*Domestic organic waste can be composted and processed into the soil for added nutrients and soil structure.

*It results in shorter travel distance from producer to consumer.

*It promotes sustainable development by reducing the vulnerability of the world's urban populations to global ecological change (Rees, 1997).

*Reduction in crime has been noted when gardening projects are implemented in urban centers. Youth acquire self-esteem, stay busy and feel useful when participating in these programs (Hargesheimer, 1998).

*The vegetation of urban gardens stabilizes the soil within urban areas and prevents soil erosion by wind and runoff. Further, urban gardens contribute to the retention and storage of storm run off.


Extract of CFP Report 31 on Urban Agriculture is reproduce below.

"Ever since the first French geographical accounts of (intra- and peri-) urban agriculture (UA) were published on Central Africa in the 1960s, scattered and isolated UA surveys by individual social scientists (e.g.: Egziabher et al., 1994) have gradually been giving way to institutional projects led by multi-disciplinary teams (1) As a result, more and better information now is available on a larger number of regions, countries and cities around the world. Over the same period, public initiatives pioneered by few local and national governments (2) have been followed by more widespread awareness on part of local authorities, in their regional and global fora, for the growth and potential of agriculture in and around cities. (3) More urban governments are now seeking to exchange policy and technical experiences for better managing a spreading phenomenon in their own city".


Various NGOs, governments and international agencies have been supporting UA (Urban Agriculture) activities in LDCs, since the 1970s. NGO initiatives in UA have been very diverse since the 1970s, in all major world regions, and inventoried in a number of publications (i.e. worldwide: Wade, 1987; Smit 1996; on Canada: Lifecycles, 1998). NGOs have been active particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean (Prudencio, ed. 1997), and less so in Africa and Asia, where more NGOs traditionally focusing on rural development are now extending into urban areas. In urban areas, more NGOs have been seeking the collaboration of governmental actors to upscale local UA interventions, such as ENDA-ZW in Harare, Zimbabwe, CEARAH-Periferia in metro Fortaleza in Brazil, CARE Haiti in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, FUNAT in Habana, Cuba, CREAMOS in Cochabamba, Bolivia, etc. Few evaluations of NGO initiatives in UA are, however, available and more are needed to orient future interventions in collaboration with other actors (Chauca, 1999; Regis, 1999; Mougeot, 1999).


1. ROOF TOP GARDEN IN HAVANA: a vegetable garden constructed on the roof of an apartment building in a poorer area of Havana. The owner started the garden by collecting discarded tires to use as containers.

2. CONTAINER GARDENING: Even the smallest courtyard or porch (covered entrance) can boast a crop of vegetable or Garden of flower in containers. Planter boxes, wooden barrels (container) hanging baskets, and flowerpots, are just some of the containers that can be used. Small pots restrict the root and dry out very quickly. The size and number of plants to be grown will determine the size of the container. Deep-rooted vegetables require deep pots. Containers should be placed on bricks or blocks to allow drainage. Roots should be evenly moist. Leave 2-inch space between top of the soil and top of the container. Container gardening requires at least 5 hours of direct sun light. Only leafy vegetable such as cabbage can only tolerate the shade. Root vegetable such as beets, carrots, will need more sun. Fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers need more sun. In exposed location, container loose moisture quickly thus some plant-watering daily especially in hot, dry weather. For flowers annuals are most suitable for containers.

3. CDGK-GREEN BELT SCHEME: City District Government Karachi has planed and organized a scheme under which foot paths and adjacent plots have been leased out to Nursery growers for raising ornamental flowers and plants. By this scheme in short duration of 2-3 years greenery has been developed, a nice look pleasant view has been created. This is part of Urban Agriculture. A good number of nurseries are doing floriculture business and earning reason able amount. These nurseries are selling earthen containers locally called Gamells with flowers or ornamental plants. This business has a lot of potential. The City Government is also taking interest in development of parks and gardens in Karachi. If in gardens and parks fruit plants are grown it will certainly increase beauty of parks and also provide free nutrition to poor and needy citizens. It is now proper time when concept of UA is getting popular through out the world, the authorities of new setup of devolution plan should think over it and allocate suitable plots for vegetables, dairy, poultry, floriculture and other related farming with in the municipal limits. This will help in reducing poverty by providing employment to rural skilled population migrating in urban area.


Farmers in Pakistan and many other countries consider wastewater a valuable resource because of its high productivity and profitability. The reality is that farmers will take health risks. The municipal councils in Pakistan are aware of the value of wastewater and are selling it to farmers. Farmers are using it.

The various studies conducted by Dr. M. A. Kazi Institute of Chemistry Jamshoro Sindh pointed out that vegetables are grown with in municipal limit at Karachi, Hyderabad, Haroonabad and other small cities have health risks. The newly nurseries affairs at Karachi is also managed on wastewater. The wastewater contains highest amount of TDs which adsorbed in the soils can create problem. The domestic waste water contain various lethal pathogens like hepatitis A, B, C, Tuberculoses, coli F, streptococci etc. thus water with out treatment or diluted should not be allowed by local and city Governments as same has many health hazards.

The vegetables, which are grown and eaten raw, or uncooked like tomatoes, radishes, onion, carrots, turnips, cucumber, cauliflowers, sugar beats, etc should be restricted to grow on waste water.

Thus lot of potential exists in big cities of Pakistan. The urban youth and rural population may be engaged in activities of urban agriculture if encouraged by public and private sector.

The author is ex-Director ADBP/ZTBL and Independent Researcher