Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 265–279 | Cite as

Re-conceptualizing urban agriculture: an exploration of farming along the banks of the Yamuna River in Delhi, India

  • Jessica CookEmail author
  • Kate Oviatt
  • Deborah S. Main
  • Harpreet Kaur
  • John Brett


The proportion of the world’s population living in urban areas is increasing rapidly, with the vast majority of this growth in developing countries. As growing populations in urban areas demand greater food supplies, coupled with a rise in rural to urban migration and the need to create livelihood options, there has been an increase in urban agriculture worldwide. Urban agriculture is commonly discussed as a sustainable solution for dealing with gaps in the local food system, and proponents often highlight the many social, environmental, and economic benefits. We argue that the sustainability of urban agriculture should not be assumed. There is a need for research to take a bottom-up approach, exploring the influence that city-level conditions have on livelihood decisions by farmers and how this shapes the practice of urban agriculture. This paper uses a case study for an in-depth look at urban agriculture in Delhi, India to understand from the farmers’ perspective how urban agriculture is practiced and what factors influence farmers’ livelihood decisions. Using a team-based, multi-method Rapid Assessment Process, data were collected through preliminary key informant interviews, field observations, semi-structured interviews with urban farmers, and geographic information systems mapping. This research provides an in-depth description of market-oriented urban agriculture in a developing country, explores how farmers’ livelihood decisions are embedded in the urban context, and discusses the potential of urban agriculture as a sustainable city-system.


Urban agriculture Developing countries Local food system Rapid Assessment Process (RAP) 



Biochemical oxygen demand


Delhi Development Authority


Geographic information system


Rapid assessment process



This research was supported by grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation.


  1. Agrawal, M., B. Singh, M. Rajput, F. Marshall, and J.N.B. Bell. 2003. Effect of air pollution on peri-urban agriculture: A case study. Environmental Pollution 126(3): 323–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Agarwal, S., A. Srivastava, B. Choudhary, and S. Kaushik. 2007. State of urban health in Delhi. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.Google Scholar
  3. Beddington, J., M. Asaduzzaman, M. Clark, A. Fernández, M. Guillou, M. Jahn, L. Erda, T. Mamo, N. Van Bo, C.A. Nobre, R. Scholes, R. Sharma, and J. Wakungu. 2012. Achieving food security in the face of climate change: Final report from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change. Copenhagen, Denmark: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).Google Scholar
  4. Beebe, J. 2001. Rapid assessment process: An introduction. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.Google Scholar
  5. Brinkhoff, T. 2011. Major agglomerations of the world. Accessed 7 April 2013.
  6. Bryld, E. 2003. Potentials, problems, and policy implications for urban agriculture in developing countries. Agriculture and Human Values 20(1): 79–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Central Bureau of Health Intelligence. 2010. National Health Profile (NHP) of India2010. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.Google Scholar
  8. Central Pollution Control Board. 2006. Water quality status of Yamuna River (19992005). Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.Google Scholar
  9. Cohen, B. 2006. Urbanization in developing countries: Current trends, future projections, and key challenges for sustainability. Technology in Society 28: 63–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cole, D., D. Grace, and M. Diamond. 2008. Researchers’ approaches to evidence on urban agriculture and human health. In Healthy city harvests: Generating evidence to guide policy on urban agriculture, ed. D. Cole, D. Lee-Smith, and G. Nasinyama, 31–47. Lima: CIP/Urban Harvest and Makerere University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Darnhofer, I., J. Fairweather, and H. Moller. 2010. Assessing a farm’s sustainability: Insights from resilience thinking. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 8(3): 186–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. De Bon, H., L. Parrot, and P. Moustier. 2010. Sustainable urban agriculture in developing countries. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 30(1): 21–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. de Zeeuw, H., R. Van Veenhuizen, and M. Dubbeling. 2011. The role of urban agriculture in building resilient cities in developing countries. Journal of Agricultural Science 149: 153–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Delhi Development Authority. 2012. Master plan New Delhi 2021. Accessed 19 Dec 2013.
  15. Drechsel, P., and S. Dongus. 2010. Dynamics and sustainability of urban agriculture: Examples from sub-Saharan Africa. Sustainability Science 5(1): 69–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. EDINA. 2014. ShareGeo Open. University of Edinburough. Accessed 20 Jan 2014.
  17. Esri. 2014. Basemaps. Accessed 20 Jan 2014.
  18. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). 2014. FAOSTAT database. Accessed 5 May 2014.
  19. Gupta, R., and S.G. Gangopadhyay. 2013. Urban food security through urban agriculture and waste recycling: Some lessons for India. VIKALPA 38(3): 13–22.Google Scholar
  20. Kaufman, J., and M. Bailkey. 2000. Farming inside cities: Entrepreneurial urban agriculture in the United States. Working Paper. Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.Google Scholar
  21. Lee-Smith, D. 2008. Urban food production in Kampala: Community perceptions of health impacts and how to manage them. In Healthy city harvests: Generating evidence to guide policy on urban agriculture, ed. D. Cole, D. Lee-Smith, and G. Nasinyama, 17–29. Lima: CIP/Urban Harvest and Makerere University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Lesher Jr, C.W. 2006. Urban agriculture: A literature review. Beltsville, MD: United States Department of Agriculture.Google Scholar
  23. Mougeot, L.J.A. 2000. Urban agriculture: Definiton, presence, potentials and risks. In Growing cities, growing food: Urban agriculture on the policy agenda, ed. N. Bakker, M. Dubbeling, S. Gündel, U. Sabel-Koschella, and H. de Zeeuw, 1–42. Feldafing: German Foundation for International Development.Google Scholar
  24. Mougeot, L.J.A. 2005. Agropolis: The social, political and environmental dimensions of urban agriculture. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  25. Moustier, P., and G. Danso. 2006. Local economic development and marketing of urban produced food. In Profitability and sustainability of urban and peri-urban agriculture, ed. R. Van Veenhuizen. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).Google Scholar
  26. Parsai, G. 2003. Ganga is the most polluted river. The Hindu. India. 3 Nov 2003.Google Scholar
  27. Pearson, L.J., L. Pearson, and C.J. Pearson. 2010. Sustainable urban agriculture: Stocktake and opportunities. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 8(1–2): 7–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Prashar, S., R. Shaw, and Y. Takeuchi. 2012. Assessing the resilience of Delhi to climate-related disasters: A comprehensive approach. Natural Hazards 64(2): 1609–1624.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ramaswami, A., C. Weible, D. Main, T. Heikkila, S. Siddiki, A. Duvall, A. Pattison, and M. Bernard. 2012. A social-ecological-infrastructural systems framework for interdisciplinary study of sustainable city systems. Journal of Industrial Ecology 16(6): 801–813.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. RUAF (Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food Security). 2011. The RUAF Foundation. Accessed 20 March 2011.
  31. Sawyer, C.N., P.L. McCarty, and G.F. Parkin. 2003. Chemistry for environmental engineering and science, 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  32. Schensul, J., and M. LeCompte. 1999. Designing and conducting ethnographic research. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.Google Scholar
  33. Simatele, D., T. Binns, and M. Simatele. 2012. Sustaining livelihoods under a changing climate: The case of urban agriculture in Lusaka, Zambia. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 55(9): 1175–1191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Singleton Jr, R.A., and B.C. Straits. 2005. Approaches to social research, 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Srinivasan, J.T., and V.R. Reddy. 2009. Impact of irrigation water quality on human health: A case study in India. Ecological Economics 68(11): 2800–2807.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Thornton, A. 2008. Beyond the metropolis: Small town case studies of urban and peri-urban agriculture in South Africa. Urban Forum 19(3): 243–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. UN (United Nations). 2012. Sustainable urbanization: Thematic think piece. UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda.Google Scholar
  38. UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund). 2007. State of the world population. Accessed 7 April 2013.
  39. UNICEF. 2009. Population growth and rapid urbanization: Food insecurity on the rise in urban settings. Joint Meeting of the Executive Boards of UNDP/UNFPA, UNICEF and WFP, 23 and 26 January 2009, New York.Google Scholar
  40. Van Veenhuizen, R. (ed.). 2006. Cities farming for the future: Urban agriculture for green and productive cities. Leusden: RUAF Foundation, IDRC and IIRR Publishing.Google Scholar
  41. Van Veenhuizen, R. 2007. Profitability and sustainability of urban and peri-urban agriculture. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).Google Scholar
  42. Vanitha, S.M., S.N.S. Chaurasia, P.M. Singh, and P.S. Naik. 2013. Vegetable statistics. Technical Bulletin 51. Varanasi: Indian Institute of Vegetable Research.Google Scholar
  43. World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our common future. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Zezza, A., and L. Tasciotti. 2008. Does urban agriculture enhance dietary diversity? Empirical evidence from a sample of developing countries. Paper presented at the 12th EAAE Congress, People, Food and Environments: Global Trends and European Strategies, Ghent, Belgium, 26–29 August 2008.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jessica Cook
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kate Oviatt
    • 1
  • Deborah S. Main
    • 1
  • Harpreet Kaur
    • 2
  • John Brett
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Health and Behavioral SciencesUniversity of Colorado DenverDenverUSA
  2. 2.School of Environmental SciencesJawaharlal Nehru UniversityDelhiIndia
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Colorado DenverDenverUSA

Personalised recommendations