Arid Lands Newsletter--link to home page No. 42, Fall/Winter 1997
Urban Agriculture in Drylands

Resources on urban agriculture

compiled and annotated by Katherine Waser

"Broad appreciation of the benefits of urban agriculture is urgently needed to overcome both traditional and modern biases. Public perhaps the most effective tool to transform the industry from its cottage status into a major instrument in the battle against hunger and poverty."

--Urban agriculture: Food, jobs and sustainable cities,
p. 236


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Starting (in a small way) with this issue of the Arid Lands Newsletter, I am beginning to expand the focus of each of these topic-specific annotated lists to include not only web sites but also books, journal issues/articles, and other resources that have come to my attention as being particularly relevant to an issue's theme. (The "Selected Resources of Interest" column will also continue to be a part of each issue, but from now on will focus on resources NOT directly pertinent to the current issue's theme.)

As always, this annotated list is not intended to be exhaustive--I wouldn't even go so far as to call it comprehensive. I have tried to focus on the best, most complete, and (usually) most recent resources on the topic that I have been able to identify and obtain for review. I have not included resources which I may have heard of, but which I haven't actually seen for myself. Any significant omissions are therefore my responsibility and do not necessarily reflect on the quality of other resources not mentioned herein.

Urban agriculture is an age-old practice, but it has only lately begun to be considered as a potentially vital component of sustainable development. Therefore, I was only able to find a handful of web sites dedicated solely to this topic, and these are listed first. Apart from that, however, I was able to locate several individual online articles that provide interesting information on various aspects of urban agriculture.

Because this issue of the Arid Lands Newsletter focuses predominantly on urban agriculture in drylands/developing countries, I have not included web sites on community gardening in this list. However, there are many such sites which may be of interest to readers of this issue; these can be located by using any of the major Web search engines.

All URLs and other contact addresses are current as of publication date. In addition to the web sites listed below, please check the end of each article included herein for links and/or other resources pertinent to the specific topic of that article.

Web Sites

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Cities feeding people (IDRC's Urban Agriculture Initiative)
This web site is a must for anyone interested in the subject of urban agriculture in drylands (or anywhere else, for that matter). Canada's International Development Research Centre initiated its program of applied, multidisciplinary research on food security and urban policy issues in the South as part of its 1993-97 corporate program framework. This site allows program team members and their partners to exchange information and documents, discuss issues of interest, and share opinions on urban agriculture research. Currently, the site contains online reports from IDRC's various UA-related programs; information on new projects; links to other UA networks and other UA-related web sites; and more. The site is clearly organized and designed to be accessible to all types of browsers. In short, this is an excellent resource that warrants close examination by anyone interested in this topic.

Urban agriculture notes (by City Farmer)
Another excellent web site on the topic of urban agriculture. City Farmer, founded in 1978, is a non-profit organization located in Vancouver, British Columbia; its web site, established in 1994, is hosted by Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture. While City Farmer's core focus is on urban agriculture in Canada, this web site offers plenty of material that will be useful to urban agriculturalists in drylands, both in developing and in developed countries. Current contents of particular interest include reports on "Agroecological Aspects of the Peri-Urban Process" (from Israel) and "Urban Agriculture, A Global Initiative," (international program sponsored by multiple international organizations and NGOs), as well as reports and information on UA initiatives in diverse cities and countries ranging from Mexico City, Los Angeles, and Nairobi, to Mongolia, South Africa, and Australia. Lots of information on composting, vermiculture, and community gardens, as well. Well organized and accessible.

Urban and peri-urban agriculture (FAO)
This new program is part of FAO's Plant Production & Protection Division, Crop and Grassland Service, Horticultural Crops Group. The web site currently holds a brief introduction to the FAO's urban and peri-urban horticulture program, along with descriptions of current work, activities, publications, events, and a contact address for feedback. This is a site to keep an eye on as FAO activities in urban agriculture are further developed. Currently, the site is only accessible by frames-capable browsers.

Online Articles

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Urban agriculture's increasing role in sustainable agriculture (1994)
This online report comprises the text of a presentation made by Mr. Jac Smit, President of the The Urban Agriculture Network (TUAN), at a meeting of the Washington, D.C. branch of the World Sustainable Agriculture Association. Mr. Smit is one of the foremost proponents of urban agriculture, and this presentation provides a good summary of the potential for urban agriculture to become a crucial element in the development both of sustainable agriculture and of sustainable urban environments. Accesssible to text-only browsers.

Editor's note: Mr. Smit is a prolific author and has produced several articles, both online and in hardcopy. You will find many of them on the Cities Feeding People web site, cited above. Another online article by Mr. Smit is:
Farm the city
written for UNEP's Our Planet, Volume 8.4, November 1996 (special issue on Food, published to coincide with FAO's World Food Summit).

An interesting hardcopy article, co-written by Mr. Smit and Joe Nasr, is:
Urban agriculture for sustainable cities: Using wastes and idle land and water bodies as resources.
This article appeared in: Environment and Urbanization 4(2), October 1992. Back issues of this journal are available for £5/US$9 (third world orders) or £8/US$15 (orders from elsewhere), from:

Environment and Urbanization
3 Endsleigh Street
London @C1H 0DD
United Kingdom

City women farm for food and cash (1993)
The available current evidence strongly suggests that women play a crucial role in urban agriculture. However, to date, the topic of gender in urban agriculture has not received a great deal of attention (although this is beginning to change). Written by Annu Ratta of The Urban Agriculture Network, this article from International AgSieve 6(2) provides a short but useful introduction to this important issue. Accessible to text-only browsers.

Time to help the city farmers of Africa (1996)
This article is from "Greening the Cities," People and the Planet 5(2) (special Habitat II issue). Written by Diana Lee Smith, one of the founders of Kenya's Mazingira Institute, it briefly and movingly tells the story of Wairumu Kinuthia, a grandmother and urban farmer in Nairobi, Kenya. This article's value is that it gives a "human face" to the contention outlined in Annu Ratta's article, above: that women farmers are crucial to urban agriculture, and urban agriculture is often crucial to women's survival, as well. Accessible to text-only browsers.


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Urban agriculture: Food, jobs and sustainable cities
By Jac Smit, Annu Ratta, and Joe Nasr
New York: United Nations Development Programme. 1996, 302 pp.
Available from:
Urban Development Unit
One United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
Fax: +1 (212) 906-6471
This report, Volume One in the UNDP Publication Series for Habitat II, presents the most comprehensive picture to date of urban agriculture in Asia, Africa and Latin America (reports on other geographic regions, where available, are also mentioned). While it does not gloss over the potential problems of UA, it makes an overwhelmingly strong case that the potential benefits of urban agriculture far outweigh such potential problems. Aimed at a wide audience ranging from government policy makers and international agency staff to agricultural producers and urban managers, the book is well organized and highly readable. It is divided into four major parts:

  • The Global Significance of Urban Agriculture.
  • What is Urban Agriculture.
  • Benefits, Problems, and Constraints.
  • The Future of Urban Agriculture.

Anyone who is interested in this topic should read this book.

Cities feeding people: An examination of urban agriculture in East AfricaBR> by A.G. Egziabher, D. Lee-Smith, D.G. Maxwell, P.A. Memon, L.J.A. Mougeot, and C.J. Sawio.
Ottawa: International Development Research Centre. 1994, 146 pp.
Available from:

Renouf Publishing Co. Ltd
5369 Canotek Road, Unit 1
Ottawa, ON, Canada K1J 9J3
Tel: +1 (613) 745-2665
Fax: +1 (613) 745-7660
This book, which is also available in French, is an outgrowth of IDRC-organized panels held at the 1993 Canadian Association for African Studies (CAAS) conference, held on the theme of "Urban and Community Development." These panels brought together scholars working on urban agriculture issues in several East African countries to discuss their research. Following the informative foreword and introductory essay, the book presents four well-documented studies (all based on dissertation research), each focusing on a different aspect of urban agriculture:
  • Who are the farmers of Dar es Salaam?
  • The household logic of urban farming in Kampala.
  • Urban agriculture in Kenya.
  • Urban farming, cooperatives, and the urban poor in Addis Ababa.
It also contains a concluding essay, an extensive bibliography, and an index. While it is focused on East Africa, this volume will provide anyone reading it with a good grasp of the essentials of urban agriculture as it is actually practiced today. Like the IDRC web site (see above), this is an excellent resource.

Food from dryland gardens: An ecological, nutritional, and social approach to small-scale household food production
By David A. Cleveland and Daniela Soleri
Center for People, Food, and Environment. 1991, 387 pp.
Currently out of print; check for it in libraries (public or personal) and used book stores.
This book is an excellent resource on household gardening in drylands around the world. It's relevant both to urban and rural settings, and provides a wealth of well-organized information in four parts:

  • Overview of gardens in development and background information for supporting gardens.
  • How to grow a garden.
  • How to use the harvest from gardens.
  • Information on measurements; resources; and references.
Throughout, the emphasis is on simple and inexpensive techniques that can be implemented just about anywhere. Ample line drawings, boxes containing detailed information or techniques, and tables for quick reference further enrich this highly useful volume. Well worth seeking out.

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