Afton Halloran is continuing her research on urban agriculture in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) as part of our Affiliated Researcher Program.
Why do we actually live in cities? That question was posed by architect Carolyn Steel during the “Agriculture in an Urbanizing Society” conference I attended in Wageningen, Netherlands from April 1-4th. According to Steel, “we live in cities because rural livelihoods are no longer viable, but who produces the food?” Although the modern city provides a multitude of opportunities, we are now on our way to creating a negative feedback loop that is more visible in the global North than South – we are ignoring what fuels our society: Food.
So what do we do? Obviously, de-urbanisation is out of the question. We are now left to acknowledge the rural-urban continuum and the interconnectedness of agriculture at the regional level.
Enter food systems planning. Food systems planning has emerged in the last decade as a discipline and paradigm. It has derived itself from the fact that cities cannot ignore food. However, it doesn’t just stop there. Planning for food involves cultivation, provision, processing, and distribution, which are all part of the value chain.
The American Planning Association has put out a useful overview of what food systems planning takes into account:
- Preserve existing and support new opportunities for local and regional urban and rural agriculture;
- Promote sustainable agriculture and food production practices;
- Support local and regional food value chains and related infrastructure involved in the processing, packaging, and distribution of food;
- Facilitate community food security, or equitable physical and economic access to safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate, and sustainably grown food at all times across a community, especially among vulnerable populations;
- Support and promote good nutrition and health, and;
- Facilitate the reduction of solid food-related waste and develop a reuse, recovery, recycling, and disposal system for food waste and related packaging.
Right now, around the world, local governments and urbanites are trying to understand their own urban food systems by adopting many of those principles. One important aspect of this is the actual provision of land for cultivation within the city limits. As one previous SCI Intern who worked with urban agriculture told me “this is a land issue, an agricultural issue.” And because urban agriculture involves land, it also becomes a highly political issue with the involvement of a broad range of stakeholders.
Dar es Salaam is contributing largely to planning the regional food system through the provision of zones that will be use for purely agricultural purposes. The acknowledgement that agricultural land needs to be protected is a major step towards creating a more sustainable regional food system. For those of you familiar with British Columbia’s agricultural politics, the future urban agriculture zones in Dar resemble something similar to the Provincial Agriculture Land Commission’s Agricultural Land Reserves, for better or for worse. In theory such land should not be used for any other purpose than agricultural production.
Nonetheless, a simultaneous paradigm shift must occur in the way urban space is valued. Although there has been monumental progress towards the inclusion of agriculture within the city limits, land use generally favours industrial, commercial and residential purposes. According to a municipal agriculture and livestock extension officer: “….It is a kind of ignorance. I say this because Dar es Salaam is among the cities in which are expected to be considered as a sustainable city, but any sustainable city must have a component of urban agriculture. But for them they don’t understand that. [Council leaders] think that a sustainable city by only having buildings EVERYWHERE… and petrol stations!”
After speaking with a variety of stakeholders ranging from the national level to the grassroots level it is clear that agriculture is now on the political agenda and on the minds of planners, however, there is still a long way to go. Regardless of the present and future barriers, food systems planning allows us to move beyond asking ourselves why we live in cities to asking ourselves just how we are going to do it.