Thinking Together Urbanisation and Agriculture: What do Farmers do Under Rapid Urban Growth?

The global debate on agriculture under urbanisation has often focused a priori on the replacement of agricultural uses by built-up space. It thereby often overlooks new opportunities for agriculture at the urban periphery.

Urbanisation and Agriculture: Two Stories

Kavita lives with her family in a makeshift hut at the outskirts of India’s fast-growing capital city Delhi. She explains that her family had come to this place a few years ago, when her husband was given this piece of land by the owner – who was known to some people in his home village in central India – to grow vegetables and sell them on the local market. They share the profit of the family’s work with the owner of the land. She is very much aware that this is a temporary collaboration, as the owner is keen to sell the land. He used to be a ‘big’ farmer, Kavita explains, but he has become ‘super rich’ by selling land – now, he is a politician and businessman.

Marginal farmers making a living at the outskirts of Faridabad near Delhi, India © Alexander Follmann

Joseph lives with his wife at the outskirts of Nyeri, a mid-sized, fast-growing city in central Kenya. He has recently retired from a government job. He has bought the small plot on a former macadamia plantation at the urban periphery about a decade ago. The area developed into a kind of ‘suburban’ residential area for middle-class residents. Recently, Joseph has invested his savings into two stables to fatten chicken in his backyard. He explains that he sells them to supermarkets. He has never been a farmer, but his wife knows a lot about farming and fattening chicken brings good money to improve his pension.

Peri-urban chicken farming in Nyeri, Kenya © Alexander Follmann

These two examples, while fictional, showcase the two dimensions of urbanisation and agriculture. Stories of marginal farmers – like Kavita – trying to make a livelihood, but getting dispossessed in the process of urbanisation are well-known. In contrast, Joseph’s story of investing into a small agricultural business trying to benefit from the increasing demands for more high-value food – such as animal products, fresh fruit, and vegetables – is less familiar. However, both stories can probably be told a million times.