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Cityfood: Encouraging Urban Agriculture and Forestry in Developing Countries

Women being trained in urban growing in a polytunnel in an Islamic country

A workshop on growing urban food in Amman, Jordan.

"You can't separate the sustainability of the city from its hinterlands," says Henk de Zeeuw. He works for the RUAF Foundation, a global network in the field of (intra- and peri-) Urban Agriculture and City Region Food Strategies, and Cityfood, an initiative to support cities that want to start urban growing and local food programs.

"Cities must think more about their surroundings and how they relate to them, particularly their food and water supply lines," he told delegates at the International Conference on Vertical Farming and Urban Agriculture last week. "In the food crisis of 2007-10 it was the poor who were the most affected. Climate change and concerns about the resilience of the food system are driving this, and the multiple roles agriculture and forestry can play in sustainable cities."

"It is important to support the urban poor. This stimulates the regional economy and reduces dependence on the global food markets. Growing food locally also reduces the ecological footprint of the city, helps it to adapt to climate change, enables resource recovery and the productive reuse of urban organic waste and wastewater in the region," he continued.

"Furthermore it can enhance urban biodiversity and enable outdoor recreation and eco-education in the city. It should also support urban green infrastructure," he added.

Growing food in a peri-urban area

Growing food in a peri-urban area

Some cities are already doing this, but far too many are not. The successful cities – such as Bulawayo – are formulating policies and strategies. Bulawayo's plan, launched in 2007, contains a wide variety of aims, and institutional arrangements with different actors, from the bottom up and top-down.

Many cities with policies include urban agriculture and forestry in urban land use planning. They provide technical and financial facilities for processing and marketing farmers' produce and stimulate innovation in intra-and peri-urban farming, for example in water saving and safety. They also support the public to buy local food.

Growing food in the city

From the urban ecology perspective, some cities' programs require smart food labels that explain to potential buyers the low food miles and other benefits. Programs also enable the productive use of urban waste with composting facilities and wastewater use, perhaps for irrigation. They help to reduce food waste by creating food donation programs or food waste recycling and successful cities include urban agriculture and forestry in city climate change plans, for example to reduce flooding by planting trees.

These cities also support multifunctional agriculture and promote the conversion of farms to organic cultivation methods. They support production projects by the urban poor and disadvantaged and promote the consumption of nutritious food utilising special kitchens, training and the provision of food vouchers to the most vulnerable households, perhaps adding menu labelling with healthy choices.

How to create a city action plan to promote urban agriculture and forestry

Henk de Zeeuw, drawing on his immense experience of fostering such schemes, went on to describe how cities might go about supporting urban agriculture and forestry within their territory.

A city action plan to promote urban agriculture and forestry would begin with a stakeholder inventory and analysis before continuing on to general awareness raising, he said. It would then establish a working group, mapping and analysis of the local food system and joint visioning and scenario building. This would be inclusive of all sectors of the population.

It would then proceed to define strategies and create the legal operations and financial frameworks. "Otherwise it will definitely fail," said de Zeeuw, speaking from a lifetime's experience. "Many have failed because they are not coordinated correctly at these later stages."

A food market in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

A food market in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

De Zeeuw also recommends that is vital to generate media attention and replicate and upscale the successful initiatives. "But projects must not be encouraged to become dependent on central funding. That is the way to failure," he cautioned. "They must have a position independent of the local or national government while having good links with them. Larger scale long-term programmes can provide a framework for small initiatives on the ground."

He added: "it's rarely done but it is good practice to share the experiences, results and costs of your work with other NGOs, to be open and transparent and share data."

Finally he warned that: "It's important not to reduce the concept of urban agriculture to vertical farming alone. There is always a need for outdoor gardening and for crops to be grown by ordinary people wherever they can."


In June 2013, ICLEI and RUAF Foundation launched the CITYFOOD network on resilient city-region food systems and urban agriculture, in response to the demands for information, training, technical and policy advice, and financial assistance by an increasing number of cities.

Cities and partners are invited to join and contribute. It provides training, technical and policy assistance and guidance, and facilitates cooperation between cities around the world and between local governments and civil society.

It is compiling information about urban agriculture and city-feeding food systems and their impacts, and a city hub where cities can present their food policies and programmes, components and results.

It is open to any city in the world and especially wants to facilitate North-South and South-South exchanges. Enquiries should be sent to:

CLEI Resilient Cities Team
Kaiser-Friedrich-Str. 7, 53113 Bonn, Germany
Tel. +49-228 976 299-28
[email protected]

RUAF Foundation
Kastanjelaan 5, 3833 AN Leusden, The Netherlands
Tel. +31-33 4343003
[email protected]

This is part of a series of articles covering the International Conference on Vertical Farming and Urban Agriculture. They include: