ROME, Italy -- A new Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations report finds that urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) is widespread in Latin America and the Caribbean, but realizing its full potential requires increased support from national, state and local governments.
“Growing greener cities in Latin America and the Caribbean” looks at the progress that has been made toward realizing 'greener cities' in which urban and peri-urban agriculture is recognized by public policy and included in urban development strategies and land-use planning. It is based on the results of a survey in 23 countries and data on 110 cities and municipalities.
The new report, released at the World Urban Forum in Medellín, Colombia, includes profiles of agriculture practiced in and around cities such as Havana, Mexico City, Antigua and Barbuda, Tegucigalpa, Managua, Quito, Lima, El Alto (Bolivia), Belo Horizonte (Brazil) and Rosario (Argentina).
FAO's inquiry found that UPA is practiced by 90 000 residents of Havana, and by 20 percent of urban households in Guatemala and Saint Lucia. In Bolivia's main cities and municipalities, 50 000 families are also food producers. In Bogotá, 8 500 households produce food for home consumption.
The main benefit of UPA is 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 many UPA programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean is toward agricultural technologies and practices that produce more, and better quality, food while optimizing the use of natural resources and reducing reliance on agrochemicals.
In Rosario, Argentina, gardeners cultivate high-yielding beds of compost substrate. In Managua, they enrich the soil with fertilizer made by anaerobically fermenting household wastes. In El Alto, a project installed, in small, locally made greenhouses, hydroponic gardens that produce one tonne of vegetables per year.
Another trend in Latin American cities is the spread of farmers' markets that sell 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, snacks and natural cosmetics.
Many urban and peri-urban farmers have been tapped as suppliers of institutional feeding programmes. In Havana, UPA provided in 2013 some 6 700 tonnes of food to almost 300 000 people in schools, public health centres and hospitals.
Government support needed
FAO says that growing greener cities with agriculture needs 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 is 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 will launch, with FAO's assistance, a national UPA programme in 2014.
In a growing number of cities, urban and peri-urban agriculture is recognized 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 recognized as a legitimate non-residential land use, on a par with commerce, services and industry, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
FAO stresses that meeting urban food needs requires not only UPA but performing food systems that 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 short-comings in complex food system requires strong political commitment, regional development plans and effective public-private partnerships.