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During the last ten years, sustainable urban agriculture and urban food systems have rapidly moved from being a ‘fringe interest’ to attracting the attention of policymakers and planners in many cities, both in developing and developed countries. Feeding our urbanising world has become an imperative, especially in light of the climate emergency, and city actors are increasingly responding to the challenge.

The (re-) introduction of productive landscapes into city design and development planning has been widely accepted, aligning with concepts like urban and peri-urban agriculture, rural-urban linkages and landscape development, urban food systems, and city region food systems.

Below we introduce some of the key concepts that we use and help to develop.

Food systems and resilience

The food system is defined as “the whole array of activities, ranging from input distribution through on-farm production to marketing and processing, involved in producing and distributing food to both urban and rural consumers. The food system of an urban area includes all processes that food passes through, from its production over processing, transportation, retail, consumption to disposal of kitchen and table waste (incl. food waste) as well as all actors and institutions that influence these processes. This system is governed by the (global) market mechanisms, influenced by and embedded in the local, regional, national and international policy frameworks. Furthermore it is placed in different public domains, predominantly in agriculture, public health, environmental issues and the economy, but there are also other policy fields that are, in one way or another, related to food.” (Wiskerke, 2009).

resilient food system is understood as: “A system that has the capacity over time to provide sufficient healthy, sustainable and fair food to all in the face of chronic stresses and acute shocks, including unforeseen circumstances […]. A resilient food system is robust (it can withstand disturbances without losing food security), has redundancy (elements of the system are replaceable and can absorb the effects of stresses and shocks), is flexible, can quickly recover lost food security and can adapt to changing circumstances.” (Carey et al, 2016). It is thus likely to have some of the following features:

  • the capacity to monitor and address threats and reduce disaster risks in food systems, including impacts on natural (green) and human-made infrastructures, including other systems on which the food system depends (e.g. transportation, roads, fuel access, electricity grid, communications);
  • the capacity to build resilience to impacts of shocks and stresses for vulnerable food systems actors (e.g. small-holder and family farmers, women, residents of informal settlements);
  • a contribution to reducing greenhous gas (GHG) emissions;
  • support for effective land management and soil restoration, and protection of eco-system services;
  • diversified food supply chains that draw on large- and small-scale systems of food production and distribution, that use a variety of approaches to production and distribution, and that draw on both commercial and community-based sources, without being dependent on one source;
  • the capacity to draw on waste streams (wastewater, food waste and organic waste) for food production;
  • the capacity to create synergies and achieve multiple benefits across a range of policy objectives e.g. increasing access to healthy food, and creating jobs;
  • people-centred and inclusive – people are at the heart of the food system, benefiting from increased access to healthy, sustainable food and from employment, and engaging actively with the food system as citizen-consumers.

City Regions and City Region Food Systems

A city region is a given geographical region that includes one or more urban centres and their surrounding peri-urban and rural hinterland, across which people, food, goods, resources and ecosystem services flow.

A city region food system (CRFS) encompasses all food system actors and activities taking place in the city region and over which (several) local/regional governments have planning and intervention powers.

The CRFS approach, developed by RUAF and the FAO, aims to foster the development of resilient and sustainable food systems by strengthening rural-urban linkages. Throughout the food chain, an ideal CRFS fosters:

  • Food security and nutrition for urban and rural dwellers.
  • Livelihoods and economic development for all actors of the food chain and consumers.
  • Sustainable natural resources management and minimized environmental impact.
  • Social inclusion and equity of all actors of the food chain and consumers.

The CRFS toolkit, based on RUAF’s MPAP approach (see below), provides guidance on assessment of CRFS sustainability and resilience and policy planning.

RUAF and FAO are currently working on strengthening climate resilience and gender aspects of CRFS approach. With FAO and the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP), RUAF has developed a set of indicators CRFS indicator framework.

Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture

Urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) or urban and peri-urban agriculture and forestry (UPAF) is defined as the growing of trees, food and other agricultural products (herbs, pot plants, fuel, fodder) and raising of livestock (and fisheries) within the built-up area or on the fringe of cities. UPAF includes production systems such as horticulture, livestock, (agro-) forestry and aquaculture and input supply, processing and marketing activities.

The most striking feature of urban agriculture is not its urban location but rather the fact that it is an integral part of the urban socio-economic and ecological system (Mougeot, 2000). It uses urban resources (land, labour and urban organic wastes), grows produce for urban citizens, is strongly influenced by urban conditions (urban policies and regulations, high competition for land, urban markets, prices, etc.) and impacts the urban system (having effects on urban food security and poverty, as well as on ecology and health).

The precise nature of urban agriculture varies from city to city and depends on the following dimensions:

  • actors involved;
  • location (intra-urban or peri-urban; on or off plot; private or public, etc.);
  • types of products grown (food products from different types of crops and animals, as well as non-food products).
  • types of economic activities (production, processing and marketing, as well as inputs and services delivery;
  • product destination / degree of market orientation (self-consumption, market-oriented urban agriculture);
  • scales of production and technology used.

Interest in UPA is triggered by recognition of its (potential) multiple co-benefits and contributions.

UPA provides a complementary strategy to:

  • enhance urban food security
  • reduce urban poverty
  • promote social inclusion
  • enhance urban environmental management, including productive reuse of urban wastes
  • contribute to local economic development
  • build food systems resilience.

Municipal policies for urban agriculture and food systems

Urban policy makers can substantially contribute to the development of safe and sustainable urban agriculture and food systems. They can, for example:

  • create a conducive policy environment and formal acceptance of urban agriculture as an urban land use;
  • enhance access to vacant open urban spaces through the planning system and increase land tenure;
  • enhance the productivity and economic viability of urban agriculture by improving access of urban farmers to training, technical advice, and credit; and supporting urban farmer organisations;
  • take measures that prevent/reduce health and environmental risks associated with urban agriculture, including sectoral coordination between health, agriculture and environmental departments, education and training.

Policy perspectives on urban agriculture

Different policy perspectives are useful in designing alternative policy scenarios for the development of intra- and peri-urban agriculture:

  • the social perspective, associated with subsistence oriented types of urban agriculture;
  • the economic perspective, particularly related to market oriented types of urban agriculture;
  • the ecological perspective, referring to types of urban agriculture that have a multi-functional character.

These three perspectives are not mutually exclusive. In practice, most policies on urban agriculture will be based on a mix of these perspectives, with different emphasis in different locations.

Multi-stakeholder Policy-making and Action planning (MPAP)

RUAF introduced the Multi-stakeholder Policy making and Action Planning (MPAP) approach.
Due to the cross-cutting and multi-dimensional nature of urban agriculture, policy development and action planning should involve various sectors and disciplines. Urban farmers, and the community organisations and NGOs supporting them, must be involved in the planning process. In particular, the urban poor should themselves participate in situation analysis, priority setting and action planning and implementation.

Such consultative processes will make the outcomes of policy development and action planning more robust, comprehensive, accepted and sustainable. Increasingly this is recognised and incorporated in urban planning approaches such as the multi-actor planning methodologies.