Extract from Peri-urban agriculture in India by D S Bhupal, Dr. Fiona Marshall, Dolf te Lintelo

These notes form a part of sanjeev_shankar's research, which is summarised in his research report

  • Rural agriculture remains the focus in India.
  • In India, government policies, scientific research communities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have shown little recognition of urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA).
  • Urban food security is becoming a matter of increasing concern and urban poverty is reflected in the nutritional status of people.
  • The main urban agricultural area of Delhi is the floodplain along the Yamuna River. There is wide extent of agricultural land use in and around the city.
  • Urbanization and industrialization affect agriculture in the peri-urban areas, as population pressure from the city results in changes in land use , from agricultural to urban land use, be it for housing, commercial, industrial or other purposes. Where the land use remains agricultural, cultivation practices change. Access to urban ready markets for agricultural produce and for seasonal labour open up the possibility of cultivating on a commercial basis high-value, highly perishable crops such as leafy vegetables, replacing storable crops such as cereals and pulses. Industries and the resultant trade and commerce, offers new opportunities for cultivators and agricultural labourers, resulting in changing occupational structures.
  • Agriculture is a livelihood strategy for the poor in urban areas: access to land and water is the prime condition for urban peri agriculture
  • Wheat, rice and spiked millet are cultivated on most of the agricultural land. Vegetable cultivation is also popular.
  • The number of days of involvement in agriculture as reported by labourers surveyed ranged from 100 to 270 days per year. On average, agricultural labourers were involved for 48 days in summer (May-June), 55 days in kharif/wet (July-October) and 52 days in rabi/winter season (October-April).
  • Agriculture has an important function in providing employment for poor people in the fringe areas of Delhi. The agricultural activities have a fairly rural character, with dominant roles for cereal (such as wheat, millet and paddy) and fodder crops. Typical cropping systems are millet-wheat; millet-mustard; and paddy-wheat in the kharif and rabi seasons. These cropping systems depend on widely available irrigation facilities - in 1995-96, 89 percent of the land of Delhi was irrigated (Government of NCT of Delhi, 1997). However, farmers opined that frequent interruptions in the electricity supply limited their access to irrigation, particularly for the poorer ones who cannot afford diesel generator sets for pumping.
  • The trend in cropping patterns around Delhi is for traditional multicropping systems of local cereal crops, pulses and oilseeds being replaced by high-input high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice after the green revolution. One striking feature of the agricultural systems is that farmers are producing a large amount of green fodder crops such as berseem. These crops demand relatively little attention, allowing farmers to focus their efforts on cultivating other produce. Generally, fodder is grown for cattle feed, and a significant share is used for buffaloes and cows in dairy production.

Dairying: Within Delhi, dairy farming takes place on public land, whether built up or not. Buffaloes can be found in densely populated areas, especially in the so-called urban villages. In some of the Yamuna riverfront slums, dairy farms with 40-50 buffaloes can be found. Consequently, dairy production is often more visible than vegetable cultivation or other land-intensive agricultural activities in urban Delhi. Nevertheless, milk and its by-products are characteristically produced in peri-urban and rural areas, while the products are mainly consumed in urban areas. A spectacular early morning sight is offered by the daily “milk trains” entering the city with full milk churns attached to both sides of the train.

Vegetables: Vegetables grown in and around Delhi include cauliflower, cabbage, carrot, spinach, mustard (leaves), okra and tomato. In addition, a range of culinary herbs such as fenugreek and coriander are cultivated. The increase in the share of land used for vegetables is partly explained by proximity to the markets. Vegetables, flowers and dairy products are typically high-value and highly perishable products, which need to be produced where there is easy access to export, domestic and local markets. The move towards high-profit crops is a result of economies of scale: farmers aim to maximize their income from relatively small landholdings using their other plentiful resource: labour. Hence, whole families are engaged in intensive but small-scale horticulture. The relatively short growing periods combined with high inputs of irrigation water, pesticides, fertilizers and labour mean that it is possible to produce 3-4 vegetable crop harvests per year from a given plot of land. Nevertheless, farmers are generally keen to spread their risk through diversification of crops, and will not opt solely for high-profit vegetable crop cultivation, as vegetables are vulnerable to pest attacks, extreme weather and uncertain access to irrigation.

Contribution to the city's food economy: Agriculture around cities may improve the access of poor urban consumers to cheap and healthy food. This assessment of the extent to which food commodities produced in UPA areas contribute to fulfilling annual or seasonal demand in Delhi shows that there are large variations among different crops. For instance, the bulk of city dwellers' staple food requirements cannot be met by the UPA areas. In contrast, a majority (in terms of both volume and number) of selected vegetables in the major wholesale markets were found to originate from the UPA areas. The availability of such locally produced fruits and vegetables can contribute to solving highly prevalent urban nutritional problems stemming from insufficient intake of vitamins and minerals.

Assessing constraints to production: UPA is subject to a wide range of constraints to production. Some, for example pest attacks, adverse weather conditions and timely access to inputs such as seeds and pesticides, are common to all agricultural areas, but there are also issues that are specific to this environment. An important emerging constraint is the effect of environmental pollution of the air, soil and water, which potentially compromises the quantity, quality and safety of food produced in UPA areas. In view of the general lack of awareness about the significance of UPA, creating effective linkages with research and policy communities is of prime importance. Firstly, this requires the identification of key stakeholders from government, private sector and non-governmental organizations. Secondly, in-depth analysis of the existing legal-administrative, policy and commercial environment of incentives and disincentives for UPA farmers needs to be done. The policy environment in general is marked by a common dichotomy between urban and rural development administration and policies, leaving little scope for acknowledgement of the specific characteristics and needs of agriculture in the urban and peri-urban areas. Agricultural policies are primarily designed for rural areas, and are therefore not always compatible with the needs of UPA farmers. To bridge this gap, opportunities for linking up with activities and programmes need to be identified.

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  • Last modified: 2008-05-17 10:27
  • by sanjeev