Last month, the city of Gurgaon, India hosted a two day workshop for farmers to promote urban farming. The workshop discussed many interesting topics, including urban and peri-urban farming techniques that consist of farming in vacant plots and small areas, such as balconies. As India is building 100 smart cities, can our cities be self sufficient in achieving food sustainability? The current urban farming trend, with correct policy direction, could be a game changer to ensure food security within urban areas.

The Figures Say It All

India occupies some 2.4 percent of the world’s land area, but we carry 17.7 percent of the world’s population. To understand the urban occupancy and need for urban farming, we should go through some indicators of urbanization. The current urban population of India is about 439 million. Currently, 35-40 percent of our population is urban. This proportion is expected to increase to about 60 percent by 2025. By the year 2020, India will have a density of 465 people per square kilometer. Urban food security is becoming a matter of increasing concern, and urban poverty is reflected in the nutritional status of the people. All the data makes a strong case for urban farming to meet the rising food demands of the urban population in India.

“Our objective is to ensure that farming is done in and around the cities as per the requirements of the urban consumers, and at the same time consumers should ensure that farmers get their due,” said Om Prakash Dhankar, the Agriculture Minister of Haryana on the need of promoting urban farming.

According to Sanjay, Sudan, MD of Saveer Biotech: “Urban agriculture has the potential to become a vibrant economic sector that quickly adapts to changing conditions and demands, intensifying its productivity and diversifying its functions for the city. Its future will depend on its contributions to the development of a sustainable and resilient city that is inclusive, food secure, productive and healthy, thus establishing food smart cities. The size can be judged by rapid expansion of cities and peri urban areas. Even for suburban areas the figures are very bright. The Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector in rural and semi-urban India is estimated to cross $100 billion by 2025.”

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Good Practice Urban Agriculture

Globally many cities are adopting what is called Good Practice Urban Agriculture. Good practice urban agriculture is effectively regulated agriculture to provide ‘safe food’ for city dwellers. It includes farming, fishing, horticulture, forestry, poultry and livestock development. As a part of the model, land unsuitable for use as ‘built up’ space - such as steep slopes, wetland, land cover, and aquifers - can be utilized for urban agriculture. Furthermore, ancillary spaces along highways, river banks, coastal zones under electric power lines, at airports and prisons, land around institutional buildings, and peripheral areas around schools and parks, are places where fruit trees and vegetables can be grown.

Indian urban agriculture is in a very nascent stage, but nonetheless, it has a lot of potential. Urban farming can be a resource conserving industry. It creates a diverse ecology where fruits, trees, vegetable plantations and fish could coexist with in built environment – a wholly ecologically sustainable scenario. China is a very good example of ‘Good Practice Urban Agriculture’. During the mid 1900′s, eight of the sixteen cities in the world with populations over 500,000 were in China. All of those cities have effectively regulated agriculture for over 100 years and it is a fact that today’s China is highly dependent on urban agriculture. India can learn a great deal from it, however a systematic and focused study is needed to work in this direction.

Another initiative in this direction can be rise of vertical farming. Vertical farming’s market size will cross $13 billion by the year 2024 according to a new research report by Global Market Insights, Inc. “Vertical farming market is relatively providing impetus for growth in indoor farming sector due to the advent of LED lights and growth mechanism such as aeroponics, hydroponics etc. Low labor costs, location of vertical farms closer to consumer bases, accessibility to fresh produce, zero pesticides usage are the key market dynamics sprouting up the growth,” says Sudan.

The Multiple Advantages

Urban agriculture has the potential to provide much higher benefits in nutrition improvement, income generation, enterprise development, and land as well as waste management. Also, it will make the cities greener and most importantly, will help cities in purifying their air and reducing high pollution levels.