I am often asked about what I do–what I research. And my response is different each time. This is partly to tailor the subject so that it is relevant for the audience. But, the larger reason that my response varies is because of the complexity of what I do. I find it difficult to pare it down to a sound byte. And frankly, it’s a shame because it is the complexity that matters. The issue of urban agriculture is about food, but it’s also about sustainable livelihoods, it’s about rural to urban migration, it’s about endeavoring to create sustainable cities, it’s about prioritizing development, it’s about policies that protect the environment and enable economic viability–it reaches across from the micro to the macro scale, and across all sectors and levels of society. And it originates in the lived reality of farmers and their families.
The oft cited, and I believe the best, definition of urban agriculture was published by Luc Mougeot that urban agriculture “is an industry located within (intra-urban) or on the fringe (peri-urban) of a town, a city or a metropolis, which grows or raises, processes and distributes a diversity of food and non-food products, (re-)using largely human and material resources, products and services found in and around that urban area, and in turn supplying human and material resources, products and services largely to that urban area” (2000, p. 10). The full citation: Mougeot, L.J.A. 2000. Urban agriculture: Definiton, presence, potentials and risks. In Growing cities, growing food: Urban agriculture on the policy agenda, ed. N. Bakker, M. Dubbeling, S. Gündel, U. Sabel-Koschella, and H. de Zeeuw, 1-42. Feldafing, Germany: German Foundation for International Development.
The key is that urban agriculture is about food, but it’s about food embedded in household activities, communities, infrastructures, policies, the environment, and society. The last, society, is something that often goes overlooked or may be considered irrelevant or tangential to the real problems facing urban agriculture as a sustainable system. But it is society that deems it relevant. It is society that creates a market, that places value on “the farmer,” that enables urban agriculture to be embedded rather than in conflict with the urban system.
The urban farmers in Delhi are a unique case, in that few megacities–even in the developing world–still have such vast floodplain land available for farming in the physical center of the city. But, I would argue that their case is an important one that illustrates and can help us understand the many faces and challenges of farming in the city. I am frequently contacted by others with questions. I want this blog to be useful for those conducting research, working on the ground, creating policy, etc. Please comment on what you are interested in and I will blog!