OBSTACLES TO URBAN AGRICULTURE

Having set out its many virtues, what are some of the barriers to urban food production? These fall into three broad categories: regulatory, economic and technical.

Local obstacles include vandalism and theft and a lack of resources, often money and information (see Chapter 9).

Urban agriculture and land-use policy

Urban agriculture is central to the existence of many poorer cities across the globe (Bakker et al., 2000; Ellis and Sunberg, 1998; Smit, 1996). It is only recently, however, that the richer industrial nations of the world and their policy makers have begun to consider the potential benefits of urban agriculture (Garnett, 1996a; Howe and Wheeler, 1999; Hynes, 1996).

With food so high on the political agenda, it is hardly surprising that there has been a worldwide increase in attention given to urban agriculture (Mbiba, 2001). This carries with it implications for land-use policy and regulation. Yet, despite this increased interest in food production and con­sumption, few studies have examined the nature of recognition and integration of agriculture into regu­lative frameworks for urban land-use. Within the emerging body of literature on urban agriculture, however, the relationship between urban food growing and land-use regulation has received lim­ited attention, highlighting the relatively uncharted nature of the topic (Howe, 2001; Howe and Wheeler, 1999; Martin and Marsden, 1999; Pothukuchi and Kaufman, 2000).

A recent attempt to review the strategies employed in urban policy to regulate urban food production in dif­ferent cities around the world demonstrates that the integration of agriculture into land-use policy and city development has remained consistently low (Mbiba and Van Veenhuizen, 2001). In the USA, for example, Pothukuchi and Kaufman (2000) demonstrate a low awareness in land-use planners of increasing urban agriculture activities. Recent studies in Russia and Canada reinforce this bleak picture by demonstrating that many land-use officials do recognise the poten­tial of urban agriculture but find themselves con­strained by insufficient budgets (Wekerle, 2001).

The contention here is that land-use implications of urban agriculture deserve further investigation than has hitherto been the case. Now that urban agricul­ture is considered to be a valid land-use function throughout the world, there is a pressing need to study land-use regulative policy practices of differ­ent places to enable lessons of good practice to be debated and considered.

A UK Government Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded survey, led by Joe Howe during 2000-2001, examined the role played by land-use policy in regulating urban agriculture on allotments, community gardens and city farms. All the metropolitan planning authorities in the UK were surveyed, resulting in 32 usable replies, which represents a response rate of 46 per cent. One finding was that 37 per cent of respondents stated that they had experienced conflicts of inter­est between demands for, and potential changes to, land-use at urban food producing sites. Of these, nine related to development pressure on allotment sites, particularly where these were con­sidered underused. Eighteen authorities had not encountered conflict between urban food and other forms of land-use, suggesting that in the majority of cases urban food production can function harmo­niously within an urban area.

The survey indicated that, despite the widespread occurrence of urban food growing activity in the UK, the direct role of land-use regulation policy in relation to urban agriculture is relatively limited. One way in which this issue could be addressed is through the education and training of land-use offi­cials, so that future policy formation will not be undermined by a lack of knowledge.

A number of respondents raised issues as to the level of demand for urban food sites, notably allot­ment sites, and considered what might be a suitable response on the part of the local authority and its land-use regulation function. Where demand on urban food sites is low, some respondents did iden­tify other potential land-uses that could be adopted for those sites. For example, one authority stated that sites might be used mainly for residential devel­opment, since they were primarily located in areas denoted in the development plan as ‘primarily resi­dential use’. This answer denotes the potential for conflict which may arise between the need for authorities to utilise brownfield sites in the national quest for protection of greenfield areas, and the need to provide open space and urban food sites.