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The Urban Question

Urbanisation, Urban Agriculture, Cities, Inequality


In the earlier editions of our printed book, this page was titled “Urban agriculture”. However, urbanisation is an important issue all on its own, and urban agriculture takes place within that context.

“Of course the country needs a rural strategy, but the future of South Africa is urban and the relationship between effective urbanisation and economic growth is very strong”, Ann Bernstein, CEO of the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), has said. Cities are the drivers of economic growth.

Issues around urbanisation include the disproportionate price the poor pay in commuting time and transport costs; safety; infrastructure and sanitation; accommodation; health services; and food security.

Urban agriculture won’t fix all that goes wrong in cities, yet it does have a part to play. It provides food security, entrepreneurial activity, “social capital” and protection for women (Olivier, 2017).

Find the publications and reports at, website of the South African Cities Network (SACN).

Urban agriculture

Urban agriculture can be defined shortly as the growing of plants and the raising of animals within and around cities.

The most striking feature of urban agriculture, which distinguishes it from rural agriculture, is that it is integrated into the urban economic and ecological system. Such linkages include the use of urban residents as labourers, use of typical urban resources (like organic waste as compost and urban wastewater for irrigation), direct links with urban consumers, direct impacts on urban ecology (positive and negative), being part of the urban food system, competing for land with other urban functions, being influenced by urban policies and plans, etc.

  • Urban agriculture may take place in locations inside the cities (intra-urban) or in the peri-urban areas. The activities may take place on the homestead (on-plot) or on land away from the residence (off-plot), on private land (owned, leased) or on public land (parks, conservation areas, along roads, streams and railways), or semi-public land (schoolyards, grounds of schools and hospitals).
  • Urban agriculture includes food products, from different types of crops (grains, root crops, vegetables, mushrooms, fruits) and animals (poultry, rabbits, goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, guinea pigs, fish, etc.) as well as non-food products (like aromatic and medicinal herbs, ornamental plants, tree products, etc.). or combinations of these. Often the more perishable and relatively high-valued vegetables and animal products and by-products are favoured.
  • In most cities in developing countries, an important part of urban agricultural production is for self-consumption, with surpluses being traded. However, the importance of the market-oriented urban agriculture, both in volume and economic value, should not be underestimated (as will be shown later). Products are sold at the farm gate, by cart in the same or other neighbourhoods, in local shops, on local (farmers) markets or to intermediaries and supermarkets. Mainly fresh products are sold, but part of it is processed for own use, cooked and sold on the streets, or processed and packaged for sale to one of the outlets mentioned above.

Urban agriculture is an integral part of the urban system.

Source: adapted from notes on the RUAF Foundation website, 

International business environment

SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) 11 is Sustainable cities and communities. Find the latest The Sustainable Development Goals Report which measures progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Some role players

National strategy and government contact

National Planning Commission (NPC)  About 30-million South Africans live in urban areas, but by 2030, an additional 11-million would move to cities – with the urban rate increasing to 70% of all South Africans. Where these people would be housed? Where they would work? What water they would use and what kind of transport they would use (among other things)? The NPC, responsible for developing a long term vision and strategic plan for South Africa, looked at these issues and produced the National Development Plan (NDP).

Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) Cabinet adopted the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF) in 2016, which sought to foster a shared understanding across government and society about how best to manage urbanisation and achieve the goals of economic development, job creation and improved living conditions for South Africans. See

Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) Find Guidelines for Urban and peri-urban animal agriculture, at Contact details all directorates are available on the “old website” option.


Role players

Find the links to the cities at – Buffalo City, Cape Town, Cape Town, Ekurhuleni, Ethekwini, Johannesburg, Mangaung, Msunduzi, Nelson Mandela Metropole and Tshwane.

Websites and publications

Visit the websites listed earlier on this page.

Urban farming – some articles

General urbanisation – some articles

International – urban agriculture

International – general urbanisation

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