Interview with the Editors of "Cities and Agriculture"

Henk de Zeeuw and Pay Drechsel, editors of Cities and Agriculture, discuss their newly published book.

Cities and AgricultureWhy did this book need to be written?

Henk: With increasing urbanization, development experts are looking these days at urban food security as much as formerly at rural food security. This goes along with a rural-urban poverty shift and the need to develop resilient cities. Urban policy makers, planners and practitioners are thus seeking for well documented information and experiences from other countries and cities they can base their own decisions and work on. This book provides such information. The same applies to students looking for comprehensive reference materials on rural-urban food systems and urban agriculture.

How is it different from other books in the field?

Pay: Most publications on urban food and agriculture focus on one or a few locations and /or on one or a few dimensions of the subject (e.g. community food planning or urban gardening technologies or access to healthy food) while this book provides 15 “state of the art” overviews written by thematic experts based on research, planning and development experiences gained over the last two decades in the global North and South, which has rarely been tried before.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?


  • Applying a city-regional approach in urban food planning and strengthening urban rural linkages within the city region is needed to enhancing urban resilience. This requires multi-stakeholder approaches that cut across administrative and sector boundaries.
  • Agriculture within cities complements the overall urban food supply in view of urban food security, and can be of crucial importance for specific commodities or categories of the urban population, or also in times of crisis, but is far from being a panacea for all urban food needs.
  • Agriculture and forestry in the city region answer to a variety of urban development goals beyond provision of green infrastructure and food, such as social inclusion, adaptation to climate change, poverty alleviation, urban water management, and opportunities for the productive reuse of urban wastes, amongst many others contributions.

What are some of the misconceptions or controversies the book is addressing?

Pay: Urban decision makers and planners for many years overlooked the importance of agriculture for the development of sustainable and resilient cities. However, a recent study[1] found 456 million hectares—an area about the size of the European Union— under cultivation in and around the world’s cities, challenging the rural orientation of most agriculture research and development work. So the awareness of the role of inter- and intra-urban agriculture is increasing although there are large differences between regions in the perception and in part also acceptance and support ofurban farming. Emphasis varies from seeing it as a hindrance to modernization to a valuable support of food security for vulnerable households, both views common in the South, to the provision of recreational and ecological services, short food chains and a reduced urban footprint in the North.

Even more contrasting are perception in view of health and nutrition, as urban production sites can bear risks but also offer large benefits.

What are some current trends in the field?

Henk: Some trends we observed in the last few years are:

  • Food and agriculture shifted from a peripheral to a serious position in urban policy development and planning, as also reflected in international conferences
  • There is a shift in the literature from a focus on the role of urban agriculture per se (mainly in the South) to urban food systems (mainly in the North so far), and from household level to city level and more recently to the city-regional level.
  • There is also an increasing involvement of architects (green roofing, vertical farming, etc.).

What experience led you to write/edit this book?

Henk: RUAF Foundation and IWMI have been working in the field of urban agriculture since the late nineties with IWMI, which is part of the largest global agricultural research partnership (, focusing mostly on informal irrigation and safe resource recovery and RUAF Foundation on capacity development and integration of urban agriculture in sustainable city planning. RUAF published several key publications related to this subject, including Growing Cities, Growing Food (2000), Cities Farming for the Future (2006), and Women feeding Cities (2009). We found it timely to publish a “state of the art” overview that reflects the developments in the larger field since 2006.

Pay: Such an analysis was also needed as we are discussing a new research program within the CGIAR on City Region Food Systems and rural-urban linkages in general.

Where can the reader find supplemental materials in support of this book?

Henk: The website of the RUAF Foundation ( contains lots of supplementary materials including distance learning materials, examples of local policies on urban agriculture and local food policies, all thematic issues of the ‘Urban Agriculture Magazine’ that have been published in the last 15 years, a literature database with research and development reports, and links to most relevant other information sources and websites, including those of our partners.


  • Cities and Agriculture

    Developing Resilient Urban Food Systems, 1st Edition

    Edited by Henk de Zeeuw, Pay Drechsel

    As people increasingly migrate to urban settings and more than half of the world's population now lives in cities, it is vital to plan and provide for sustainable and resilient food systems which reflect this challenge. This volume presents experience and evidence-based "state of the art" chapters…

    Paperback – 2015-09-28
    Earthscan Food and Agriculture