Urban agriculture is playing an increasingly important role in global food security, a study has suggested.
Researchers, using satellite data, found that agricultural activities within 20km of urban areas occupy an area equivalent to the 28-nation EU.
The international team of scientists says the results should challenge the focus on rural areas of agricultural research and development work.
The findings appear in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
“This is the first study to document the global scale of food production in and around urban settings,” explained co-author Pay Drechsel, a researcher for the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).
“There were people talking about urban agriculture but we never knew details. How did it compare with other farming systems? This assessment showed us that it was much larger than we expected.”
The team acknowledged that the study could actually be conservative, as it focused on urban areas with populations of 50,000 or greater.
Dr Drechsel said that when urban farming was compared with other (ie rural) farming systems, the results were surprising. For example, the total area of rice farming in South Asia was smaller in rural areas than in urban locations.
Likewise, total maize production in sub-Saharan Africa was not as large as the area under cultivation in urban areas.
UN data shows that more than 50% of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, which could explain the changing landscape of global agriculture.
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“This is not happening in large parts of the developing world because the urban sprawl is happening far too quickly. The legislative, administrative infrastructure is unable to keep pace.”