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Urban, peri-urban agri widespread, but need more support of govts: FAO
Thursday, 10 April, 2014, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
‘Growing greener cities in Latin America and the Caribbean’, a recently-published Food and Agricultural Orgainsation (FAO) report found that urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) was widespread in Latin America and the Caribbean, but realising its full potential required increased support from national, state and local governments.

It looked at the progress that had been made towards realising greener cities in which urban and peri-urban agriculture was recognised by public policy and included in urban development strategies and land-use planning. It is based on the results of a survey conducted in 23 countries and data on 110 cities and municipalities.

The report, which was released at the World Urban Forum in Medellín, Colombia, includes the profiles of agriculture practiced in and around cities such as Havana, Mexico City, Tegucigalpa, Managua, Quito, Lima, El Alto (Bolivia), Belo Horizonte (Brazil), Rosario (Argentina) and the Caribbean nation, Antigua and Barbuda.

FAO’s inquiry found that UPA was being practiced by 90,000 residents of Havana, and by 20 per cent of urban households in Guatemala and Saint Lucia. In Bolivia’s main cities and municipalities, 50,000 families were food producers. In Bogotá, 8,500 households produced food for home consumption.

The main benefit of UPA was improved access to food by low-income families. However, in 16 of the 23 countries surveyed, people practicing UPA earned some income from the activity.

A strong trend in a number of UPA programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean was toward agricultural technologies and practices that produce more and better quality food, while optimising the use of natural resources and reducing reliance on agrochemicals.

In Rosario, Argentina, gardeners cultivated high-yielding beds of compost substrate. In Managua, they enriched the soil with fertiliser made by anaerobically fermenting household wastes. In El Alto, a project installed, in small, locally-made greenhouses, hydroponic gardens that produced a tonne vegetables per year.

Another trend in Latin American cities was the spread of farmers’ markets selling locally-grown organic food. Many urban farmers have entered the value chain as intermediate or final processors of fruit, vegetables, meat, canned goods, dairy foods and snacks.

Many urban and peri-urban farmers have been tapped as suppliers of institutional feeding programmes. In 2013, UPA provided about 6,700 tonne food to almost 3,00,000 people in schools, public health centres and hospitals in Havana.

Government support needed
FAO stated that growing greener cities with agriculture needed the support of government. However, only 12 of the 23 countries surveyed have national policies that explicitly promote UPA. FAO’s survey also found that UPA was often excluded in city land use planning and management in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The good news is that UPA has been mainstreamed at a fairly high level within national institutions. In Bolivia, for example, the Ministry of Productive Development and Plural Economy would launch, with FAO’s assistance, a national UPA programme in 2014.

In a growing number of cities, urban and peri-urban agriculture is recognised in urban development planning. In Rosario, the municipality is building a green circuit of farmland passing through and around the city. Food production is also recognised as a legitimate non-residential land use, at a par with commerce, services and industry, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  

FAO stressed that meeting urban food needed not only UPA, but performing food systems that would supply a variety of food products to - and distribute them within - expanding urban areas, an understanding of their structure, how their activities impact food safety and quality and natural resources, and how they might exclude vulnerable sectors of the urban population.

Addressing shortcomings in a complex food system would require strong political commitment, regional development plans and effective public-private partnerships.
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