Cultivating green thumbsUrban agriculture boosts food security, keeps the environment clean and creates jobs
Urban agriculture is one dimension of agriculture among several. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation defines urban agriculture as an urban ecosystem which provides fresh foods, generates employment, recycles urban wastes, creates greenbelts, and strengthens the resilience of cities to climate change. Urban and peri-urban agriculture is broadly understood as growing plants, raising animals and fishes, and keeping bees within and around cities.
Cuba, the United States, China, Canada, Australia and Thailand have been successfully implementing urban agriculture for the past few decades to meet a large part of urban food demand. Cuba started urban farming after the disintegration of the Soviet Union when it faced severe shortages of fuel and agro-chemicals. Havana started urban farming to overcome deepening food insecurity, and now around 90 percent of the city’s fresh foods come from urban agriculture. The US and some European countries started urban and peri-urban agriculture during the world wars and economic recessions. Urban and peri-urban agriculture can be as simple as traditional rural farming, or as complex as enclosed vertical farming including farming in nutrient-enriched water, farming in nutrient-pumped air or even without a single ray of the sun.
Urban and peri-urban agriculture is important in Nepal, and its relevancy is ever increasing. The environment and health are major concerns for city dwellers these days. The suffocation major cities in Nepal, including the capital Kathmandu, are seeing currently highlights the need for better environmental practices. Urban and peri-urban agriculture can offer a reliable treatment for that. Massive gardening of flowers and fruits will reduce pollution besides enhancing the atheistic value of the city and supporting food and nutrition security. In addition to the immediate benefits of beautification and pollution reduction, such gardening also increases carbon sequestration which is vital in the fight against climate change.
Human health is another important indicator of human development and civilisation. The current trend of urbanisation is frequently blamed for the deteriorating health of city inhabitants. It is further accelerated by intentional or unintentional food contamination, especially in vegetables and fruits. For post-harvest longevity of fruits and vegetables, farmers or traders are using agro-chemicals which adversely affect human health besides creating environmental issues. The promotion of urban and peri-urban agriculture reduces fruit and vegetable imports from long distances, which directly benefits urban consumers. Moreover, they can enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables at a comparatively cheaper price.
Urban and peri-urban agriculture can have profound impacts in Nepal. First, it generates additional employment and directly contributes to poverty reduction. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, garden plots can be up to 15 times more productive than rural farming, and one square metre can produce around 20 kg of food per year. Second, urban and peri-urban agriculture reduces long transportation chains, which subsequently reduces several negative externalities.
Third, rapidly urbanising cities such as Kathmandu are producing a significant amount of biodegradable waste. This waste is becoming a nuisance for municipal administrations. Urban and peri-urban agriculture can offer a solution to that—composting. Vermicomposting or any kind of composting produces fertiliser and organic matter for urban and peri-urban agriculture and innovative solutions for urban waste management. Finally, urban and peri-urban agriculture supports food and nutrition security in urban landscapes, especially for the urban poor. It can be achieved by bi-forked sources. Increased income from urban and peri-urban agriculture enhances the purchasing power of the urban poor and offers fresh and nutritious food at a cheaper price.
Two models of urban and peri-urban agriculture are suitable for Nepal. The first is small to medium farms in urban and peri-urban areas. The second is household farming—home, backyard, kitchen garden and rooftop farming. Urban gardening and planting fruit trees along roadsides and riverbanks are other examples of urban and peri-urban agriculture. Municipalities can plan urban and peri-urban farming according to the needs of city dwellers.
Household farming is slowly gaining momentum. In Kathmandu, people are setting up small hydroponic units to produce green leafy vegetables. More importantly, small kitchen gardens and rooftop farming is not a new concept for us. However, inputs for such miniature farms are always an issue. Seeds, fertilisers and plant protection measures are not readily available for these small farming units. There is a glaring policy void regarding urban and peri-urban agriculture in Nepal. The transformation of agriculture institutions in the federal context and staff adjustment has broken service delivery systems. Urban and peri-urban agriculture is one strong strategy for sustainable and smart cities. Therefore, a lucent policy with an appropriate level of priority is urgent.
GC is an officer at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development.