The annual Conference on Tropical and Subtropical Agricultural and Natural Resource Management (TROPENTAG) recently concluded. Tropentag is a development-oriented and interdisciplinary event addressing issues of resource management, environment, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food, nutrition and related sciences in the context of rural development, sustainable resource use and poverty alleviation worldwide. The theme for this year was agricultural development within the rural-urban continuum.
Louisa Wong, a student reporter for Tropentag 2013, blogged during the conference, analysing the bias that exists between urban and rural land use patterns after she got an opportunity to attend the presentation by Mr. Gordon Prain a Senior Scientist for social and Health Sciences at the International Potato Centre at TROPENTAG on the topic, “The Dynamic livelihoods along the rural urban continuum – How can agriculture research and policy contribute?”
RESET.org spoke with her to get an insight into Mr. Prain's presentation and what we know about agriculture in urban areas and how can we connect urban and rural households and their livelihoods to the land in the modern context of urbanisation.
Discontinuum of urban and rural areas
Mr. Prain started with a statement that there is a discontinuum of urban and rural area because we tend to push and turn our back too much to disconnect the terms rural and urban – by the policy and institutional definition. Culturally, people tend to define urban as being separate from agriculture. The success of the Green Revolution started in the 1960s promoted crops and cereals production and it brought down food price. The fact remains though that predominantly urban consumers benefitted from this trend - cheaper food prices meant that “poor people stay poor”.
Urbanisation of urban and rural households
Urban migration brings lots of socio-economic problems such as joblessness, food security of temporary and seasonal migration from the country side. In fact, urbanisation does not only happen in the cities, but also in rural areas. A social study conducted in the 1990s showed that up to 50 percent of income from rural households is non-agricultural and the emergence of “multi-local households” in developing countries, which means family members in a rural household engage in different income generating activities in multi-places. We can therefore see the livelihood and ecological links between cities and rural areas, and there is no consistent pattern that links connects to the rural/urban continuum.
Mr. Prain gave an example of the city of Lima, Peru. Within urban, peri-urban transition and peri-urban areas, organic wastes are exported from the urban zone and they can be used as nutrient sinks for animal husbandry in both urban and rural areas, for things such as cattle herding. However, there have been health effects resulting from heavy metal contaminants, pathogens generated from old urban settlements, and the high toxicity pesticides used in urban gardening. What we need is sustainable agriculture such as organic farming to promote biological pest control and organic fertilisers instead of synthetic chemicals and toxic pesticides.
Rural -Urban continuum
To reconnect urban and rural land use dynamics, initiatives and acknowledgement from scientific research communities are important. This must go hand in hand with local governments and instutional support, which can support the process to breakdown administrative bureaucratic obstacles. Most of all, we have to re-establish the mutual trust feelings of urban consumers and rural food producers.
This article has been written in collaboration with Louisa Wong, a reporter for TROPENTAG. She is currently studying towards a M.Sc. in Sustainable Resource Management at Technical University of Munich, Germany.