FEATURE: Why we need farming and forests in our cities
Ir. Henk de Zeeuw, Senior Advisor, International Network of Resource centres on Urban Agriculture and Food security (RUAF Foundation) calls for increased urban forestry and agriculture to increase cities’ resilience to climate change
Extreme weather is increasingly affecting the world’s cities. This week 100,000 people were forced to leave their homes when Cyclone Nilam brought 100km winds to the southeastern coast of India. During August, more than two million people, across 30 cities in the Philippines, were affected by floods after a month’s worth of rain fell in two days. In early July, 172 people died in a similar deluge in Russia when waters rose rapidly to roof height in and around the city of Krasnodar. At the same time, the most destructive wildfire in Colorado’s history burned down nearly 350 homes around the state’s second largest city, Colorado Springs, forcing 32,000 people to evacuate.
Extreme weather is increasingly affecting the world’s cities. During August, more than two million people, across 30 cities in the Philippines, were affected by floods after a month’s worth of rain fell in two days. In early July, 172 people died in a similar deluge in Russia when waters rose rapidly to roof height in and around the city of Krasnodar. At the same time, the most destructive wildfire in Colorado’s history burned down nearly 350 homes around the state’s second largest city, Colorado Springs, forcing 32,000 people to evacuate.
Climate change is adding to the many challenges cities already face. Changes in rainfall patterns and temperatures are predicted to bring about more frequent storms, floods and landslides, damaging urban and peri-urban infrastructure, hindering access to basic services and negatively affecting the urban economy (World Bank 2010). At the same time, rapid urban growth, increasing poverty and rising food prices are raising concerns about food security in cities, especially for the poor. Kathmandu, in Nepal, for example, suffered from a substantial increase in vegetable prices after rural production was affected by unfavourable weather conditions.
Going green increases resilience to climate change
Increasing the amount of Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture and Forestry (UPAF) can help make cities more resilient to climate change but few studies have been undertaken to quantify UPAF’s potential benefits.
RUAF Foundation (International Network of Resource centres on Urban Agriculture and Food security) is aiming to fill this knowledge gap with a new conceptual and methodological framework for monitoring UPAF. With financial support from CDKN, RUAF has created a virtual workspace on the RUAF site, using Huddle to facilitate a guided exchange between partners on key issues, and encourage them to share relevant documents and tools. The partners comprise international experts from Northern and Southern research institutions, decision-makers representing three local and provincial governments in the South, plus representatives from UN-HABITAT, CDKN, START and other organisations.
In July, 15 partners from the Netherlands, USA, Kenya, India, Argentina, Sri Lanka and China attended a workshop hosted by the Institute for Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and supported by CDKN through its Innovation Fund. The workshop used a variety of methodologies, including plenary presentations, working groups and buzz groups. Local government representatives presented their views on UPAF as part of local climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. They outlined the main climate change challenges that cities in their regions face, and explained how local conditions (such as available data, resource limitations and policy priorities) must be taken into account when designing an effective monitoring framework.
The representatives concluded that cities would benefit from: better decision-making and design of local food-system strategies; integration of UPAF in climate-change plans and urban planning, greater financial and political support for UPAF; plus guidance on how to raise awareness and change the behaviour of consumers so they embrace initiatives such as home gardening, composting and re-use, while reducing food waste. The scientists responded by sharing their knowledge on food, waste and nutrient flows; monitoring indicators and methods; and how best to develop scenarios for forecasting change. They explained that, for example, scenarios could estimate the impacts of increasing locally produced food to 10% or 20% of total urban food consumption, using either organic or conventional methods.
The meeting’s findings support the outcome of the first joint conference on Urbanisation Challenges and Poverty Reduction in the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group of countries, which concluded that Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture and Forestry (UPAF) has high potential to help cities adapt to climate change (UN-HABITAT 2009). Citizens are already aware of UPAF’s benefits; for example, many people in Sri Lanka have called on the government to enhance vegetation and forestry cover in light of rising temperatures. However, for UPAF to be promoted as an effective component of urban climate-compatible development strategies and plans, and for it to benefit from climate-change financing, there is a need for greater empirical evidence of the impacts of UPAF on climate-change mitigation and adaptation, plus its related benefits.
The participants in Beijing designed a follow-up project that will seek to: field test and further upgrade their initial monitoring framework; develop alternative scenarios and quantify the expected impacts of UPAF; enhance local institutional capacity to apply the monitoring framework on a continuous basis; and use the monitoring results and scenarios to guide decision-making and promote UPAF as part of urban climate-smart development strategies. This further project would aim to gain tangible results at field level, then disseminate them to other cities, especially those participating in the UN Habitat Cities and Climate Change Initiative; START regional networks; the ICLEI-Resilient Cities Network and Mayors Adaptation Forum, the World Bank Urban Environment and Climate Change Network, the RUAF network and CDKN.
Why cities should increase vegetation
UPAF can contribute to climate change mitigation and adaption in cities by reducing ‘food miles’, because fresh food is produced closer to urban markets. This not only reduces the energy used and green house gas (GHG) emissions caused by transporting, cooling and packaging food, but also decreases dependency on imported food. This helps to secure a food ‘buffer’ for periods when food cannot be transported to the city because of storms, floods or other crises. Productive re-use of composted urban organic wastes as fertilizers and soil improvers in city farming reduces methane emission from landfills and cuts energy used to make fertilizer. Meanwhile, recycling wastewater to produce food frees up fresh water for other uses and helps irrigate parks and other green urban spaces.
Other UPAF initiatives, such as developing green roofs and interconnected spaces, and expanding peri-urban agriculture, forests and wetlands, enhances carbon sequestration and reduces the urban ‘heat island’ effect by increasing the surface of green areas and enhancing tree cover. Greater vegetation cover reduces the incidence of, and the degree of damage done by, floods and landslides by enhancing rainwater infiltration and storage, reducing run-off and keeping flood plains free from construction. Together, these measures help to reduce the vulnerability of the urban poor to the impacts of climate change by diversifying their food and income sources, and reducing the impacts of devastating climatic events such as cyclones, floods and droughts.
Note: Henk de Zeeuw’s original text has been edited by CDKN staff
Photo courtesy of Flickr/PrinceRoy