Biblio (117) Four case studies on urban agriculture

Biblio 117

A report by the Urban Development and Resilience Unit of the World Bank, studying cases in Bangalore (India), Accra (Ghana), Nairobi (Kenya) and Lima (Peru). It seems that urban agriculture helps the first wave of migrants to cities, now old, to survive; it is also used by many as a complement to other sources of revenue, including informal jobs. Those urban farmers are usually the owners of the land they cultivate, and the reports sees reason to be optimistic about the development of this kind of agriculture.

Starters of urban change (4) Wats, fridges and cows

An old urban dairy farm, image taken from the blog “le pieton de Paris” (, with a good article on the issue

The arrival of the fridge as a common home appliance implied, among other consequences, the evolution of the place of the animals in the city. My grandma still had chicken under the kitchen sink in their third ground apartment, as  during the Spanish post-civil war era this was still common (most urban dwellers came from rural areas, as her), and she had no fridge at home and retail was not up to the task of massive meat distribution. To be precise, at a given moment they bought a fridge, but power lines were not reliable enough…

Which leads us to a previous matter: the spread of electric energy. The generalization of electricity in the cities is a matter of little more than the last century, with a gradual growth: first light, and then an incremental growth of the rest of appliances. The urban family revenue had to grow to support buying new appliances, but power generation and transportation networks had to grow in terms of both capacity and reliability.

This expansion of electricity is central to the link between animals and humans in cities in many ways, and in Europe there is a clear example in the production and distribution of dairy products. Since Pasteur it is known that milk is an ideal place for pathogens to thrive, especially when time between milking and drinking grows and temperature is uncontrolled, so up to the generalization of railroads the strategy was to bring the cow as close as possible to the citizen. Cities as Madrid or Paris had at the end of the XIXth century a large amount of “vacheries”, small places in which cows were raised to produce milk for nearby populations, sometimes in ground floors or inner courts in what now are posh areas. Some examples as Louis Bonnier’s time architectures in ceramic tiles show the convergence with the expansion of urban hygiene.

The improvements as well in transportation as in refrigeration both on the offer side (industrial fridges) and the demand side (a fridge for every family) reduced with time the need for cows near families. Along with the end of urban horses due the car, this is a relevant evolution. It is worth thinking how in today’s polluted cities a quality milk production could happen, but anyway this urban story also had implications for rural areas: while the milk production in former times could only be exported as cheese, with power and fridges an industrialization of the milk industry ensued.

It would be interesting to see, in the recent context of avian influenzas, how the way in which humans and fowl evolves in Asian cities with fast GDP, infrastructure and population growth, as a century ago in North America or Europe.

Biblio (116) The evolution of the parisian foodshed from the XIXth to the XXIst century


This is the PHD dissertation of Petros Chatzimpiros (engineer and environmental expert, currently university teacher in Geography), presented in june 2011 before the Paris Est university. The author focuses his research on meat and dairy.

The analytic method is a study of the spatial footprint, water use and nitrogen flows. According to the conclusions, since the beginning of the XIXth century the production surface by resident has been divided by six for similar consumptions of meat and milk, as a result of improvements in production, at the cost of twice the water consumption and a three times more intense use of the soil.

As Pikety has used long series for revenue, here long environmental and economic data series are used.

Biblio (73) Food and territory in Switzerland

Some months ago, this site had a series or posts on food sovereignty and several views on that issue. It was a success (when related to the general statistics of the site, which I must admit are humble…), and in a recent conversation with a new friend (Marta), I just saw that this is still an interesting issue for many people, and not just farmers.

To a certain degree, many countries have land laws that recognize that food is a vital social need that justifies restrictions to the use that can be allowed on highly productive agricultural areas. This seems at first glance a self- evident truth, but our fridges and powerful food logistic chains sometimes make us forget; agriculture has become one among many uses for land, and it is subject to market forces that try to maximize profit on a yearly basis (or simply to survive). It is often a legal paragraph, that has to be dealt with at the local planning scale, so it is far from being applied with a uniform, strategic approach over large territories, and its control is far from satisfying.

The Swiss, with their tradition of neutrality and the presence of powerful neighbours whose friendship has not always been guaranteed, have taken seriously the idea of food sovereignty for a number of reasons that include crisis; this does not mean that the country is independent in terms of food production, but rather that they care about agricultural land conservation. So they have defined a national plan to that end with a preventive approach: the land included is not bound to a compulsory cultivation scheme, but has restrictions on transformation. An interesting read, that can be complemented with a review of the first ten years of the plan and its effects when applied at the Canton level (state, remember Switzerland is a Confederation).

Urban planning and food (13) Santa Caterina

Santa Caterina1The Santa Caterina market (Barcelona) is a good place to give yourself a treat, be it food-related or architectural. According to a logic close to that of Madrid’s gourmet markets, close to the Cathedral, the Miralles- Tagliabue architecture is a must.

Santa Caterina-4 Santa Caterina-3 Santa Caterina-2

Urban planning and food (12) Markets

A night view of the Mercado de San Miguel

A night view of the Mercado de San Miguel

The city of Madrid has historically had a set of public markets into buildings; up to the 1980s these markets asumed a large part of the fresh food supply to the population, but the increase in car ownership rates and the rise of peripheral big box supermarkets stopped the creation of new markets and set for a decline in their use. But some five years ago the city decided that it would create a new market for the first time in decades as to ensure some variety in the new Ensanche de Vallecas (a vast new growth area in which there were no street level stores), and that it would revive markets through a double strategy: introducing in some of them mid-sized supermarkets that could improve the appeal to consumers and, for the San Miguel and San Antón markets, a refurbishment as gourmet temples (which now have to cope with a crisis that can reduce the demand for such products), in which the concern for local food was not the central issue (altough local products are promoted).

san miguel-3

The Mercado de San Miguel is a building from 1916 with an iron structure, near the Plaza Mayor, which is developed on a single level. There is no large central space, as stalls are arranged along corridors, but the glass façades give a good view from the street of all things yummy to a steady flow of tourists visiting central Madrid.

Mercado de San Miguel

Mercado de San Miguel

The Mercado de San Anton was rebuilt, adopting a quite different approach: it is a multilevel market, with a floor allocated to food sales and the next ones used by theme restaurants around a central multilevel open space. If you visit, some of the most scenic are on the upper terrace, with views (albeit limited) over the Chueca roofs.

The gate to San Antón

The gate to San Antón

San Antón 2

The food sales floor, closed as the photo was taken out of the sales times

The food sales floor, closed as the photo was taken out of the sales times

The restaurants level at San Antón

The restaurants level at San Antón

Urban planning and food (11) Street markets


The open markets system in Paris is based on temporary ocupations of the public rights of way, mainly for food sales. The aim is to provide citizens with a choice of quality fresh food. There are 82 food markets in the city, with three bio markets. The opening times vary, and there are usually several markets open each day. According to studies by the  Institut d’Aménagement et Urbanisme de la Région Ile-de-France, there are more fishmongers and cheese sellers in the open air markets than in  conventional brick and mortar shops, as the products have better sales through this channel.

Markets are managed by firms that have concession contracts for six years terms, assuming the conduct of the business and renting sales positions to sellers, as well as basic services as electricity and water. They pay a right of use of public spaces to the city, as well as a quota to the municipal street cleaning service, an essential item for public hygiene and health.

Urban planning and food (10) Cows

vacas galicia0

The cow is a central animal in the traditional Galician country areas and for the identity of a region in which the rural areas are still relevant.

According to data from the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment, from January 2010 to December 2010 Galicians consumed 259,8 millions of kg of liquid milk. The official population as of January 1, 2010 was 2.797.653, so the average consumption was 92,6 kg of liquid milk by habitant and year.

The Galician Statitics Institute registrered 963.368 bovine cattle units, of which 326.596 were milk cows; their production that year was 32,64 million liters, so the yearly average was 99 liters by cow.

Milk’s density is 1,032 kg/litre

  • Each Galician would need nearly an entire cow for his yearly use (not taking into account cheese and other derivatives of milk).
  • The region imports milk, despite its traditional image of milk production hub.

It is impossible to draw precisely a foodshed as there are no  precise data on consumption traceability, but the liquid milk foodshed for the Coruña- Ferrol metropolitan area (close to half a million people) would have been the entire Galician region and a sizeable part of the Asturias region, that produced a similar amount of milk on that year.

Number of milk cows in the Galician municipalities in 2010. The two main metropolitan areas are outlined

Number of milk cows in the Galician municipalities in 2010. The two main metropolitan areas are outlined

Urban planning and food (8) Lanzarote

The island of Lanzarote is a volcanic territory in the Atlantic ocean. A large series of eruption in the XVIIIth century destroyed relevant agricultural landscapes. The islanders developed agricultural systems that allowed food production even under such harsh conditions (strong winds, arid land, nearly no water at all). Today some of these productions have earned quality labels (as the wine), but food production is not able to feed the local population and the sizeable tourist presence, so the island imports oil for its water desalting plants (there are plans to substitute it for renewable energies) and food. Geria 1geria2lanzarote1

Biblio (19) Urban planning and food- the larger foodshed

The following maps show the most recent data concerning maize production in different parts of the planet, according to FAO’s statistical website. It is interesting to see what happens where you live, for a wide array of productions… It is also interesting to read The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011, a flagship yearbook by FAO, which this year focuses on women in agriculture and the relevance of closing the gender gap for development.