Opinion <http://www.thehindu.com/2006/06/27/05hdline.htm> - Leader Page
* Animals, agriculture, and city planning *
* Providing multipurpose farmland within urban areas could help alleviate
poverty besides improving the aesthetics of our cities. *
IN 2001, the Dutch architecture firm MVRDV proposed an exclusive city for
pigs. The 15.2 million pigs in the Netherlands were to be collectively
reared in the 76 towers of this city. The many floors of the 622-metre tall
towers were to house the pigs that were to be taken in lifts to the abattoir
on the ground floor. Each tower was to have a fish farm to supply food for
the pigs and a biogas tank to provide energy for the building. Those who
think animals have to be excluded from cities and kept quarantined in a
separate place find such radical projects appealing.
To them, agriculture, animals, and cities are mutually exclusive. It would
be unthinkable to have a city interspersed with paddy and sugarcane fields
along with cattle sheds and pig farms. Urban is defined and marked by the
absence of things rural. This conception is increasingly asserted through
the urban development policies of the Central and State Governments. The
Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission insists that all local
bodies make conversion of agricultural lands for urban use easier. This is
seen as a necessary condition to develop cities as engines of growth. State
Government legislation such as The Tamil Nadu Animals and Birds in Urban
Areas (Control and Regulation) Act 1997 ensures that cows, buffaloes, pigs,
and other animals are prohibited from the city. Attempts are often made to
purge cities of fishing by removing fishermen and catamarans from beaches.
These activities are aimed at bestowing order and aesthetics on the city.
On the other hand, the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United
Nations recommends urban agriculture including animal rearing within cities
as a useful means to tackle poverty and promote sustainable city practices.
It is feared that rapid urbanisation in developing countries will consume
about 14 million hectares of cropland by 2020 and make matters worse. Many
African cities and a few European cities are now seriously considering urban
agriculture as a viable multifunctional land use strategy.
Urban agriculture is not the same as city beautification projects such as
parks. Parks are purely ornamental and recreational. They are also water
intensive and cater to fixed strata of the city populace. Urban agriculture
means horticulture, wetland development, fish farms, and domestic animal
farms. It helps with poverty alleviation and food security, besides being
recreational and educational.
The percentage of urban poor in Asian cities averages about 20 to 40 per
cent. In Indian cities, the slum population can be as high as 55 per cent.
These large number of poor usually pay high prices for low quality food.
According to FAO estimates, low-income urban households spend 60 to 80 per
cent of their budget on food, which is 30 per cent more than rural
households. The World Food Summit in 1996 has highlighted the need to
increase access to food in the wake of increasing urbanisation. Food
security is not only about availability but also concerns accessibility.
High food prices mean low accessibility.
The problem is further compounded by the way food distribution in cities is
fast changing. Increasingly, city planners are doing away with hawkers and
other informal food distribution points. Administrators typically consider
hawkers and street food vendors a liability — as something that takes away
from their cities' image. Instead, cities increasingly promote supermarkets
and other large-scale organised shops. These cater to higher income groups
and rely on food processing and packing. Processed foods increase the
ecological footprint of a city, as goods have to be transported from long
The FAO estimates that Delhi will require an additional 1,96,500 trucks of
10 tonne capacity by 2010 to supply food for its population, while Mumbai
will need 3,13,400 trucks of supply more a year. This will have serious
implications for traffic and roads.
Cities that have seriously considered the issue of urban poverty,
environment, and food security have made plans to allow for more agriculture
within their urban and peri-urban areas. Bangkok has 60 per cent of its
metropolitan area as agriculture land, as has Madrid. Beira in Mozambique
has a high percentage of about 88 per cent of its green spaces used for
family agriculture. Ottawa has 5,000 hectares of agriculture land within
city limits. In the United States, cities such as Minneapolis, Austin, and
Boston have provisions in the zoning laws for community gardens. The famous
marshes of Xochimilco, located on the outskirts of Mexico City, are fed by
treated wastewater from the city. This water is used for irrigating flowers
and vegetables and also recharges the aquifers. With a careful selection of
plant species, the agricultural yield can be increased. In certain cases,
the yield has been as high as 50 kg of fresh produce per square metre a
Visions for Indian cities are not encouraging. The proposed Delhi master
plan 2021 has allocated only 15 to 20 per cent under green and recreational
areas. Much of it is meant for parks and amusement parks. Villages within
the Delhi Metropolitan development area are planned for urbanisable
potential rather than for agricultural value. In Bangalore, the 742 sq km of
green belt around the city is reduced to 248 sq km in the proposed master
plan. The emphasis is clearly on land for buildings.
In the last few years, a disapproving attitude towards animals has also been
made visible and even enacted as legislation in cities such as Chennai. In
1996, the Mayor declared that the city would be made Singara Chennai. As a
step towards it, in 1997, legislation was enacted to keep domestic animals,
cattle in particular, away from the city.
For long, Chennai and other cities were suffering from milk shortage. In
1949, the first Five Year Plan estimated that 60 to 70 per cent of the milk
requirements of the urban areas was derived from cattle maintained within
the municipal limits. Till the 1980s, domestic farms within the city
supplemented the daily milk supply. When capital and technology converged in
the form of industrialised scale supply, the city was emboldened to ban
cattle from its limits. This deprived many of the urban poor of their
livelihood. If cities can handle waste produced by hotels and other service
industry units, they can also be designed to handle cattle waste.
But it is always the services rendered by the poor that are easily
expendable. To the planners, the picture postcard image of a gleaming global
city can be perfected only at the expense of cows and farms.
Amidst all this, cities such as Kolkata hold out promise through their
innovative practices. The East Kolkata wetland is an example worth looking
at. This 3,900-hectare wetland located in the peri-urban area is used for
fisheries. The many ponds are benefited from the 1,300 million litres of
treated wastewater discharged from the city. About 13,000 tonnes of fish are
harvested and about 60,000 people provided a livelihood. In addition, 150
tonnes of vegetable are also produced daily. Pigs and ducks are reared as
well. Kolkata has creatively combined recycling with urban agriculture and
augmented its resources. Will the National Urban Renewal Mission take note
of such creative efforts instead of seeking to implement mega projects that
may not really address the issue of urban poverty?
Many cities make it mandatory for plots exceeding 10,000 square metres to
set aside 10 per cent as open space. If these open spaces could be either
consolidated or managed independently, they could provide the space needed
for urban agriculture.
In the case of peri-urban areas, which are on the threshold of development,
large land parcels can be easily allotted and integrated with infrastructure
and development plans.
The idea is not a return to the concept of a garden city where the best of
the country and the city are combined in a picturesque utopia. Instead, the
idea is to go beyond ornamental green spaces such as parks and, instead,
provide productive multipurpose urban farmlands. Such measures can help
improve the aesthetics of cities without excluding the urban poor.
(c) Copyright 2000 - 2006 The Hindu