Urban agriculture and forestry show promise for climate compatible development

Urban agriculture and forestry show promise for climate compatible development

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Date: 2nd February 2015
Author: CDKN Global
Type: News
Organisation: RUAF Foundation
Tags: adaptation, agriculture, cities, mitigation, climate vulnerability, greenhouse gas emissions, energy, forests, impacts on systems and sectors, vulnerability, sustainable water management

Marielle Dubbeling of the RUAF Foundation highlights how urban and peri-urban agriculture and forestry could contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation as well as development. She shares insights from Colombo, Sri Lanka and Rosario, Argentina – and looks at how these success stories in climate compatible development could be scaled up.  You can also read the companion ‘Inside Story on Climate Compatible Development’.

For cities to be sustainable, they need to simultaneously address the vulnerability of people, places and sectors that may be affected by a changing climate; mitigate their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; and ensure adequate access to basic urban services such as water, food and energy to their growing populations.

Climate change adds to the existing challenges faced by cities. Cities – as net consumers rather than producers of food – are already highly vulnerable to the disruption of critical food and other supplies. Climate change may compound this problem as rural production and food imports are increasingly adversely affected by storms, floods, shifting seasonal patterns, droughts and water scarcity, resulting in (temporary) food shortages and rising food prices.

The urban poor, who are often located in the most vulnerable parts of cities and have few resources to adapt to climate-related impacts, will be hit hardest. Since they spend a large part of their cash income on food, they are directly affected by rising food prices. A recent nutrition study in low-income neighbourhoods of five large cities,implemented by the International Network of Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food Security (RUAF Foundation), showed that during the financial and food crises many urban poor households cut their number of daily meals and turned to cheaper and less nutritious food, which negatively affected the nutritional status of family members.

Urban and peri-urban agriculture and forestry: a ‘triple win’ for climate adaptation, mitigation and development

As cities face the triple challenge of climate change mitigation and adaptation, and the provision of basic services - including food -  to their vulnerable residents, urban and peri-urban agriculture and forestry could provide some solutions.

Urban and peri-urban agriculture and (agro) forestry provide potential strategies for adaptation and, to a lesser extent, mitigation. They also bring important development benefits.  Some of the ways urban and peri-urban agriculture and (agro)forestry help cities to become more resilient are by:

  • Reducing the vulnerability of the most vulnerable urban groups and strengthening community-based adaptive management through: diversifying urban food sources, enhancing access of the urban poor to nutritious food, reducing dependency on imported foods, and decreasing vulnerability to periods of low food supply from the rural areas during floods, droughts or other disasters.
  • Diversifying income opportunities of the urban poor and functioning as a safety net in times of economic crisis.
  • Maintaining green open spaces and enhancing vegetation cover in the city with important adaptive (and some mitigation) benefits including: reduced heat island effect by providing shade and enhanced evapotranspiration (more cooling, less smog).
  • Reducing impacts of high rainfall by storing excess water, increasing water interception and infiltration in green open spaces, and keeping flood zones free from construction, leading to a reduction of rapid storm water run-off, fewer floods downstream and better replenishment of groundwater.
  • Improving water quality through natural cleaning in low-lying agricultural areas (e.g. natural or constructed wetlands, aquaculture in maturation ponds).
  • Capturing carbon dioxide and dust.
  • Preventing landslides when (agro)forestry takes place on steep slopes, and preventing building on such sites.
  • Conserving biodiversity, protecting a wider base of plant and animal genetic diversity.
  • Safely reusing waste water and composted organic waste: adapting to drought by facilitating year-round production, safely using waste water flow and nutrients in water and organic waste.
  • Reducing competition for freshwater among agriculture, domestic and industrial uses.
  • Lowering the depletion of certain minerals (e.g. phosphorus) by making productive use of the nutrients in waste water and organic wastes.
  • Reducing landfill volumes and thus methane emissions.
  • Reducing cities’ energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by producing fresh food close to the city: using less energy in transport, cooling, storage, processing and packaging, and enabling synergic and cyclical processes between urban domestic and industrial sectors and agriculture (e.g. use of excess heat, cooling water or carbon dioxide from industry in greenhouses) and lowering the energy and water needed to produce and transport food.

What have we learned about the potential for sustaining programmes – and scaling up?

CDKN has provided support for action research into the potential for urban agriculture and forestry approaches in Sri Lanka and Argentina. The RUAF Foundation and its government partners in Sri Lanka have also participated in a learning programme run by CDKN and ICLEI to identify some of the success factors for these initiatives, and what lessons they provide for others.

Western Province is the first provincial government in Sri Lanka to include urban and peri-urban agriculture and forestry in its climate change adaptation action plan. The province is promoting the rehabilitation of flood zones through their productive use as a strategy to improve storm water infiltration and mitigate flood risks.

Rosario  and the Province of Santa Fé, Argentina are supporting local agriculture to reduce dependency on imports, to lower greenhouse gas emissions and energy requirements for food production, transport and storage, and to improve the food security and livelihoods of their residents.

Major lessons from RUAF and its partners' work in both countries suggest that:

  • The involvement of the subnational (provincial) government is key to addressing agriculture and land use planning at larger scale (outside municipal boundaries), promoting upscaling to neighbouring cities, facilitating access to financing, and developing the provincial policies that must accompany city-level strategies.
  • Future upscaling of these interventions will need new urban design concepts and the development of local and provincial climate change action plans and other related policies at different levels that recognise urban agriculture as an accepted, permitted and encouraged land use.

Read the Inside Story on Climate Compatible Development in Sri Lanka (8 pages).

Read the full Background Paper about the Sri Lanka and Argentina experience (20 pages).

Visit the RUAF Foundation website to obtain more information including research reports from both cities and methodological guidelines.


Image: Western Province, Sri Lanka, courtesy Janathakshan.

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