Thursday, March 04, 2010

Why the Developing World Needs More Urban Farmers

Kate Darlington (IPE '09) has returned from Kenya and is now blogging on global development issues for Here is a her first post. You can read this article and her future posts here

Why the Developing World Needs More Urban Farmers

Published March 04, 2010 @ 06:51AM PT

These days, it seems, it's all about "local" food. Every weekend across America, throngs of the upper-middle class storm farmer's markets. In Washington, D.C., Michelle Obama has revived the "victory garden," prompting many to start (or consider starting) growing their own food. And many, including's Katherine Gustafson, have expounded the virtues of urban agriculture for poverty alleviation, education, and health in America's inner cities.

Now, it's high time the hype moved to the global South -- especially to the growing megacities of Asia and Africa.

For the first time in history, the majority of the world population will soon live in urban (as opposed to rural) areas. In the developing world, the breakneck rate of urban growth far exceeds cities' abilities to produce employment, adequate housing, infrastructure, or basic services for its new residents. Meanwhile, food security is becoming an even greater concern, and you don't have to look far to see why. The best agricultural land in many countries is being reserved for the production of overseas-bound cash crops like coffee and soy beans (or in some cases, sold to foreigners outright). Increasing numbers of subsistence farmers are moving off their land and into squalid urban slums. Traditional diets are being replaced with corn and Coca-Cola.

Urban farming isn't just a Western buzz phrase. Across huge swaths of Asia and Africa, it has not only has to potential to promote food security and income generation -- it also can contribute to better health and sanitation. For example, pathogen-filled waste that normally gets dumped into open sewers and pathways can be composted and used as organic fertilizer. Malnutrition can be minimized with access to fresh and nutrient-rich vegetables. As for income generation, even small growing containers like the Earth Box can produce enough veggies to be harvested and sold to others.

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