Agriculture in post-oil cities

Christine AUBRY, 2013

Collection Passerelle

This sheet sets out the challenges of urban agriculture - for industrialized societies as well as for countries of the South - in terms of sustainable development, through the production of short circuits.

The arrival of peak oil remains surrounded by controversies, but it is certain that the post-oil period will concern mainly urban populations. A recent article (Pinson, 2012) presents the different scenarios, for our French metropolises, developed by the prospective “  Territories 2040  ” of the DATAR (Interministerial Delegation for Regional Planning and Regional Attractiveness) ( note) 1  : the mercapole would amplify the neoliberal globalization of the main cities by concentrating tertiary activities there and allowing social inequalities to grow. Through a reaction from political regulation, the archipolis would reconstitute diversified productive systems in the city, in particular industrial and agricultural, in order to promote local production which limits transport costs. Finally, the antipole, a chosen or forced antithesis of the globalization process, would try to invent, in spaces other than those of historic museum cities, a productive autonomy based on the sobriety of consumption, especially energy, in urban areas. Two of these three scenarios confer an important, even major, role to “  urban agriculture (note) 2  ” in and near the city for its supply as well as other functions such as employment, waste recycling etc. In fact, we have been able to demonstrate that agriculture, the primary victim of urban expansion, has already begun, on a global scale, to reclaim the peripheral and intra-urban environment (Aubry and Pourias, 2013). . We will deal here with this growing phenomenon in the countries of the South and its renewed or emerging forms in the industrialized world, with the multiple questions raised by these processes, in particular in terms of landscape.

In the south, an after-oil already there and an urban agriculture

For at least three decades that the cities of so-called « developing » countries have swelled, urban agriculture has been a vital necessity for many of them. The poor condition of road infrastructure and the prohibitive cost of oil penalize supplies  : we thus see the development, in counterpoint to urbanization, of various forms of agriculture which can produce between 60 and 100% of the fresh products consumed in the city. (Adam – Bradford et al, 2009  ; Dubbeling et al, 2010) and also contribute to its cereal supply (more than 15% of rice for Antananarivo, Dabat et al, 2006). The urban population engaged in full or part-time agriculture was estimated at 800 million at the end of the 20th century. (Smit et al, 1996) and continues to grow. Urban agriculture transforms the landscapes around the city when it installs market gardening in old rangelands (N’Diénor et al., 2011) as when it gains vacant or unbuildable spaces in the city. It can thus enhance, through productions that are greedy in nutrients (such as watercress in Antananarivo, Dabat et al 2010), the urban effluents that the city does not have the means to evacuate, and develops the self-production of the poorest families. . This return to agriculture now turns the “  slums  ” of Nairobi, in the Kibera district, up onto the roofs of Cairo or Dakar and infiltrates all possible interstices - the courtyards of houses, the roofs. -, thanks to DIY but effective cultivation devices  : agrisacs, tire towers, cultivation tables etc. Sometimes supported at the outset, in the name of the fight against malnutrition in the poorest families, by international organizations and state or decentralized cooperation, these self-production phenomena have become here and there a source of income  : several Groups of Economic interests, held by women, were created in Dakar to sell vegetables grown in domestic spaces (Ba, 2007  ; Ba et al, in press). In Madagascar, the AULNA (Urban Agriculture Low Space no Space in Antananarivo) program has been set up since 2011 in twelve disadvantaged neighborhoods with the financial support of the Ile-de-France Region and a very strong involvement of the city (Ramanidonana, personal communication). About a hundred households are beneficiaries of these measures, a thousand will be affected in 2012–2013. In addition, the former “  Department of green spaces  ” of the city is now called “  Department of green spaces and urban agriculture (DEVEAU)  ”  : in line with the requests of many beneficiaries, among which several women’s associations, DEVEAU considers aid for food production and greening as complementary. Even the poorest can thus claim beauty in the city, and especially when the beautiful is eaten  !

Emerging forms of urban agriculture in industrialized countries

The return of urban agriculture is in full swing in rich countries, sometimes drawing inspiration from experiences in the south. Despite urban expansion and the globalization of markets which have long undermined it, professional market gardening close to cities is coming back to life thanks to forms of short supply chains that are constantly diversifying. In the city of Almere in the Netherlands, the reconquest of the urban market through nearby agriculture is even the subject of a dedicated urban development plan (Jansma and Visser, 2011). Let us take a closer look at the growing demand for community gardens and how associative or commercial forms of urban agriculture come to invest the built space itself. Less than five shared gardens in Paris, nearly 80 ten years later, a hundred in Montreal, several hundred in New York  : the demand from urban dwellers for spaces to cultivate, located mainly in or near cities and there included in the dense city, is growing strongly. Most often initiated with the aim of restoring social ties (Wegmüller and Duchemin, 2010), they also participate, and more and more, in household nutrition, as the studies of agronomists and nutritionists demonstrate today. (Alaimo et al, 2008  ; Litt et al, 2011  ; Pourias et al, 2013). Shared gardens are most often born from private initiatives more or less quickly taken over by public authorities (Baudry, 2010  ; Scapino, 2012) and claim the creation of original landscapes in cities or on their outskirts, combining personal creativity gardeners and compliance with the regulations that site managers strive to maintain (Pourias et al, 2013). In North American cities devastated by the automobile crisis or the subprime crisis, agricultural recaptures are increasing in vacant urban spaces and sometimes also by demolishing buildings. Born of a food emergency in the food desert where many poor Americans are deprived of fresh produce, these new forms of agriculture are thus reinventing the urban landscape. Because floor space is scarce, urban soils are often polluted or because some intend to offer urbanites ultra-short commercial circuits, we are now seeing agricultural forms flourish on buildings (roofs and walls in particular). in European and North American cities. The associative or commercial objectives of these installations are based on very varied technical systems, in full expansion, and give rise to very diverse forms of landscape. With its various devices (in strips, in bins, etc.) and its exogenous substrates or else which recycle local organic products, as in the experiment on the roof of AgroParisTech, (Aubry, Bel et al, 2013), culture outdoor rooftop transforms the cityscape. Through hydroponic or associated technical systems, greenhouse cultivation, for its part, aims for higher productivity and a spread of production over the whole year. Already well established on the other side of the Atlantic, it is beginning to enter France and is part of various forms of distribution (baskets to individuals, markets, supermarkets, etc.). The integration into the landscape of such cultivation devices in an urban environment requires specific consideration, because the installation of greenhouses on the roofs can be appreciated by residents in different ways. Both of these two forms of urban agriculture are explicitly located in the post-oil era that they help to prepare through their innovative dimension in terms of the practical involvement of certain categories of urban dwellers in their food supply, as by avoiding the costs of transporting these products. In the wake of the “  Incredible edible  ” movement as in Todmorden in the United Kingdom (Figure 2f), we also see the emergence of a form of “street  ” gardening in which food productions for collective use come to invest not only green spaces or dedicated built spaces, but the totality of urban space.

Food vegetalization of public spaces in Todmorden (United Kingdom)

If, tomorrow, the need for a close supply becomes unavoidable, the Datar scenarios will then be broken down into as many technical landscapes  : in the case of the archipolis, it is likely that a strong organization of the Peri-urban agriculture will aim to supply cities and that at the same time, urban buildings will be largely conquered by technologically advanced forms of production (greenhouses on roofs, vertical farms), requiring heavy investments. In the antipole scenario, if financial investments are limiting, we will see a combination of more “  soft  ” establishments in the building, various forms of self-production in town and around town, and reactivation. local professional agriculture. Anticipating the post-oil period, urban agriculture is developing in the north as well as in the south. This agriculture questions the various forms of urban pollution (soil, air, water) to which it could be exposed and is currently giving rise to a great deal of research. It also fuels fears about the possible competition between professional peri-urban agriculture and forms of self-production and distribution emerging in dense city centers. Due to the largely dominant forms of supply by globalized large-scale distribution, it is rather complementarities that we see taking place in our countries, for example in Montreal (Canada) where agreements have been made between intra and peri-urban in order to satisfy a clientele looking for local products. These examples are starting to inspire some producers in Ile-de-France  : using the greed to cultivate urbanites as a godsend, they offer them training and technical support. In terms of landscapes, the development and diversification of forms of urban agriculture contribute to the «   productive » greening of the city and its periphery. These new food landscapes strongly question the role of the professional landscaper trained to be a prescriber, when he proposes landscaping, and who will have to become an advisor and sometimes a mediator. A growing number of gardeners, like Todmorden, want to vegetate the bitumen in Paris or Lyon  ; others profoundly modify the urban landscape by installing productive agricultural buildings on the buildings. Between these producers of new urban landscapes and city managers, technical services and elected officials, but also the inhabitants and neighbors of these gardens and other urban farms, who can experience these transformations in their living spaces in a variety of ways, there is no doubt that ‘a new, inventive and arduous task will become essential if post-oil urban agricultural landscapes are to be able to fully fulfill all their functions.

(note) 1 (

(note) 2 Following Moustier and M’Baye (1999), we call Urban Agriculture agriculture “  located in the city or on the outskirts of the city, whose products - we would now add services - are at least partly directed towards the city and whose productive resources are the object of agricultural or urban use, opening the door to competition (land, water, etc.) but also complementarities (labor. .).   ”


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