Roundtable Discussion on Urban Agriculture Hosted by The French Institute in India

Cities are now home to some 55 % of the global population, likely to be 66 % by 2050. According to a UN-HABITAT report, the number of city dwellers is expected to grow at an average of 29 million annually. With increasing city dwellers, the number of urban poor is also growing. An increasing number of urban poor has put pressure on the food security needs of city dwellers. Furthermore, urban poor spend a substantial share of their household expenditure on food. In this background, urban agriculture has emerged as a vital avenue to remedy the precarities of city life.

Against this backdrop, the roundtable discussion on Urban Agriculture (henceforth UA) organised by the French Institute of India highlighted the critical importance of UA. Focusing on the Indian and French experiences, the discussion centred around the various benefits and constraints on UA in these countries.

It was pointed out that UA holds great potential for both the urban poor and the ecological well-being of the cities. For the urban poor, UA adds to their income through easy access to food crops and vegetables. UA is, however, distinct from rural agriculture. Rural agriculture is done on vast swathes of land and contributes to factor contribution and GDP, as highlighted by the moderator of the discussion, Prof. Rajeshwari S. Raina of Shiv Nadar University.

Unlike rural agriculture, UA is an industry located within (intraurban) 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.

Rajendra Ravi (Coordinator, People’s Resource Centre) and Dr Anita Pinhero (Visiting Faculty, Ashoka University) discussed the Indian landscape of UA with a focus on Delhi and Kerala. Rajendra expanded the definition of UA through his presentation on farming in Delhi’s Yamuna farmlands. For him, UA takes place not only on fringe areas but also on rooftops, on vacant public lands (such as vacant industrial or residential lots, roadsides), or on semi-public lands such as school grounds, in prisons and other institutions, as well as in ponds, lakes, and rivers. Pinheiro also recapitulated this point with her discussion on roof-top farming in Kerala.

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Rajendra highlighted how agriculture is neglected in Delhi. There is no Ministry of Agriculture ministry, and agriculture in Delhi has a minuscule presence in the Delhi government except for the provision of meagre funds towards agriculture during elections. Moreover, Rajendra’s discussion flowed from the invocation of the right to the city, which he emphasised should be inalienable. Farmers are the core of the right to the city, according to Rajendra, because when an area is declared urban over its previous label of rural, the people residing in those areas lose several rights over the land. Consequently, farmers lose their lands as well as their right to farm.

In addition, Rajendra Ravi underpinned that in the race to emulate Western countries’ trajectory of development and modernity, countries like India often lose their sustainable methods of existence.

Drawing from her study on roof-top farming in Kerala Dr Anita Pinheiro laid the case for UA on roof-tops. She argued that social media was a significant way of spreading awareness regarding UA in Kerala. Furthermore, she highlighted the multifunctionality of UA i,e. UA serves the purposes of waste management, feeding and maintenance of livestock and food security. In her discussion, she emphasised the need for culturally contextualised policy formulation and implementation and involving local communities in the decision-making process.

During the discussion, it was further observed that increasing investment in UA and state support can boost the dividends from UA, including food security and employment opportunities in the city. Drawing upon their experience in France, Marie Fiers (Project Manager, AFAUP) and Flore Anais Brunet (Vice President, AFAUP) underlined this point. They highlighted that in France, UA farmers receive great support from the government for the promotion of UA. However, in France, like India, UA farmers face the crony practices of real estate businesses that are increasingly shrinking the land for agriculture.

Using the French Association of Professional Urban Agriculture’s categorisation of UA into community gardens, participatory urban farms and specialised urban farms, Marie and Flore shared their experience in UA. Each category of UA varies in terms of their intensity and area of farming.

The discussion concluded with the stories of Delhi farmers present during the event. Rekha, an urban farmer in Delhi’s Bela Estate, drew the audience’s attention to the role of her local community in the farming lands of Bela Estate since 1911 and the struggles and demolitions their people had to face in recent years. Meanwhile, during the discussions, a remarkable agenda emerged to emphasise building “edible cities”, meaning cities that can grow their crops for consumption and can sustain the city.

Report prepared by Sidhant Kumar(Research Assistant), with inputs from Annapurna Behera (Intern).

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