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Urban Agriculture

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Agriculture conducted in urban areas is a major contributor to food, fuel and fibre production in the world, and it exists largely for the daily needs of consumers within cities and towns. Urban agriculture uses and reuses natural resources and urban wastes to produce crops and livestock. Table 1 summarizes the variety of farming systems in urban areas. Urban agriculture is a source of income for an estimated 100 million people, and a source of food for 500 million. It is oriented to urban markets rather than national or global markets, and it consists of many small-scale farms and some large-scale agribusinesses. Urban farmers range from a household garden in 20 m2 or less, to a small-scale farmer making a living on 200 m2, to a large-scale operator who may rent 10 hectares in an industrial zone (UNDP 1996).

Table 1. Farming systems in urban areas

Farming systems


Location or technique


Fish and seafood, frogs, vegetables, seaweed and fodder

Ponds, streams, cages, estuaries, sewage, lagoons, wetlands


Vegetables, fruit, herbs, beverages, compost

Homesites, parks, rights-of-way, containers, rooftops, hydroponics, wetlands, greenhouses, shallow bed techniques, layered horticulture


Flowers, insecticides, house plants

Ornamental horticulture, rooftops, containers, greenhouses, rights-of-way


Milk, eggs, meat, manure, hides, and fur

Zero-grazing, rights-of-way, hillsides, cooperatives, pens, open spaces


Fuel, fruits and nuts, compost, building material

Street trees, homesites, steep slopes, vineyards, green belts, wetlands, orchards, forest parks, hedgerows


Mushrooms, compost

Sheds, cellers


Compost, worms for animal and fish feed

Sheds, trays



Homesites, trays


Honey, pollination, wax

Beehives, rights-of-way

Landscape gardening, arboriculture

Grounds design and upkeep, ornamentation, lawns, gardens

Yards, parks, play fields, commercial frontage, road sides, lawn and garden equipment

Beverage crops cultivation

Grapes (wine), hibiscus, palm tea, coffee, sugar cane, qat (tea substitute), matte (herbed tea), banana (beer)

Steep slopes, beverage processing

Sources: UNDP 1996; Rowntree 1987.

Landscaping, an offshoot of architecture, has emerged as another urban agriculture endeavour. Landscape gardening is the tending of plants for their ornamental appearance in public parks and gardens, private yards and gardens, and industrial and commercial building plantings. Landscape gardening includes lawn care, planting annuals (bedding plants), and planting and caring for perennials, shrubs and trees. Related to landscape gardening is grounds keeping, in which playing fields, golf courses, municipal parks and so on are tended (Franck and Brownstone 1987).

Process Overview

Urban agriculture is seen as a method for establishing ecological sustainability for towns and cities in the future. Urban agriculture usually engages shorter-cycle, higher-value market crops and uses multi-cropping and integrated farming techniques located where space and water are scarce. It uses both vertical and horizontal space to its best advantage. The principal feature of urban farming is the reuse of waste. The processes are typical of agriculture with similar inputs and steps, but the design is to use both human and animal wastes as fertilizer and water sources for growing vegetation. In this near idealized model, external inputs still exist, however, such as pesticides (UNDP 1996).

In the special case of landscaping, appearance is the product. The care of lawns and ornamental trees, shrubs and flowers are the focus of the landscape operation. In general, the landscaper purchases planting stock from a nursery or a turf farm, plants the stock and cares for it routinely and frequently. It typically is labour and chemical intensive, and the use of hand and power tools and lawn and garden equipment is also common. Grass mowing is a routine chore in landscaping.

Hazards and Their Control

Urban agriculture is typically small scale, close to housing, exposed to urban pollutants, engaged in the reuse of waste and exposed to potential theft of products and related violence. The hazards related to various types of agriculture, pesticides and composting discussed elsewhere in this volume are similar (UNDP 1996).

In the developed countries, suburban farms and landscaping enterprises make use of lawn and garden equipment. This equipment includes small tractors (tractor attachments such as mowers, front-end loaders and blades) and utility haulers (similar to all-terrain vehicles). Other tractor attachments include tillers, carts, snow blowers and trimmers. These tractors all have engines, use fuel, have moving parts, carry an operator and are often used with towed or mounted equipment. They are substantially smaller than the typical agricultural tractor, but they can be overturned and cause serious injury. The fuel used on these tractors poses a fire hazard (Deere & Co. 1994).

Many of the tractor attachments have their own peculiar hazards. Children riding with adults have fallen from the tractor and been crushed under the wheels or chopped by mower blades. Mowers pose two types of hazards: one is potential contact with rotating blades and the other is being struck by objects thrown from the blades. Both front-end loaders and blades are operated hydraulically, and if left unattended and elevated, pose a hazard of falling onto anyone who gets a body part under the attachment. Utility haulers are inexpensive when compared to the cost of a small truck. They can turn over on steep terrain, especially when turning. They are dangerous when used on public roads because of the possibility of collision. (See table 2 for several safety tips for operating some types of lawn and garden equipment.)

Table 2. Safety advice for using mechanical lawn and garden equipment

Tractors (smaller than regular farm equipment)

Prevent rollovers:

  • Do not drive where the tractor can tip or slip; avoid steep slopes; watch for rocks, holes
    and similar hazards.
  • Travel up and down slopes or hillsides; avoid travelling across steep slopes.
  • Slow down and use care in turning to prevent tipping or losing steering and braking control.
  • Stay within the tractor load limits; use ballast for stability; refer to the operator’s manual.


Never allow extra riders.

Maintain safety interlocks; they ensure that powered equipment is disengaged
when the operator is not seated or when starting the tractor.

Rotary lawn mowers (tractor mounted or walk-behind type)

Maintain safety interlocks.

Use proper blades and guards.

Keep all safety blades and guards in place and in good condition.

Wear substantial closed-toe shoes to prevent slipping and protect against injury.

Do not allow anyone to put their hands or feet near the mower deck or discharge chute
while the machine is running; stop the mower if children are nearby.

When leaving the machine, shut it down.

To prevent thrown object injuries:

  • Clear the area to be mowed.
  • Keep the mower deck guards, discharge chute, or bag in place.
  • Stop the mower whenever someone comes near.


When working on mower (on push or walk-behind type mowers), disconnect the spark plug
to prevent engine starting.

Avoid fires by not spilling fuel on hot surfaces nor handling fuel near sparks or flames;
avoid the accumulation of fuel, oil and trash around hot surfaces.

Front-end loaders (attached to lawn and garden tractors)

Avoid overloading.

Back down ramps and steep inclines with the loader bucket lowered.

Watch the driving route rather than watching the bucket.

Operate the hydraulic loader controls only from the tractor seat.

Use the loader only for materials that it was designed to handle.

Lower the bucket to the ground when leaving the machine.

Utility haulers (similar to all-terrain vehicles but designed for off-the-road work)

Avoid rollovers:

  • Practise driving on smooth terrain before driving on rough terrain.
  • Do not speed; slow down before turning (especially on slopes).
  • Reduce speed on slopes and rough terrain.
  • Watch for holes, rocks and other hidden hazards.


Never allow extra riders.

Avoid tipping over by distributing the cargo box load so it is not too high or too far to rear.

Avoid an upset when raising the cargo box by staying clear of the edge of loading docks
or embankments.

When towing loads, place weight in the cargo box to assure traction.

Avoid driving on public roads.

Children should not operate these machines.

A helmet is recommended head protection.

Source: Adapted from Deere & Co. 1994.




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