THE ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS OF UPA

It has to be recognised that urban agricultural production is undertaken in a different way from that on farms (Smit et al., 1996), so that standard, accepted indicators of profitability are frequently not appropriate. Whilst British allotment production was traditionally a means of providing food for families on minimal incomes (Crouch and Ward, 1988) it is today more of a leisure pursuit (Perez-Vazquez, 2000). However, this does not prevent allotment holders from being aware of profitability as an issue. For example, in Britain it has been shown that growing brassicas, tomatoes, leeks and onions gives better financial returns for labour than potatoes and legumes, which are usually cheap and plentiful in supermarkets and shops (Riley, 1979). This therefore means that allot­ment vegetable production is often more concerned with high value crops rather than with dietary value. However, allotment holders are also motivated by a concern for food quality, often preferring to grow their own fruit and vegetables organically and therefore having more confidence in their freshness, flavour and nutritional value (Perez-Vazquez, 2000).

It is therefore proposed that a financial analysis of allotment gardening should allow for the following points: [2]

in any case, the selling of produce from allotments is not allowed by law. The inclusion of labour costs in a financial analysis of allotments is therefore likely to conclude that they are not profitable.

2. Age of the allotment enterprise is important, since newcomers always incur higher initial costs due to investment in a shed, tools, timber and other items of infrastructure.

3. Proximity of the participant to his/her allotment can be important, affecting costs of transportation.

4. The type of allotment holder is significant (such as retired, disabled, elderly). For example, retired peo­ple are not obliged to pay rental in many Council allotment sites for their plot (House of Commons, 1998), yet they are known to be more likely to pur­chase and use chemicals (Perez-Vazquez, 2000).

5. The growing system, especially whether it is organic or non-organic.

6. If growers value leisure and contribution to quality of life, this may need to be incorporated in an economic assessment.

Actual studies on the profitability of urban plots are scarce. One potentially useful survey is now out of date (Best and Ward, 1956) and so not reported here in detail. A more recent case study, (Perez – Vazquez, 2000) monitored the estimated average annual total market value of fruit and vegetables per urban plot in Ashford, and Wye, in the UK, by considering the current retail value for conventional food from two local supermarkets (Sainsbury’s and ASDA). The estimated average annual total market value of the produce per plot was £462. To deter­mine the net average value, various costs needed to be determined and deducted. The internal eco­nomic costs included ‘fixed’ items such as land rental and ‘variable’ items such as costs of plants, seeds, tools, equipment, and petrol for transport. Determining such costs was complicated by the clear difference between more recent and more established allotment holders: the former always incurred high initial start up costs. Also, all allot­ment holders were able to demonstrate optional cost savings, such as the use of saved seeds, and walking or cycling to the allotment rather than using a car. It was also considered whether the external economic costs of allotment activities should be estimated. These could include factors such as remediation, to cover the environmental costs of: a) excessive fertiliser or agro-chemical use; b) air pol­lution due to use of cars for transport. However, such environmental costs are likely to be lower than those associated with imported produce and so were not estimated. For the two allotment sites above studied by Perez-Vazquez (2000), the aver­age net value of produce per plot of 120 m2 was therefore estimated to be £325, or £677 for a stan­dard 250 m2 urban allotment. Under this type of financial analysis (not including labour), allotment gardening appears to be profitable, particularly for those people who grow and produce organic food. The inclusion of labour is extremely difficult, since allotment holders invest a wide range of time which depends upon age, motivation and many other social factors discussed above. It seems likely that, if labour were to be built into such financial assess­ment, then allotment production would be deemed unprofitable. However, many allotment growers view their production as part of a leisure activity and not relevant to financial analysis (Perez – Vazquez, 2000).

CONCLUSIONS

1. Allotments as a component of UPA in England have many roles for people including diet, pleas­ure, relaxation, healthy exercise, culture, friend­ship and the encouragement of a sense of community. Urban allotments and plots are therefore much more about lifestyle than about self-sufficiency in food and/or saving money.

2. Technical aspects of the production of fruit and vegetables on allotments and plots are poorly understood, including crop and variety choice and rotation design. Britain’s culture is now much more diverse than previously and the implications of this for allotment planning and management are poorly understood. We also know little about the effects of former urban land use, and possible soil contamination, on the safety of UPA and like­wise the potential impact of allotments on local water quality.

3. Allotment gardening does not seem profitable, particularly if time/labour are included in the finan­cial analysis. However, it is argued that profitability is not a good indicator of the value of urban plots because economic assessment does not easily incorporate the many important social factors.

4. It seems likely that urban allotments and plots will continue to be important within cities, towns and villages, with the traditional ageing male allot­ment holder giving way to other groups. Whilst the future role of allotments as agents for food production may be nationally insignificant, their value in contributing to human well-being, espe­cially in urban areas, will be much greater and should be valued as such.