Nurturing Sustainable Food Systems: Peri-Urban Agriculture for Resilient Food Systems

With the world continuing to urbanise at an unprecedented pace, the importance of finding innovative ways to address the challenges of food security, environmental sustainability, and community well-being becomes increasingly apparent. Traditional agricultural methods struggled against the constraints of scarce land and declining natural resources while rising urban demands made matters worse. Additionally, urban expansion worldwide further contributes to the unregulated utilisation of finite natural resources.


Fostering Innovation and Knowledge Exchange: Peri-urban areas can be seen as dynamic spaces where urban and rural perspectives meet. This merging creates space for synergies in the form of knowledge exchange and the development of innovative farming techniques.  


The Potential of Peri-Urban Areas for Sustainability

According to an article published in the Journal of Planning Practice & Research, the critical role of peri-urban areas in maintaining global urban sustainability is becoming evident. As urbanization continues its rapid expansion, cities worldwide are confronted with the challenges arising from urban sprawl and the imperative to stay within planetary limits.

A significant portion of this urban growth is anticipated to take place in Asia and Africa, adding approximately 2.5 billion people to the urban population by 2050 according to United Nations projections. Peri-urban areas, defined as transition spaces where urban and rural elements intermingle, hold the potential to address urbanization channels, including pressing questions of sustainable and healthy food production.

Growing Greener Benefits in Peri-Urban Areas

Promoting and developing suitable food options in peri-urban areas can yield several advantages, including:

Reducing Food Miles and Enhancing Accessibility: The journey our food takes from farm to fork, also known as food miles, can have a significant impact on carbon emissions. Growing sustainable food in peri-urban areas minimizes the distances that produce must travel to reach consumers. By shortening supply chains, we minimize the carbon footprint associated with transportation, contributing to climate change mitigation while making fresh and nutritious food easily available.

Strengthening Local Economies and Communities: Peri-urban agriculture can strengthen local economies by providing employment opportunities and developing local markets[1]. Farmers’ markets and direct-to-consumer sales connect urban consumers with the source of their food, fostering transparency and trust in the food supply chain. Moreover, engaging in sustainable farming practices empowers communities to take control of their food production and make informed choices about what they consume. Crafting a range of business strategies to match local demand creates income and employment opportunities[2] like aquaponics, hydroponics, vertical farming, and precision agriculture. Such agriculture approaches carry the potential to reduce food system vulnerabilities and food loss while contributing to a reduction in the overall footprint of production and distribution.

Educating and Empowering Future Generations: Sustainable food production in peri-urban regions creates interactive learning environments for the next generations by allowing them to see directly how food is produced. Educational initiatives and community gardens can help spread important knowledge about the environment, nutrition, and the value of resource preservation.

Entry Points for Sustainable Food Production of African Peri-Urban Areas

Soilless crop farming, a method involving the growth of plants without traditional soil, offers a solution to the limited availability of arable land and scarce water resources in peri-urban areas. Hydroponics and aquaponics are great examples of such technologies, allowing farmers to cultivate crops and fish in nutrient-rich water environments. These systems enable precise control over water and nutrient delivery, resulting in higher yields and reduced water consumption compared to traditional farming methods. 

Insects have long been consumed in many African cultures, and insect farming offers a sustainable protein source that is both nutritious and environmentally friendly. Peri-urban areas can leverage this practice by cultivating insects such as crickets, mealworms, and black soldier flies in rather nonarable areas. Moreover, as these insects thrive on organic waste, they effectively recycle nutrients that would otherwise go to waste. In comparison to traditional animal farming,  insect farming uses less space, water, and feed, making it a viable option for ensuring food security in peri-urban areas with high population densities.

INCiTiS-FOOD aims at redefining the food landscape by utilizing the entry points mentioned here and creating a more sustainable future for generations to come by nurturing circular agri-food technologies in Africa.

[1] FAO, Rikolto and RUAF. 2022. Urban and peri-urban agriculture sourcebook – From production to food systems. Rome, FAO and Rikolto.

[2] Piorr, A, Zasada, I, Doernberg, A, Zoll, F and Ramme, W 2018, Research for AGRI Committee – Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture in the EU, European Parliament, Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies, Brussels

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