Urban Agriculture Notes

City Farmer: Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture

(with special reference to Africa)


3.1 The Asian Leadership:
City-Farming Today as it Will be Tomorrow

by Luc J.A. Mougeot
© Copyright 1994
International Development Research Centre

In the late 20th century, the largest advances in production and marketing systems for UA are found in and around major Asian cities. There, policy-makers and planners have for many decades been overtly promoting food and some nonfood production as a critical urban function. Chinese UA is expected to further develop because it has become very intensive and highly integrated (vegetable crops are highly structured spatially with use of intercropping, overplanting, advanced purchasing, and combined contracting) (Honghai, 1992: 5). The Shanghai Municipal Government has a fully integrated regional food-supply system (Yeung 1985: 12). UA is also being integrated with other sectors of the urban economy. The City of Dujiangyan, Sichuan, is known to have diverted its surplus labour force to farming on wasteland, barren mountains, roadsides and field edges, as well as food processing, handicrafts and small restaurants (Liu Hing as per Honghai, 1992: 7).

In China, ancient household urban gardening has provided the seed for the development of urban farming in yards which later, with the support of planning, grew into full-scale UA as an integral function of urban spatial economies. In northern China the Siheyuan is a traditional residential compound with rooms built around a courtyard. Plants are grown in the latter which supply starch, fruits, herbs, flowers and medicines; often with small livestock of which wastes are applied to the gardens; garden wastes are fed to the livestock (Hou, 1991, as per Honghai, 1992: 2). From the Opium War in 1940 through the 1960s, Soviet-style urbanization and centralized industrialization considered urban farming as backwardness and farming yards were eliminated (Honghai, 1992: 3). Since the end of the 1950s however, strategies promoting rural industrialization and decentralized urbanization have encouraged the incorporation of food production into urban economies. Honghai (1992:5) estimates that urban agriculture in China now feeds about of third of China's total population. Chinese urban municipalities are over-sized to allow room for a city foodshed; most large Chinese cities are nearly self-sufficient in perishable food crops. City and town farming has been using slightly more than one third of the State's budget for agriculture (Honghai, 1992:7). Extensive biological recycling, vertical planting and mixed farming make full use of solar energy and organic wastes and are enabling UA to further develop in Chinese cities, according to Honghai (1992). These systems include three-stage recycling (organic waste for animal forage, livestock dung for methane generation and methane tank residues for crop manure) and multiple-stage recycling (crop-livestock-biogas tank-mushroom/earthworm), plus full ecological recycling (fibrous organic waste to cultivate edible bacterium, conversion of coarse cellulose into rich forage, animal dung into tanks to generate methane, tank residues fed to earthworms, in turn fed to poultry, or are applied as crop fertilizer). An effective ecological cycle of mulberry silk worm pond fish pig system has been perfected in South China (Yeung 1985: 14). In Guangzhou up to nine crops are grown yearly on any single field; in nearby Hong Kong, six crops of cabbage a year are not uncommon (Yeung 1985: 9).

An environmental monitoring network is being set up and perfected for UA in China (Honghai, 1992: 11-14, 19). In Shanghai, more and more backyards, roofs, balconies, walls and vacant space near houses are used by orange trees, vegetables, leguminous plants, grapevine, gourds and melons (Deng, 1986, as per Honghai, 1992: 8); a growing number of households are recycling organic wastes using earthworms, edible mushrooms, flies, methane-generating bacteria; underground air-raid shelters and cellars for long have been used to grow mushrooms (Deng, 1986 and Shi and Cun, 1990, as per Honghai, 1992: 8). Pig farms, as one in Beijing (Honghai, 1992: 9), produce methane out of pig waste to heat and cook, methane-based organic fertilizer and pig forage; earthworms grown on methane forage are fed back to chickens, of which droppings are reprocessed into pig forage. Major companies, such as Beijing's Capital and Steel Corporation are actively involved in UA. Over the last 12 years, this company has planted 3.4 million trees, 904,000 m2 of grass, 8.6 million flowers; over 46,500 m2 of the factory's inner-walls are covered with climbing plants (Honghai, 1992: 9-10).

Urban forestry is very much part of Chinese approach to UA in confined space. A study of 439 Chinese cities in 1991 put their overall green space at 380,000 ha or, on average, 20.1% of their urban area. Beijing has 9.2 million people on 750 km2, so there is little space to waste; yet the area of Beijing under tree cover grew from 3.2% in 1949 to 28% in 1991. More than 90 different tree species were identified in metro Beijing in 1990, including 40 varieties of fruit trees that represent 17% of all trees grown in sampled areas, as much as 23% in older residential areas (Ming and Profous, 1993: 13 18).

Other Asian countries have intervened in different ways. Japanese census offices closely monitor the performance of city farming. Hong Kong's policy for UA is a high degree of self-sufficiency, no subsidies, development of large-scale, modern, and fully commercial farming business. Competing urban land development is pressing cropland to shrink, but animal husbandry thrives and crop yields continue to rise, thanks to multi-cropping, hydroponics, and short-season varieties (Yeung 1985: 9, 12, 23). In metro Manila, a presidential decree obliged owners, or entitled others with owners permission, to cultivate unused private lands and some public lands adjoining streets or highways (Bulatao-Jaime et al. 1981, cited by Yeung 1985: 25); community gardens were established, one of which supplied 800 squatter families with 80% of their vegetables from an area of only 1500 m2 (Wayburn, 1985:6, as per Rogerson, 1993: 36). To increase food and fuel production, the Lae City Council assigned thousands of allotment gardens on city lands to low-income residents, assisted by city horticultural staff and with tenure guaranteed by council-granted leases and use permits (Yeung 1985: 14 15).

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revised, June 12,1995

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