Impetus Needed for Urban Farming
Speech by CAP President, SM Mohd Idris at the launch
Urban farming is fast picking up all over the world, be it done individually or in a community setting. The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) calls upon the government of Malaysia to support communities and individuals to move towards the path of urban farming.
City and suburban agriculture is in the form of backyard, roof-top and balcony gardening, community gardening in vacant lots and parks, roadside urban fringe agriculture and livestock grazing in open space. It is reported that around 15 percent of the world’s food is now grown in urban areas.
Urban farming not only promotes food security but provides much needed nutritious chemical-free, locally or home-grown food. When a household produces food, its expenses are reduced, which can lead to important savings for poor urban households. In India, slum dwellers practise urban agriculture in an effort to increase community food security, growing vegetables needed to meet their dietary requirements, and selling the surplus to local markets. Local fruit and vegetable production in and around urban Delhi has allowed poor communities to access cheap, healthy food, which would otherwise be too expensive.
Urban farming is also a growing trend within middle-class Indian communities, some of whom practice rooftop gardening and community farming. However, there is space constraint for urban agriculture in areas with high density of population. Thus non-developed land like dumping grounds is converted into open space for community gardening such as in Mumbai’s Ambedkar Nagar slum or vacant spaces at roadsides and river reserves are converted for urban farming.
A summary of data regarding net income generated in small-scale peri-urban open space vegetable production in a number of African cities concluded that monthly net income figures for such peri-urban producers usually range between US$30 and US$70 per month, but can increase to US$200 or more. In the same countries, the minimum monthly wage is in the range of US$20 to US$40, indicating that urban vegetable production is a profitable business compared to other urban jobs (van Veenhuizen & Danso,2007)*.
In the United States of America, at the national level is the United States Department of Agriculture’s People’s Garden Initiative. People’s Gardens vary in size and type, but all are required to have three components in common. Firstly they must benefit the community, either by creating recreational spaces or providing a harvest for a local food bank or shelter. Second, they must be collaborative — created and maintained by a partnership of local individuals, groups, or organizations. Thirdly, they should incorporate sustainable practices.
Urban farming not only makes productive use of land and vacant spaces but also provides a productive way of using wastewater and compostable waste generated from households and businesses. The maintenance of open green urban spaces now occupied and managed by communities through urban gardening will also reduce related costs to the local authorities. Allotments for urban community gardening are popular in the United Kingdom which has over 300,000 allotment plots with sizes ranging from 50 to 400 square metres.
Having food production close to urban areas will also help in reducing the ecological foot-print of the city, cutting emissions and cost of transportation and energy use to bring food from farm to plate. Growing your own food and community gardening also have therapeutical value, help to de-stress, provide exercise and contribute to social cohesion.
The benefit of urban faming to health, nutrition, food security, environment, social and economy is undeniable. Thus CAP urges the government of Malaysia to undertake the following measures to support urban farming activities:
i) Facilitate integration of urban farming in urban policies and programmes.
ii) Build capacity among local authorities and agriculture extension officers to provide advice and facilitate urban farming efforts.
iii) Provide adequate financial resources for start-up costs.
iv) Provide easy access to land suitable for farming in the urban areas in vacant lots, open space, government reserve land, etc.
v) Establish policy to assist in the development of user agreements with the owners of sites (public or private) chosen for community gardens.
vi) Establish policy to provide state lands and municipal supports (funding, water) to maintaining and developing new community gardens.
vii) Provide training for communities and individuals interested in establishing urban farming projects. Organizations promoting and providing training should be funded.
viii) Provide starter kits such as containers, soil, seeds for potential participants in project.
ix) Start compulsory vegetable gardening practical lessons in all schools and higher learning institutions to impart knowledge and inculcate growing your own food.
x) Support and monitoring mechanisms established at local government level and district agriculture office.
Growing your own food or urban farming has become an increasingly important source of food for urban populations. The support of the government at Federal, State and Local level is needed to achieve the full potential of urban farming and local food systems.
SM Mohd Idris, President of Consumers Association of Penang
29 June 2015
The Consumers’ Association of Penang has produced starter-kits comprising of pot, soil, seeds, organic fertiliser and a guidebook on how to grow vegetables to start up urban farming at household level. We also have a kit for vertical farming.
* Van Veenhuizen, R. & Danso, G. (2007). Profitability and sustainability of urban and peri-urban agriculture. FAO Agricultural Management, Marketing and Finance, Occasional Paper No 19. Rome: FAO.