From Growing Better Cities by Luc Mougeot

On May 23, 2007 for the first time in human history, the world population became more urban the rural (according to a North Carolina State University study).  That is, more people live in cities and towns than in less inhabited areas.  Between now and 2030 nearly all population growth will be in urban areas of  developing nations,  where some cities are growing two or three times faster than the country’s overall population. This trend is equivalent to adding a city of one million residents every week (UN-HABITAT 2004).


What does this all have to do with urban agriculture?

Because developed countries like the United States, Germany and Australia have better economies, education, quality of life and access to resources, urban agriculture plays a different role in developed countries than it does in those of less economic stability. Below I’ll outline the role of urban agriculture in developing countries.

In the world’s developing nations, urban gardening is done out of necessity for food- there are other benefits such as greener cities, smaller carbon footprints, closer communities, and hopefully less polluted urban centers, but the main focus is food production to combat malnutrition and hunger.


In 2003, Venezuela, supported by FAO, launched a major experiment in urban agriculture. The government installed 4000 microgardens in poor neighbourhoods of Caracas and started 20 horticultural cooperatives in and around the city.

To read the FAO article click here.

So all of this growth is happening developing nations.  What are developing nations?  Why is there more growth there?

Well, most of the world is comprised of developing countries, as you can see below.

The IDRC defines development as “change that improves the conditions of human well-being so that people can exercise meaningful choices for their own benefit and that of society.”  This definition is good because it allows that both the North and the South can still be developing.

Typical living condition of rural immigrants moving to Delhi

Least Developed Countries are the poorest and weakest of the bunch. “Extreme poverty, the structural weaknesses of their economies and the lack of capacities related to growth, often compounded by structural handicaps, hamper efforts of these countries to improve the quality of life of their people, (UN-OHRLLS)”

There are 50 countries currently on the UN list of least developed countries (LDC’s).  

  • 33 in Africa
  • 15 in Asia
  • 1 in Latin America and the Caribbean

Countries designated by the International Monetary Fund

State of Countries’ Economies: Blue is most advanced economies, Yellow is emerging and developing economies that are not least developed, and Red is least developed economies

Data comes from the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations.

Looking at the map above it is easy to see that most of the countries with developing economies are in the south, therefore, the International Development Resource Center (IDRC) calls the these countries collectively the South, while the the North is more developed countries.  While these definitions seem a bit weird to me, I’ve included them because several of the sources I referenced use them.  


The population distribution of the world as it was in 1994, when the population was 5.6 billion

Bigger pictures of both of these maps are available here.


Why do people want to live in the city?

Rural life is hard and poverty is eminent. Of the 1.2 billion people living on less than a dollar a day, 3/4 of these people live in rural areas.  The city hold opportunity, employment, and education for many.  Many times, life in the country consists only of subsistence farming and not much else.  The city holds opportunity for a richer life, for yourself and your children.  So no wonder so many want to move to the city.

With this rush to the city  the world’s rural poor become the world’s urban poor. Rural families moving to the city come with almost nothing and find it hard to find jobs, housing, and food.    Many countries have massive slums, box towns, and overcrowded apartment buildings in and around the city.  The global level of urban poverty, currently estimated at 30%, is predicted to grow to 50% by 2020, with nearly all of this growth taking place in the world’s less developed countries (UN-HABITAT 2004).


As urban poverty grows, so does urban hunger.  Although it is estimated that there is currently more than enough food for everyone in the world (see my latest global hunger post) the main problem is insufficient money to buy food or land to grow food (World Hunger Notes 2008).  Obviously, in a city of 15 million there is simply not enought land for everyone to have their own garden plot.  Those that do not have acess to growing food must buy it.  30% of the urban population does not have the money to buy food.

With lack of access, food has become a commodity, what Mougeot calls a “basic luxury” (2006). 

So things will only get worse as populations grow in cities all over the world and food becomes more and more a luxury that only the wealthy can afford…

Urban Farming in Africa. Photo by Monica Rucki from the IDRC.

Thats where urban agriculture can come in.  Many of the world’s urban poor create gardens, of some kind to help supplement the food that they have to buy.  According the the Population Crisis Committee (PCC)(1990), All over the developing world households spend as much as 80% of their income on food. In many African cities, it is common for families to eat just one meal a day. Once again, urban agriculture is simply growing food in cities- that means any type of food grown any where in a city.  

Urban agriculture is typically opportunistic. Its practitioners have evolved and adapted diverse knowledge and know-how to select and locate, farm, process, and market all manner of plants, trees, and livestock. What they have achieved in the very heart of major cities, and dare to pursue despite minimal support, and often in the face of official opposition, is a tribute to human ingenuity. One survey by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP 1996) identified over 40 farming systems, ranging from horticulture to aquaculture, kitchen gardens to market gardens, and including livestock as varied as cattle, chickens, snails, and silkworms!…The UNDP estimates perhaps as many as 800 million urban farmers produce about 15% of the world’s food. (Mougeot 2006)

People garden anywhere they can  in cities, on the sides of roads, under high tension wires, in apartment buildings, parks, empty lots.  The officials of the city are not always happy with they haphazard manner of gardening. Just imagine if people in this country tried to start a garden in the vacant lot of a chemical company or graze cattle on the lawn of a city park.  There would be many regulations, zoning laws and by-laws in place to prohibit the activity.  City farmers around the world often run into problems with city officials and police (Mougeot 2006).

Farmers at the Organiponico de Alamar, a neighborhood agriculture project in downtown Havana, weed the beds. (Photo by John Morgan)


Lots and Lotsa Links

Quinn, Megan. 2006. The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. Permaculture Activist.

Koc, Mustafa; MacRae, Rod; Mougeot, Luc JA; Welsh, Jennifer (eds) (1999). For hunger-proof cities: sustainable urban food systems. Ottowa, ON: International Development Research Center.

Mougeot, Luc. 2006. in_focus: GROWING BETTER CITIES: Urban Agriculture for Sustainable Development. Ottawa : International Development Research Centre. 

Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs and Sustainable CitiesUnited Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Publication Series for Habitat II, Volume One, UNDP, 1996. 300 pp

IDRC/ UN-HABITAT.”Guidelines for Municipal Policymaking on Urban Agriculture” Urban Agriculture: Land Management and Physical Planning (2003)

Mahbuba Kaneez Hasna. IDRC. CFP Report 21: NGO Gender Capacity in Urban Agriculture: Case Studies from Harare (Zimbabwe), Kampala (Uganda), and Accra (Ghana) 1998.

Veenhuizen, René van (Ed.) (2006) Cities Farming for the Future – Urban Agriculture for Green and Productive Cities. RUAF Foundation, IDRC and IIRR.

Urban Agriculture Magazine. RUAF Foundation. There are 19 issues about all sorts of urban agriculture topics. You can get a free subscription!

RUAF Publications

UN-OHRLLS. Least Developed Countries: Country Profiles.

International Monetary Fund. World Economic Outlook: Country Composition.

FAO Newsroom: Urban Farming Against Hunger.

International Food Policy Research Institute. Urban Challenges to Food and Nutrition Security. Publications

Sida, ETC Netherlands, TUAN. 2002. Annotated Bibliography of Urban Agriculture. An incredibly comprehensive 17 chapter 800 page annotated bibliography of urban agriculture all over the world.  Totally blows my mind the work that went into this.

Remenyi, Joe. 2007. Poverty Reduction and Urban Renewal Through Urban Agriculture and Microfinance: A Case Study of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Bruins, Hendrik J. 1997. Drought mitigation policy and food provision for urban Africa: Potential use of treated wastewater and solar energy. Arid Lands Newsletter.

The Greenbelt Movement


One Response to “UA in Developing Countries”

  1. Hello,
    I have read similar over the past weeks and tend to agree with your comments however let’s see what will happen over time. I very much enjoyed reading your piece though.
    Thanks, Peter

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