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Examples of urban agriculture in Asia

Yue-man Yeung
Chinese University of Hong Kong

Traditionally, the size of a city is closely related to the food it is able to procure in its outskirts. With efficient and less expensive transportation becoming available, cities have increasingly drawn on food sources from outlying areas, with the ability to pay being a determining factor. Thus, many large cities have become vulnerable, as more countries are unable to feed themselves and fewer countries produce exportable surpluses [1]. In Asia, where most of the urban growth has concentrated in metropolitan areas, the problem of food availability and access is becoming more acute. In these urban centres, uneven distribution of incomes, the prevalence of poverty, diminishing farmlands, inefficient distribution systems, and rising expectations have all contributed to increasingly critical problems of food supply and distribution, particularly as they affect the urban poor [2].

Surveys of prices in five developing countries showed that city dwellers paid between 10 and 30 per cent more for food than rural dwellers. A recent World Bank study maintained that as many as 360 million inhabitants of cities in developing nations suffer from chronic calorie deficits. Five of every six urban families in India typically spend 70 per cent of their income on food [1]. Even in relatively prosperous Kuala Lumpur, between 45 and 50 per cent of total household expenditure goes to food, or twice the proportion spent in the United Kingdom [3]. Consequently, the lower-income groups in cities of Asia are often worse off nutritionally than their rural counterparts.

This paper examines food-supply problems in Asian cities and the state of urban agriculture, highlights present production patterns, and presents six city case studies.


For the purposes of this article, urban agriculture is defined as food production within the urban and peri-urban area. Ganapathy 141 used the term to include formal cultivation of crops, fruits and vegetables, forestry, parks, gardens, orchards, animal husbandry, fuel wood plantation, aquaculture, and related activities. It is assumed that the supply of food grains and staples will have to depend on more distant sources, but ideally a city should supply a large proportion of its needs in vegetables, fruits, livestock, and fish. Although some cities have been successful in providing some of these foods, most cities in Asia have not devoted the necessary attention or devised appropriate policies to harness their food-production potential. What are the major problems and points of tension?

First, as an inevitable result of urban growth and sprawl, urban-fringe farmland has been disappearing fast. In Taipei such farmland once provided 70 per cent of the vegetables consumed by the city's population. By 1974 this proportion had already declined to 30 per cent because of reduction of agricultural holdings in the face of urban expansion [5]. Similarly, in South Korea a total of 1,016 km2 of agricultural land has been converted to non-agricultural uses during the past 10 years, and a similar amount will be lost to urban expansion according to the predictions of the Second National Comprehensive Development Plan [6]. In Beijing, too, the relative rural affluence resulting from the recent shift to a family-based, market-oriented farm system has led to an upsurge in new home construction at the cost of a heavy loss of scarce cropland. As a compromise, planners in Beijing have encouraged peasants to construct two-storey houses [7].

The loss of fertile farmland is accompanied by considerable vacant or under-used land in the urban area that has become inaccessible for various reasons, including speculation. Despite the space limitations, the urban poor still put whatever land they can to use in limited agriculture, producing a much smaller proportion of the food they consume than do rural inhabitants. The highest proportion of subsistence production to total household food expenditure is 18 per cent in East Jakarta [81, in contrast to 7.7 per cent in metropolitan Manila [9]. To a large degree, therefore, the nutrition of the urban poor depends on sufficient food being available at the marketplace at prices they can afford. They must pay, as well, for inefficiencies in storage, handling, processing, and promotion of different commodities [1].

To some planners and administrators, agriculture in an urban setting is not desirable. Economists tend to treat the many benefits that may be accrued from such practice as "externalities." Investment in urban agriculture in Asia thus has been low, and, in fact, never figures in the master plans of Indian cities; on the contrary, urban agriculture is viewed as backward and something to be minimized [4]. By the same token, virtually all development assistance in the spheres of agriculture and forestry has been confined to rural programmes. This neglect of urban agriculture is bewildering, inasmuch as the technology and research in these fields can be applied as easily to the city as to the country. Moreover, most of the Asian scientists with skills useful in urban agriculture are city-based in universities and scientific institutes [10].

The impediments to urban agriculture are many. They were summed up by Di-castri [11] as lack of the following: overall policies and goals, information systems to collect and process information, managerial skills, multi-level coordination, understanding of the aspirations of local people, and democratic participation. Other problems relate to sectoral administrative structures and funding patterns not conducive to urban agriculture. Furthermore, scientists, planners, and managers are isolated from each other and cannot devote their collective energies to improving food production in the cities.

Finally, it should be mentioned that, as Asian countries become more developed economically, they tend to become increasingly dependent on imported foods. Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and recently, Malaysia exhibit this tendency, in contrast to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Thailand, which still depend on domestic supplies. This reflects a country's shifting comparative advantage from agriculture to industrialization as it moves up the economic ladder [2]. The increasing dependence on imports also mirrors the changing food tastes of the population as it gains purchasing power. All these changes have direct implications for agricultural supply, farming practice, and choice of crops. They certainly have an influence on the development of urban agriculture.


As a general description, Smit [12] characterized urban agriculture in developing countries in relation to rural agriculture as having the following characteristics: higher productivity per unit of space, low capital per unit of production, low energy consumption, low marketing cost, and freshness of the products. An exchange of urban-agriculture technology among developing countries experiencing rapid urbanization would offer great benefits, but this is not done. Instead, urban agriculture in Asia has been largely pursued, with a few exceptions, in a piecemeal and uncoordinated fashion. Nevertheless, several commonalities may be distinguished.

First, the importance of fish in the food basket of Asian cities is widespread. For most countries in Asia, particularly in East and South-east Asia, fish often represents more than half of the animal protein intake; in South Korea and Indonesia it is nearly 70 per cent. Although most of the fish is caught in ocean and fresh water, aquaculture is assuming increasing importance. For instance, aquaculture provides almost 50 per cent of the food fish in China and 9.2 per cent and 10.1 per cent in Indonesia and the Philippines respectively. In the last two countries, aquaculture grew by over 50 per cent during the 1970s. In China, pond fishing has been practiced for untold generations, and in certain Chinese cities over 90 per cent of the food fish originates from this source [13]. An effective ecological cycle of mulberry-dike fishponds has been perfected in the Pearl River delta of South China, providing a steady supply of fish to the urban areas [14].

Second, the noticeable trend has been to divert from traditional food-grain production to cash crops and livestock products. This trend is especially apparent in countries that have experienced rapid economic growth, such as South Korea [6], Japan [15], Hong Kong [16], and Taiwan. In Japan, which became self-sufficient in rice production for the first time in 1966, efforts have been made to overcome the problem of the overproduction of rice. An adjustment policy put into effect in 1971 under which the government provided subsidies to farmers who refrained from growing rice and used their paddy fields for other crops caused rice to drop from 63 per cent of all agricultural production in value in 1965 to 36 per cent in 1972. In contrast, the share of livestock rose from 14 to 26 per cent over the same period, and vegetables and fruits rose from 17 to 24 per cent [151. Even in socialist Shanghai, a 60 per cent income gap between growing vegetables and growing grain has posed a strong inducement to swich to the higher-value crop, particularly since the adoption of a responsibility system in farming in the late 1 970s. Higher yields in Shanghai's rural zone have also permitted diversification. Higher overall production of grain, cotton, and vegetables was realized from 90 per cent of Shanghai's arable area in the 1 970s, compared with 95 per cent in 1957, thus enabling the cultivation of other important crops such as rapeseed [17].

Third, urban forestry for fruit production is rare in Asia, except in a handful of Chinese and Indian cities. The experience of Bangalore, in southern India, deserves scrutiny and possible replication. The Department of Horticulture there grows a large number of street trees, one-fourth of which bear fruit, with many providing food for animals at the same time. The potential of many trees such as eucalyptus, subabul, manna, seem, mango, jamun, and tamarind for multiple use in Indian cities is equally to be considered for other Asian cities [4]. Here the concept of social forestry may be introduced; the situation in Bangalore may be contrasted with that in Calcutta, where there are many trees that bear fruit, but they are located on private property 1121.

Fourth, wherever it is practiced in Asia, urban agriculture is intensive and highly successful. Skinner [18] reported that, in six large Chinese cities visited, well over 85 per cent of the vegetables consumed by the urban population were produced within the bounds of the municipality. Vegetable production, highly structured spatially, has evolved as part of the traditional ecological complex tied to pig breeding and recycling of night-soil and rubbish produced by the urban population for application to vegetable fields. In Guangzhou, up to nine crops a year may be grown sequentially on a single field. In Hong Kong, six yearly crops of cabbage are not uncommon. Similarly, Karachi, where rains are never heavy and fluctuate widely from one year to another, takes advantage of its dry river flood plains to produce half of the city's fresh vegetables [12]. The high productivity of small and marginal spaces in urban agriculture has been so well demonstrated that Ganapathy [4] reported that an area of six square metres can produce all the vegetable needs for a family of four for a year.

Fifth, many Asian countries have been promoting home gardening: The degree of success has varied. Most of these efforts have been directed toward the rural area and are only beginning to be extended to urban areas. The campaign has been variously called "the Green Revolution campaign" and "Project Compassion" in the Philippines and Saemaul Undong ("New Community Movement") in South Korea. It has been linked to a "Green Book" in Malaysia to encourage local food production. Indonesia has also adopted the microhorticulture approach as a longterm solution in the fight against widely prevalent vitamin-A deficiency. Similar programmes are being implemented in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and other Asian countries [19].


Urban agriculture has been evolving rapidly in response to changing demands and supplies. Despite the lack of planning and government support in some Asian cities, many have produced food effectively within their spatial confines. Others have enjoyed a great deal of policy guidelines and capital injection to promote food production within the urban area. Individual situations are so variable that it will be instructive to examine several Asian cities that have developed different approaches to urban agriculture and are faced with different problems.

Profiles of six cities highlight different approaches and degrees of success in urban agriculture in Asia. Shanghai offers an example of highly articulated rural-urban relationships leading to a high level of self-sufficiency in essential foods. Lae, Papua New Guinea, is noted for a comprehensive city-wide food and fuel self-reliance programme. In George Town on Penang Island, Malaysia, conflicting demands are posed by rightful landowners and entrenched farmers on land that has for decades been used to produce food. The city-states of Hong Kong and Singapore have vigorously pursued urban food production in an intensive and scientific manner. In the barrio of Matalahib, in metropolitan Manila, a successful but short-lived community garden programme was implemented.

Shanghai, People's Republic of China

Although as early as the 1 930s Shanghai was able to feed 3 million inhabitants with food drawn from a 100 km radius [20], it has largely been over the past three decades that, together with many other large Chinese cities, it has refined and systematized food production in its municipal region of 11 million. This process was facilitated by a tenfold expansion of the city boundaries in 1958 to 6,000 km2. Apart from the inclusion of large farming areas in the municipality, two other factors have contributed to Shanghai's increased food production.

One was the transfer of the control of production, distribution, and marketing food from diverse operating units to the municipal government. All growing and marketing of food followed centrally planned agricultural policies for the area, involving officials at the city, county, and farm levels. A unified, coordinated regional food system has superseded the fragmented, individual decisions of many rural and provincial authorities [21]. To overcome the lack of linkage between rural supply and marketing cooperatives, Shanghai recently has allowed communes and production teams to transport and sell their produce directly (within certain boundaries). The establishment of cross-province companies (or kuasheng gongshi) has also greatly facilitated the flow of agricultural goods to the city and industrial goods to the countryside [22].

Another factor accounting for enhanced agricultural productivity is the modernization of farming achieved through mechanization, electrification, water-conservancy work, and the large-scale use of up-todate techniques. A direct outcome of these improvements has been the intensification of cropping patterns. The traditional two crops were increased to three. By 1965 more than 33,000 hectares of farm land were supporting three crops a year, and by 1973 almost 60 per cent of the suburban grain area was planted under three crops a year [17].

Figure 1 shows that Shanghai municipality, like other large Chinese cities, is organized into two zones for purposes of urban agriculture: the inner zone (neichiao) immediately surrounding the built-up area, and an outlying zone (waichiao) that includes all the other counties within the municipality. Under this arrangement, the inner zone produces vegetables year round destined for the main urban area. Thus most vegetables are produced within 10 km of their point of sale and are sold within 10 to 15 hours of being harvested [21]. This zone provides 76 per cent of the vegetables consumed in the city, a percentage lower than some Chinese cities, because only 16 per cent of the cultivated land within the zone is devoted to vegetables. Again, this is much lower than, for example, Guangzhou's 28 per cent [18]. In the outer zone of seasonal fields, coarse, hardy crops such as white onions, garlic, ginger, chill) peppers, carrots, and turnips are grown.

Shanghai has adopted methods such as intercropping and overplanting to increase production and to ensure sufficient supplies. It has also taken measures, such as advance purchasing and a combined contract (purchase of primary and subsidiary products), to maintain stable and generally low prices. Consequently, the Chinese concept of urban self-sufficiency in food has, by and large, been translated into reality. Shanghai is totally self-sufficient in vegetables and most grains and produces significant proportions of its pork, poultry, and other foods. In fact, it exports surplus grains and vegetables to other cities and provinces, and operates a variety of food-processing plants [21].

Lae, Papua New Guinea

During the 1960s and 1970s Lae, Papua New Guinea, experienced exceptionally rapid growth. The city grew by 16 per cent per year in the period 1966-1971 and reached a total population of 52,000 by 1980. Rapid urban and population growth took their toll in widespread destruction of forested lands surrounding the city, heavy dependence on imported food supplies representing more than one-fourth of total food consumption, high unemployment and underemployment, malnutrition, and a massive increase in solid wastes. To combat these problems, in 1977 the Lae city council was assisted by the national government and international agencies in formulating a comprehensive plan to increase food and fuel production. The major elements consisted of allotment gardens, composting, agroforestry, nutrition education, and regulation of food imports. The programme is applicable to the whole city, with particular emphasis on the Atzera Hills toward the southern edge of the city.

FIG. 1. The spatial arrangement of urban agriculture in Shanghai

As the term implies, allotment gardens are constructed on city lands and assigned to low-income residents by the city government. The crops are fertilized with locally produced compost. Technical assistance is provided by the city horticultural staff for crop selection, planting techniques, and such. By 1980, 1,500 allotment gardens had been set up.

To preserve the Atzera Hills and prevent erosion, agroforestry zones were delineated. Small plots, averaging one-tenth of a hectare, are laid out in these zone on which subsistence food production and the growing of appropriate species of trees are combined to promote soil fertility and prevent erosion. Land security is guaranteed by leases and use permits granted by the city council, so that the choice of cultivation techniques is compatible with longterm productivity.

Compost production is intended as a method both to recycle solid wastes for nutrients that can be applied in allotment gardens and to reduce the amount of wastes at landfill sites. After glass, metal, and other non-biodegradable objects are removed, urban derived solid wastes are combined with manures and composted. The product is fertilizer for city gardens, and the surplus is sold to commercial farmers outside Lae. During the first two years of the programme, 1,500 tonnes of compost were produced. Eventually, 11,000 tonnes of compost will be produced per year, thereby reducing by 10 per cent the amount of solid wastes that must be disposed of in other ways.

Finally, the programme also aims at alleviating malnutrition among school children. The city council staff has developed "nutri-pies," a highly nutritious lunch supplement, whose main ingredients, vitamin and mineral-rich vegetables, are grown in the city or school gardens. The appetizing pies are manufactured by a local company, with subsidies provided by the city council.

Thus, Lae's multi-pronged urban food- and fuel-production programme is one of the most comprehensive and extensive the world has witnessed, and should be noted for the interrelatedness of its components and the many improvements in the well-being of the citizens.

George Town, Penang, Malaysia

After many decades as a flourishing commercial centre in the Malay Peninsula, Penang found its fortunes gradually on the wane in the postwar period [23]. By 1969, when its free-port status was withdrawn by the federal government, Penang reached a point of stagnation. Because of lagging agriculture and declining commerce, unemployment reached 15 per cent in 1970. To raise the economy out of the doldrums, the state government adopted a strategy of industrialization, signalled by the establishment in Penang in 1972 of the first two of eight free-trade zones in Malaysia.

As a result of these developments, structural change has teen progressing rapidly. In the 10 years from 1970 to 1980, the share of agriculture in the gross domestic product of Penang fell from 19.5 to 1 1.9 per cent, while that of manufacturing rose from 12.7 to 24.3 per cent, to become the leading source of revenue for the state. In the process of progressive shrinkage of the agriculture sector, it has been estimated that the area under agriculture in Penang is halved every 10 years. The result is a deleterious impact on the state of market gardening. Of the 35 licences for vegetable farms within the city limits of George Town, 13 were cancelled during the past five years.

FIG. 2. The location of agriculture activities in Penang

Market gardening is carried out primarily in two areas, Thean Teik Estate and Relau-Bayan Lepas, in addition to pockets in George Town itself (fig. 2). More than half of the 158 vegetable farms surveyed in 1983 planted only vegetables, while the remainder also grew horticultural plants and raised livestock. Monthly incomes of the farming households are low to moderate, with half of them earning less than M$500 (about US$200) a month. The area planted in vegetables has never amounted to more than 1 per cent of agricultural land, and it fell sharply by 30 per cent from 380 hectares in 1966 to 266 hectares in 1974. For the whole state, land planted in leafy vegetables and fruit fell by an additional 8 per cent between 1977 and 1981. Nevertheless, the 1983 survey revealed that vegetable farms on the island produce approximately 9,000 million tonnes of produce a year, or 750 million tonnes per month. This meets about one-third of the vegetable requirements in Penang, with the balance of 15,000 million tonnes imported from peninsular Malaysia.

The looming crisis of urban agriculture came into the open in 1978, when conflicting positions between rightful landowners and de facto farmers of Thean Teik Estate became polarized. The 142-hectare first grade grant land was owned by the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, a registered society of clansmen formed in 1834. From the outset, farmlands were rented out to farmers, whose diligence and labour over 70 years converted dense jungle land into productive vegetable gardens. Some residents in the estate have made their livelihood off the land for four generations and constitute part of the 520 households in the area, with a total population of 2,000. On a daily basis, Thean Teik Estate supplies George Town with about 12,000 katis (about 7.7 tonnes) of vegetables and significant quantities of fruit. There is also supplementary production of poultry and livestock.

In April 1978 the trustees of the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi and Perumahan Farlim, a housing development corporation, entered into a joint venture agreement to develop Thean Teik Estate into a housing estate. The plan called for the construction of 2,000 homes and shop-houses. Offers of compensation to rehouse the residents in high-rise flats plus cash awards for loss of crops and farmlands were not taken up by the farmers. A series of confrontations between the farmers and the developer made newspaper headlines and led to one woman farmer being killed. The problem, which is still unresolved, underlines the difficulty of resolving conflicting claims of the legal rights of ownership and a community's right to survival. It also portrays the dilemma many Asian cities may have to confront in the legal claims to redevelopment at the expense of urban agriculture.

Hong Kong

With a population of 5 million in a small area (1,060 km2), Hong Kong distinguishes itself in urban agriculture by using only 10 per cent of its total area to produce 45 per cent of the fresh vegetables, 15 per cent of the pigs, and 68 per cent of the live chickens consumed by its population [10]. This is even more surprising considering that 40 per cent of its 10,000 hectares of agricultural land was abandoned or laid waste in 1979 because of restrictions on agricultural land or its conversion to other uses 116]. Thus, the apparent irony in this city-state is a continual and accelerating trend toward the abandonment of farmland together with an unmistakable move toward greater specialization, intensification, and modernization in urban agriculture.

Vegetable growing and fishponds occupied 31.1 per cent and 18.2 per cent respectively of all the agricultural land in use in 1979, and vegetables and fish constituted by far the two most important food commodities produced by area. Over 60 kinds of vegetables are grown by Hong Kong farmers, essentially on a year-round basis. As a reflection of mechanization and capitalization, 2,400 rotary cultivators and 1,350 sprinkler units were in use on vegetable farms in 1977 124]. In contrast, paddy cultivation dwindled to insignificance, from occupying 9,450 hectares, or 70.3 per cent of the agricultural land, in 1954 to a mere 40 hectares, or 0.4 per cent, in 1979 116]. Paddy cultivation declined precipitously because of its relative unprofitability and the continued exodus of villagers to the urban area in Hong Kong or overseas. Paddy cultivation, together with field crops, is now confined to relatively remote areas of off-shore islands and the border area, with the more accessible lowlands of Yuen Long, Kam Tin, and Sheung Shui district given to vegetable fields and fishponds [24].

In a sense, a spatial pattern of an inner and an outer zone may be identified, comparable to that of Chinese cities described earlier.

Pond-fish culture is an important source of food in Hong Kong, having developed very rapidly in recent years but now increasingly subject to encroachment from urban development. Two types of fish farming prevail: polyculture of Chinese carp, tilapia, and grey mullet, integrated with animal husbandry; and monoculture of carnivorous fish, such as snakeheads and catfish. Some 300 monoculture farms operate in Hong Kong, with yields ranging from 60 to 74 tonnes per hectare, compared with 1,000 polyculture farms producing 25 tonnes per hectare. Fish farming is viable because of improved yield rates and premium prices paid for live, fresh-water fish [16].

Intensive livestock farming illustrates the potential for continual modernization of the agricultural sector in Hong Kong. Chicken raising transformed itself from subsistence production in 1949 to a commercial scale with a total chicken population of 6.7 million in 1979. At present, move than one-fourth of the chicken farms raise over 10,000 birds. Technological improvements, development of local breeding stock, and the availability of feed at reasonable prices together have contributed to the growth of the chicken-raising industry.

Similarly, pig farming has become more modern and larger in scale, with a definite, steady tendency toward fewer and bigger farm units. The number of pig farms decreased from 13,700 in 1968 to 5,238 in 1979 [16].

Newcombe [25] calculated that 130,000 tonnes of food wastes from restaurants and food-processing plants are effectively used every year for feeding pigs. This is a most remarkable use of recycled wastes that otherwise would be difficult to dispose of. From the standpoint of nutrient flow, Newcombe even cautioned against the trend to promote beef as a prestige food in Hong Kong as well as in other Asian cities, emphasizing that pig and poultry raising maintains the capacity of the existing food system to recycle food wastes into human food.


Like Hong Kong, Singapore is a city-state with a relatively large population (2.5 million) in a small area (602 km2). Urbanization and industrialization have transformed the landscape and elevated the economy to almost a developed-country status over the past two decades. Correspondingly, agriculture has declined in importance in terms of area occupied and employment provided, but not in efficiency or contribution to self-sufficiency in food demands. Indeed, the republic is self-sufficient in pork, and has a surplus of chickens and eggs for export. Singapore also grows 25 per cent of the vegetables consumed by its population, and has a thriving specialized industry of orchids, primarily for export. These achievements have been realized through a programme of modernization and commercialization under the guiding hand of the government.

In the face of rapid urban and industrial growth, agriculture had to make significant adjustments. The first was to the loss of agricultural land. During the 1960s approximately 520 hectares were required annually for public housing and industrial development, often at the cost of fertile farmland. New town development, as prescribed by the Ring Concept Plan of 1971 for the long-term development of the republic, made further inroads on dwindling arable land. Singapore's cultivated land decreased from 13,160 hectares in 1965 to 10,595 hectares in 1979 [261. The resettlement programme for the farmers between 1957 and 1975 eased some of the pains, but major realignments were required if agriculture was to remain a viable economic sector against the background of rapid economic growth.

The government policy toward agriculture in Singapore is based on three objectives: a high degree of self-sufficiency, no subsidies, and the development of a large-scale, modern, and fully commercial farming business. Recent changes in pig farming, the leading agricultural activity, reflect these policy directions. While the number of pigs grew, the number of pig farms drastically declined; the average number of pigs per farm increased from 44 in 1970 to 158 in 1979 [271. The Ponggol Pig Farming Estate, located in north-east Singapore with some 1,000 hectares of land and a capacity of 750,000 pigs, exemplifies the direction the government plans for agriculture, namely, intensive production employing high levels of technology and mechanization.

Next to pig farming is the production of poultry and eggs, which, unlike pig farming, is still expanding. Between 1971 and 1980 the number of chickens increased by 29 per cent per year, from 24.7 million to 31.9 million. The widespread introduction of new and more productive poultry breeds is an indication of technological progress in this activity.

Vegetable cultivation, largely of the leafy varieties, remained quite stable in annual production at around 35,000 tonnes per year, despite a declining farm area. In 1980 only 267 hectares of cultivated area were under vegetable crops. High yields have been maintained through higher intensity of land use by the adoption of multi-cropping methods, hydroponics, and varieties of plants with short growing seasons. There is also a trend toward fewer farmers and a larger scale of operation in crop farming [27, 28].

Specialized and intensive farming schemes have also been developed for orchids, aquarium fish, and mushrooms. The key to Singapore's agricultural activities is economical and rational use of limited land resources. Emphasis is placed on a few activities for which high productivity is reached by economics of scale, modern input, and intensification. Urban agriculture in Singapore is a model of maximization of economic return through selective emphasis with central planning and policy intervention.

Metropolitan Manila, Philippines

Three things are worth noting in a discussion of urban agriculture in Manila. First, one of the objectives of the agricultural policy in the Philippine Five-year development Plan (1983-1987) was to stimulate food production, with special emphasis on products for the nutritionally at-risk and deprived population groups, including many in metropolitan Manila [29]. Second, the Philippine government encouraged food production within the urban area by providing home garden areas around new low-income housing, including multi-storey housing estates in metropolitan Manila [5]. Third, to encourage food production, even in the centre of Manila, President Marcos issued a declaration obliging landowners to cultivate idle, unused lands, or giving people the right to cultivate land in an owner's absence with the owner's consent. The same rule applied to public lands adjoining streets or highways under certain conditions [9].

A community garden programme in Matalahib barrio in Quezon City within metropolitan Manila was most notable for its initial success and for the lessons it offered. It began in June 1980 in a 1.5-hectare noman's-land between two squatter communities. With the help of the local police, university technical assistance, and the professional advice of a community group called the Earthman Society, the project was a clear success. Throughout 1981 the gardens produced abundant crops of mustard, sweet-potato greens, kangkong, eggplant, and other nutritious leafy vegetables, meeting 80 per cent of the needs of the 400 families of the barrio. Vegetable buyers and curious visitors came from other parts of metropolitan Manila to see how the squatters produced their own food in the city. Unfortunately, in 1981 the government sold the land occupied by the Matalahib gardens to a private developer, and by mid-1982 they had been abandoned and the area was cordoned off. (For further discussion of the project, see the article by 1. Wade on p. 29 of this issue. )

The message that is clear from the Matalahib experiment is that, given land, organization, and official blessings, the poor will seize the opportunity to produce their own food in the city, and they usually excel at it. The experience also demonstrated that, without the assurance of land tenure, any investment of time and resources in home gardens in the urban area is at risk. Finally, Jamir [30] even suggested that the Matalahib experience may be seen as an example of urban agriculture serving as a vehicle to solve social problems in urban area. Prior to the implementation of the garden programme, the area was plagued by gang fights, malnutrition, and other problems. A semblance of social order prevailed during the period when the experiment was in progress.


This review clearly shows that it is not impossible for Asian cities to feed themselves. Many cities have succeeded in producing large quantities of food for their inhabitants, while others are struggling with means to increase production. Urban agriculture is not simply an experiment. "From rooftops to fishponds, the possibilities for making Asia's cities more self-reliant are limited only by our failure to recognize the potential of the urban ecosystem and to utilize it" [5].

The challenge to policy-makers, planners, and citizens at large to seek innovative ways to overcome impediments to urban agriculture is real. The experience of many Asian countries in the postwar period indicates that one factor contributing to a sustained increase in the quality of life is that the rate of increase of food production should exceed the rate of population increase. If Asian cities are to maintain and raise their standards of living, they must not let population growth overrun their within-city capacity to produce food. Increased food production in Asian cities is a realizable goal, but the road to this policy objective is strewn with technical, financial, and administrative obstacles that most city governments will find a challenge to overcome.


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19. Y.H. Yang, "A Neglected Food Resource: Home Garden," unpublished paper (Resource Systems Institute, East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA, 1982).

20. R. Murphey, Shanghai: Key to Modern China (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., USA, 1953).

21. "Urban Examples: For Basic Services Development in Cities" (UNICEF, New York, 1984; mimeo).

22. J.N. Hawkins, "Shanghai: An Exploratory Report on Food for the City," paper presented at the Fourth Intercongress of the Pacific Science Association, Singapore, Sept.1981.

23. P.L. Tan, "Endangered Species: The Urban Farmer in Penang," paper presented at the Urban Agriculture Seminar, International Development Research Centre, Singapore, July 1983.

24. V. Sit, "Agriculture under the Urban Shadow," in V. Sit, ed., Urban Hong Kong (Summerson Eastern Publishers Ltd., Hong Kong, 1981).

25. K. Newcombe, "Nutrient Flow in a Major Urban Settlement: Hong Kong," Human Ecology, 5 (3): 179-208 1977).

26. J.W. Humphrey, "The Urbanization of Singapore's Rural Landscape," in C. MacAndrews and L.S. Chia, eds., Too Rapid Rural Development: Perceptions and Perspectives from Southeast Asia (Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio, USA, 1982)

27. G.J. Tempelman and F.J.J. Suykerbuyk, "Agriculture in Singapore," Singapore dournal of Tropical Geography, 4 (1): 62-72 (1983).

28. S.H. Cheng, "The State of Agriculture in Singapore: A Survey Based on the 1973 Agricultural Census," Journal of Economic Development and Social Change in Asia, (1): 9-21 (1976).

29. A.N. Herrin, M.F. Montes, and R. Florentino, "Food, Fuel and Urbanization in the Phillippines," paper presented at the Working Group Meeting on Food, Fuei and Urbanization in Asia, Nihon University, Tokyo, May 1984.

30. N.C. Jamir, "The Short Happy Life of Matalahib," paper presented at the Urban Agriculture Seminar, International Development Research Centre Singapore July 1983


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