Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Backyard Farmers May Hold Major Piece of World Food Puzzle


P.O. Box 1558 - Lima 12, Perú
Phones: (51-1) 349-5619; 349-5769; 349-5783
Fax: (51-1) 349-5632 or 317 5326 - E-mail:

For more information, contact Christine Graves at the International Potato Center,
(51-1) 349-6017 (Peru), or (1) 650-833-3365 (US),
or by e-mail at
Or visit CIP on the Worldwide Web at

Global initiative seeks to boost productivity and sustainability of agriculture in 21st century megacities

LIMA, PERU - The shantytowns of Lima sprawl across one of the world's most barren deserts. Yet their resourceful inhabitants have found ways to produce everything from sweetpotatoes and artichokes to chicken, fish, and pork.

Many of these urban farmers are recent immigrants from the Andes mountains, where agriculture has been a way of life for thousands of years. Their skills have been put to good use in this burgeoning city of 8 million providing critically needed food and income to some of the western hemisphere's most economically depressed neighborhoods.

As urban populations grow at unprecedented rates here and around the globe, city farmers are becoming more and more important. Under a new initiative launched by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in Washington, some of the world's leading agricultural scientists will be looking for ways to help those farmers play an even bigger role.

"Researchers have been working for years to make rural agriculture more productive and sustainable," said Hubert Zandstra, Director General of the Lima-based International Potato Center (CIP), which will spearhead the effort. "In looking at the needs of urban farmers, we're pursuing the same goals as we are in the countryside-food security for developing countries, a way out of poverty for food producers, and better access to food for consumers."

The $500,000 Global Strategic Initiative on Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture will link several of the CGIAR's 16 research centers with international aid agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and research networks in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Among the sites to be considered for intensive study are Lima; Yaunde, Cameroon; Harare, Zimbabwe; Manila, Philippines; Accra, Ghana; Beijing, China; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Lusaka, Zambia; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Bogota, Colombia; and Maputo, Mozambique.

An urbanizing world

By 2015, more than half the world's population will live in urban areas. Of the nine cities projected to have populations exceeding 20 million, eight will be in developing countries. Feeding the growing numbers, Zandstra said, represents "one of the greatest challenges in the history of agriculture."

Urban agriculture can be traced to the world's earliest civilizations. The Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas all produced food within the borders of their urban settlements. City farms were also crucial to the development of Europe. Indeed, the sites of many modern cities were selected because of their access to water and high-quality land.

Today an estimated 800 million people are engaged in some form of urban farming, whether tending home gardens or working in commercial livestock, aquaculture, forestry, or greenhouse operations.

Farmers in Cairo, for instance, raise 80,000 head of livestock, while 1.7 million inhabitants of Mexico City rely on city dairy farmers for their milk. Ninety percent of the leafy vegetables sold in the public markets of Dar es Salaam are grown within the city limits. In Kampala, Uganda, about 30 percent of the population's need for meat and eggs is met by urban farmers. More than 16 percent of Harare's urban area is planted to crops.

In each of these cities, the trend is toward higher and more intensive production. Yet few governments today encourage urban farming or recognize its importance.

Seeking technical solutions

"We have to focus more attention on urban farmers-both on their own needs, and on ways in which they can be more productive," said Wanda Collins, research director at the potato center. "These people need technology that's appropriate to modern urban realities. We're hoping the research community can produce exactly that."

According to Collins, city-based farming can be extremely efficient, both economically and environmentally-recycling domestic wastes, for example, and adding green spaces to urban landscapes. It can also play a role in conserving biodiversity, improving family health, and expanding income options for women with children.

Research under the initiative will focus not just on productivity, but on a range of environmental, health, economic, and public policy issues. Concerns include the quality of food produced in polluted water, health risks of urban livestock production, and difficulties in regulating informal markets.

The International Potato Center is a nonprofit scientific institution that seeks to increase consumption and utilization of potato, sweetpotato, and other roots and tubers in developing countries. It was founded in 1971 and currently conducts projects in more than 30 countries.

The potato center is one of the 16 research institutes supported by the CGIAR, an informal association of 58 public and private sector members. Funding comes from governments, international agencies, and foundations. The group is cosponsored by the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the UN Development Programme, and the UN Environment Programme.

Other CGIAR centers expected to take part in the initiative include the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Syria, the International Centre for Research in Agro-Forestry (ICRAF) in Kenya, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Kenya, the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) in Rome, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Sri Lanka, and the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA) in Ivory Coast.

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Revised May 9, 2001

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture