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CAN CITIES FEED THEMSELVES? WORLDWIDE TURN TO URBAN GARDENING SIGNALS HOPE
EDITOR'S NOTE: While media reports coming out of the Habitat II UN
conference paint a grim future for an increasingly urbanized world, many
new urban dwellers know that cities harbor vast untapped resources that
could be used to grow food. All over the world there is a turn to urban
gardening that, combined with technological breakthroughs on the energy
front, offers hope for a sustainable future. PNS editor Franz Schurmann,
a professor emeritus of history and sociology at the University of
California, Berkeley, has traveled widely in Asia, Africa and Latin
America. He wrote about urban gardening in China and Uganda for the
latest issue of Choices, a magazine published quarterly by the UNDP. PNS
stories can also be found on our web page at
BY FRANZ SCHURMANN, PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE
As the Second UN Conference on Human Settlement (Habitat II) gets
underway in Istanbul, lots of data projections are coming out about what
everyday life will be like in the next millennium. Most telling is that
by 2025, two thirds of humanity will live in cities.
The question on many experts' minds is: where will the megatonnage of
food come from to feed some five billion urban people? The answer may
well be: cities. As we move into the next century, more and more urban
dwellers will consume food grown within a mile of their homes as
agriculture becomes more and more an urban preoccupation.
Throughout the world migrants and refugees who settle in cities share a
common insight: life in the wide open rural regions is become
increasingly impossible while life in cities -- horrible as it might be
-- offers the only hope.
These migrants are expressing with their feet the same pessimism about
rural areas professional environmentalists have been predicting for two
decades. At its core, that pessimism reflects one stark reality: much of
the world is overdependent on the large-scale rural agriculture of just
five countries -- the U.S., Canada, Australia, Argentina, Brazil. Yet
now, as Business Week recently reported in a cover story, a mushrooming
grain crisis in these countries could soon cut the food importing
countries off from much of their food imports.
Underpinning the migrants' faith in cities is the genius of technology.
Within energy technology circles there is growing optimism that the
world's energy needs (expected to increase 1.6 times by 2015) can be met
without polluting the atmosphere or degrading the globe. The optimists
are looking to new finds of vast reserves of non-polluting natural gas
and the slow-but-steady comeback of nuclear power.
Migrants also know that cities harbor vast unused resources -- mounds of
garbage, nutrient-rich wastes flowing unused into the oceans through
sewers, and the legendary ingenuity of city people. With these resources
megatonnage of food can be grown, and megatonnage of meat and fish
harvested within city limits.
In a recently published report entitled Urban Agriculture, the UN
Development Program documents how urban farming is spreading in every
part of the world, both developed and developing. In the U.S., for
example, 40 percent of the dollar value of food output in 1990 came from
metropolitan urban areas -- up from 30 percent in 1980. In 1990, 65
percent of Moscow's economically struggling families raised their own
food, up from 20 percent in 1970. There are 80,000 community gardeners in
Berlin with 16,000 on the waiting list.
But urban agriculture is an area where the non-Western world excels.
China has had a tradition of urban farming for many centuries. In 1960
its government laid down a specific strategy for urban self-reliance in
food. Indonesia's small island Java feeds a hundred million people
largely with locally grown food. The super-modern island republic of
Singapore is entirely self-reliant in meat production, consuming some 140
pounds per person per year.
Until recently, Africa had few cities so it has no long tradition of
urban farming. Yet it may be largely thanks to city farms, run by women,
that Africans have survived the extraordinary political upheavals of the
last decades. As foreign investors become aware of Africa's mushrooming
revival, urban farming will play an increasingly important role in the
East Asians have long excelled at urban agriculture for several reasons.
First, they are willing to plant every unused square foot of land. Second
they are willing to use any and all urban wastes for fertilizer. Third,
farming is an ingrained family and community chore, much as it was when
people lived in traditional villages. The shared task of raising food has
another effect -- it helps keep families and communities together,
despite the pressures of modern urban life. Their governments,
recognizing the value of these bonds to their economic miracles, are
highly supportive of urban farming.
The worldwide turn to urban agriculture will only work with
state-of-the-art technology and large-scale fail-safe organization. Right
now too many governments outside of East Asia have ignored the trend.
Habitat II may begin to focus their attention on this hopeful road
towards a sustainable urban future.
(06031996) **** END **** (c) COPYRIGHT PNS