There is a growing consensus that many urban challenges can be addressed through policies and programs linked to urban systems of food provisioning. Considering cities are increasingly stepping into the foreground as important actors in the development of resilient urban food systems, there is a pressing need to share the many experiences and solutions being advanced in urban regions throughout the world. This is exactly what the book Cities and Agriculture, edited by Henk de Zeeuw and Pay Drechsel, accomplishes, as such, it supports (local) policy advisors, researchers, urban planners, and urban development practitioners (among others) who are involved in urban food system development. From policy development to urban (agro-) forestry, this collection covers a wide range of elements that are associated with urban food system development.

As the populations of many cities expands, cities are struggling with a number of complex challenges. In the opening chapter of this book Wiskerke notes that the most pressing challenges include: governance and infrastructure; resource use; growing inequalities; environmental pollution; and, food provisioning. Wiskerke argues that by focusing on food provisioning, many of the other aforementioned challenges can also be addressed.

Conditions Shaping Urban Food Systems

The book identifies four key conditions that are impacting, and thus acting as challenges to, urban food systems (UFS). Firstly, population growth, urbanization, and changing diets put pressure on food security, challenging accessibility, affordability, adequacy, and availability of food, especially for the urban poor. In chapter five, Moustier and Renting show, through examples from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, how urban agriculture improves accessibility, adequacy, and affordability in the Global South through short food supply chains of fresh foods. Due to the proximity of the producer to the consumer, urban agriculture gives consumers direct access to information about quality, and delivers lower prices and fresher products. These types of food flows can counter the impacts of ‘supermarketization’ on the urban poor.

Scarcity and depletion of resources are put forward as the second condition shaping UFS. Food provisioning relies heavily on scarce resources, such as fossil fuels, water, and land. As a growing urban population also produces more urban waste, there are ample opportunities to connect flows and extract resources from these waste flows. In chapter seven, Drechsel et al. explore opportunities for the safe use of organic waste, as well as waste water, in urban agriculture. They emphasize a number of challenges related to health risks in the valorization of waste streams that have to be overcome. However, especially in cases of water scarcity, techniques to treat waste water are promising.

Thirdly, climate change has substantially impacted agricultural production worldwide, especially living conditions in cities. According to Lwasa and Dubbeling (chapter eight), there are opportunities for urban agriculture in the mitigation and reduction of climate-related risks and impacts. When it comes to the adaptation to climate change, urban agriculture has the potential to contribute to diversification in food supply and sources of income for urban dwellers; reduce the heat island effect, and the impact of natural disasters such as storms and flooding; improve resource efficiency; and, preserve biodiversity.

Finally, public health and diet-related ill health shape UFS, as obesity, malnutrition, and hunger are increasingly issues with which cities are coping. This is very much connected to the first condition of urbanization and changing diets, as a transition from a rural to an urban diet based more on animal proteins and processed foods is taking place. Gerster-Bentaya argues in chapter six that food security for the urban poor is tightly tied to their livelihood, considering the majority must buy their food. Although certain health risks are connected to urban food—from toxins accumulating in urban produce through contaminated soil on the one hand, to food safety concerns with street food—urban agriculture, nonetheless, improves access to food for the urban poor. Arguably, this also makes a more resilient urban food system, as consumers are less dependent upon international prices. Adding to this, Adam-Bradford and Van Veenhuizen argue, in chapter fifteen, that urban agriculture can contribute to better public health in the case of disaster risk management and the creation of resilience amongst communities, be they refugees or localities struck by a natural disaster.

The challenges manifest differently in cities all over the world. As shown in a number of chapters in the book, urban agriculture is already being implemented in various forms to address these challenges. It is essential to take a UFS perspective on food provisioning since this extends one’s focus beyond the city alone: it allows for the incorporation of the many locations at which food eaten in the city is produced, distributed, sold, and eaten, and, as such, touches upon all the major urban challenges. To guide others that have yet to venture into Urban Agriculture, Wiskerke offers some guiding principles that are flexible enough to be used in diverse city-regions.

Four Guiding Principles

The conditions that shape the UFS all pose challenges that play out differently in every city, considering the sheer differences in shape, size, and characteristics of cities worldwide. Wiskerke emphasizes that there is no such thing as a blueprint for resilient urban food systems, and instead he offers four guiding principles that can act as ‘stepping stones’ to address these challenging conditions. Firstly, a city-region perspective needs to be adopted, as this is the most appropriate level of scale and action. This is well elaborated from a spatial point of view by Viljoen et al. in chapter four, who argue that rural-urban relations should be seen as a continuum, giving space to a multitude of farming practices that differ in combining economic and social benefits and the use of technologies.

The second guiding principle is to connect different urban flows, allowing for a better usage of resources. This was partly addressed in chapter seven, through the useful oversight of opportunities to re-valorize waste streams. Other ways of connecting flows can be through Moerman’s Ladder, which focuses on the maximized usage of food waste streams. However, the opportunities and possibilities in connecting flows depend mostly upon the specific character of a city-region.

Thirdly, the creation of spatial synergies is necessary in order to get multiple uses out of a place, and, by using food as a medium, to link different urban policy objectives. All authors urge readers to recognize the importance of synergies between multiple urban objectives and stakeholders from different scales. This will be vital in the creation of a broader and more resilient financial structure for urban agriculture, which Cabannes shows in chapter fourteen. He argues that financing still remains the bottleneck in many cases, as urban farmers often lack credit, and current financial systems do not support farmers in the ways they expect and need it.

Lastly, planning for resilient UFS needs to be incorporated into urban policy and planning agendas. Increasingly occurring phenomena are Food Policy Councils that are comprised of actors from public, private, and civic spheres, although a challenge here is to establish administrative and political responsibility. A very detailed overview of different established food policies and programs is given in chapter two by Baker and De Zeeuw. They show that there is considerable diversity amongst the different policies and programs from the point of view of focus and spatial scope. Most of the examples mentioned are multi-stakeholder processes, and in chapter three, De Zeeuw and Dubbeling give a practical oversight of different phases in the process of multi-stakeholder planning and tools that can be used in UFS planning. Especially important during the planning phase is the acknowledgement of power imbalances that shape the food system differently for men and women. Riley and Hovorka emphasize the social justice questions that are embedded in urban food security in chapter thirteen. This chapter provides a ‘snapshot’ of the relation between gender and urban food systems, what the main challenges are, and how they can be integrated in policies.

Forms of Urban Agriculture

Besides these useful guiding principles and insights into the processes that shape UFS, the book also offers detailed insights into different forms of urban agriculture. De Bon et al. give a good overview of recent trends and different techniques used in urban horticulture in chapter nine. Grace et al. describe urban livestock keeping, and show it is a much-practiced form of urban agriculture in the Global South (chapter ten), as it is a good source of revenue and shortens temperature-controlled sections in the supply chain (the cold chain) needed for animal and fresh products. Urban (agro-)forestry is addressed by Salbitano et al., who argue that there is a need to assess both the challenges and possible contributions that (agro-)forestry can make in terms of ecosystem services. Lastly, Bunting and Little provide an extensive overview of the possible urban aquaculture systems, their various forms of management, the risks involved, and how these different systems may prove useful to the urban poor and to sustainable development.

The book offers a very comprehensive overview of the multitude of aspects of Urban Agriculture. It is accessible for practitioners, researchers, and policy-makers, and illustrates how these different groups can contribute to more resilient UFS through the incorporation of the four guiding principles that are based on multi-actor processes. This book is a strong plea for a focus on urban agriculture as part of a solution to addressing (future) urban challenges in both the Global South and North. The book makes a convincing case, that in order to strengthen the current city-region practices towards resilient UFS, a continued sharing of experiences across cities is needed.

An e-copy of the book is available at no cost on the RUAF website, at


Aniek Hebinck

Aniek Hebinck is a Jr. Researcher at the Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University (the Netherlands). Aniek is interested in the construction of sustainable food provisioning practices and the governance...

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