Urban and peri-urban agriculture in India
Compared to rural agriculture, the scale of urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) in India is minuscule. Yet, small and large farms growing food in urban-fringes, rooftop and kitchen gardens in residential neighborhoods, and community gardens in parks and institutional campuses are becoming more common in and around most large and growing Indian cities. As cities expand, rural farms are becoming part of peri-urban agriculture, whilst under constant development pressure (as in case of farms along the Yamuna floodplains in Delhi or the aquaculture farms along eastern Kolkata wetlands where farmers have worked for generations) (Photo 1).
With growing awareness on sustainable food and health concerns, middle-class urban residents are experimenting with growing vegetables and medicinal plants for themselves on their roofs, backyards, and balconies. In parallel, urban entrepreneurs are tapping into this growing demand for organic food by investing in commercial farming close to cities (Photo 2) and trying out newer models such as collective farming, remote farming etc.
Photo 1: People working in their vegetable farm on the banks of river Yamuna near Geeta Colony flyover, New Delhi. Much of the produce from the floodplains is distributed throughout the city through mandis. (Source: Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)
Photo 2: A rooftop garden with three big coconut trees, 35 banana trees, papayas, guavas and chickoos, grapes, pumpkins, ash gourds, snake gourds, bitter gourds, tender okra, drumsticks, tomatoes, many varieties of beans and tubers such as yam and tapioca, turmeric, garlic and ginger in Ernakulam city, Kerela (Source).
Urban gardening can also increase environmental awareness, inculcating close ties with nature and a heightened understanding of how food grows. Recognizing these values, several schools across urban India are also initiating school kitchen gardens and wet waste recycling programmes as part of environmental education (Photo 3).
Photo 3: Students of Chembur’s Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (OLPS) High School work at their terrace garden (Source: Arijit Sen/HT)
Across India, citizens are beginning to recognize the environmental, social, and economic benefits of urban farming. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a space to explore the potential of UPA as a strategy to reimagine and recreate more localized and sustainable, and hence, resilient food system that can withstand such future shocks. However, present agricultural policies in India remain focused on farming as only rural. Other relevant policies related to urban planning, water management, solid waste management, and building codes, have yet to integrate UPA as a essential lever in achieve multiple goals. Despite growing UPA practices across Indian cities, these policy gaps highlight the need for empirical research on UPA in India. This can inform new policies and mobilize existing ones such as the Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH) and the National Guidelines for School Nutrition (Kitchen) Gardens 2019 to build a brighter future for a sustainable UPA movement.