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Adaptation option

Climate smart urban agriculture

Urban agriculture refers to cultivation, production and processing of food and non-food goods (e.g. for decoration, materials) in the urban environment. Urban agriculture also includes animal husbandry, aquaculture, beekeeping, and horticulture. Synonymous for urban agriculture, excluding animal-based production, are urban farming and urban gardening. The latter refers to non-commercial horticultural activities. Cultivation can be situated indoor and can be very technology dependent, but from a climate adaptation perspective, urban farming and gardening located in outdoor urban environment are here considered.  

Cultivation and horticultural activities can be situated in diverse places such as in balconies, roofs, private yards, allotment gardens, botanical gardens, or public spaces. Community farming and gardening can occupy any kind of empty place in cities (e.g. brownfields or abandoned block) or be established in public green spaces.  

Urban farming and gardening can have positive contributions to climate adaptation by enhancing vegetation cover in cities. The planted and cultivated vegetation increases the water infiltration capacity of the soil, which in turn leads to better adaptation in terms of improved management of storm water runoff. As a consequence of the increased water infiltration capacity the groundwater table will rise, thus improving drought resistance. By providing shade, increasing evapotranspiration and transforming sunlight into vegetal material in photosynthesis processes rather than absorbing it, plants and trees have a cooling effect on their environment. 

If unsustainably managed, urban farming and gardening can increase water consumption, use of pesticides or cultivation of non-native species that can threat local biodiversity. Therefore, farmers and gardeners should adopt climate smart and biodiversity friendly practices taking the region and local biogeographical and climatic conditions into account. City officers can also guide local actors and provide advice for environmental-friendly practices. When using more drought-tolerant plants, water needs for irrigation can be reduced. This can imply use of native crops, vegetables and taxonomic groups that are drought-tolerant or cope with multiple urban stress. When planting more saline vegetables and drought-tolerant vegetation, urban agriculture, urban farming and urban gardening will be able to deliver products also during dry periods. 

A monitoring reporting and evaluation scheme is recommended to keep track of the outcomes of the implementation of this option for climate change adaptation.

Additional Details
Reference information

Adaptation Details

IPCC categories

Social: Behavioural, Structural and physical: Ecosystem-based adaptation options

Stakeholder participation

Individual citizens and civil society play a key role in urban agriculture because they maintain and manage farming plots and allotment gardens. In addition, private sector and small-scale businesses (e.g. restaurants) can also be active in cultivating food and herbs or bee keeping in their private property. Close collaboration between citizens and city authorities is prerequisite for long-term urban agriculture. Local urban farmers usually need support (e.g. education, knowledge exchange and guidance) from the city authorities in adopting ecologically sustainable farming practices. Selecting new officially recognised areas for urban agriculture or establishing urban farming networks should enhance equal distribution of adaptation benefits at the city scale They should especially make sure that vulnerable groups (elderly, children, migrants) and residents in neighbourhoods with low socio-economic status have the possibility for local urban farming. Planning and implementation of urban farming networks should be made through deliberative participation with citizens and other key stakeholders.

Success and Limiting Factors

Implementing urban agriculture is very much dependent on local factors: climate, policies and planning, geography, economics and cultural values. 

Socially fair and equitable availability to practice urban agriculture can be supported by the city via occupying and zoning areas for urban farming (e.g. allotment and community gardens) in different types of neighbourhoods. The city can have programs for enhancing engagement of different socio-economic groups. For example, in Barcelona the network of urban gardens is a participation programme of the Department of Environment of the City Council which is addressed to citizens over 65 years age. The aim is also to support sustainable farming practices such as organic farming. This needs collaboration and negotiations between planners, landowners and local citizens that can be proceeded through formal participation as part of city planning or zoning. To successfully establish a new, informal urban agricultural area by residents or communities for sites not officially preserved or planned for such land use activity (e.g. brownfields, public parks), a close cooperation between citizens and city administrations is needed. Strong political support and public acceptance ensure the success of grassroot initiatives of local communities whenever they are not kicked off by governmental actors.  

Competing and conflicting land use interests and weak collaboration with key stakeholders - especially with city authorities or landowners – are critical limiting factors for the implementation of urban agriculture initiatives. Increase in land prizes and strong demand towards allotment garden plots can cause great increase in rent or sale prizes, causing exclusion of low socio-economic groups.

Costs and Benefits

Urban farming and gardening provide several environmental benefits. They support conservation of rich topsoil, improve local microclimate conditions, boost urban waste recycling as source of soil nutrients and organic matter, and support biodiversity in cities, attracting a variety of fauna. Cultivation activities fortify direct human-nature interaction and therefore increases environmental awareness and stewardship for nature. Allotment and community gardens can be  used as recreational areas and meeting places for people, improving the human well-being of urban areas. Urban farming and gardening can also enhance social inclusion, community identity and social equity. Gardeners can work together, sometimes across different plots, and share their experiences, knowledge, and their products with each other. Urban agriculture enhances food security especially for low socio-economic groups and can contribute for green economy in creating a low-carbon, resource- efficient and socially inclusive economy. 

Business models of urban agriculture can differ widely. Privately-owned or managed allotment gardens are mainly financed by single households. Community-led agriculture is mainly based on rather new type of circular economy, i.e. shared economy. Costs, tools, and management duties are shared among members of the community. Municipalities can give support via offering expertise, tools or keeping land rent prizes fair especially for residents with low income. The municipality can be a key promoter of urban agriculture, providing the plots, fences, shelters for storage of tools, water for irrigation, training, and technical support to all the users. The municipality can be also a promoter of networking opportunities between different urban farming initiatives. For example, the city of Berlin offers legal support in preparing contracts, financial support, knowledge and expertise, soil tests, and even organized public meetings to mobilize local people to take on a gardening project.

Usually, the areas for urban agriculture are controlled and regulated by city authorities, also based on national or sub-national legislation (e.g. through an authorization from the municipality, based on local plans). Design, ownership and management can be delegated to communities or association of single owners. However, over the last few years, there has been a growing consensus on moving from top-down managerial ‘government’ to more inclusive, adaptive, and multilevel ‘governance. In some cases, non-authorised grassroot initiatives can occur and occupy public space for urban agriculture, which might create conflicts among city authorities, landowners, and other users of the space: however, these have been relatively rare.

Implementation Time

Implementation time varies, depending on the scope and the size of the initiative. Autonomous initiatives of urban agriculture take one growing season to be established. More formal allotment gardens or community agriculture are established along longer periods up to 1-5 years and most of this time can be consumed for negotiations and bureaucracy issues (e.g. agreements and permissions). 

Life Time

Depending on the type of urban agriculture the life-time can vary from a few years (spontaneous farming plots in brownfields) up to centuries. Oldest allotment gardens in Europe have been already established in the early 20th century. They are still used for farming while informal garden plots within boxes can be replaced and used only in one season in the same location 

Reference information


Buijs, A., Elands, B., Havik, G., Ambrose-Oji, B., Gerőházi, E., van der Jagt, A., Mattijssen, T, Steen Møller, M., Vierikko, K. (2016). Innovative Governance of Urban Green Spaces: Learning from 18 innovative examples around Europe. Deliverable 6.2. Technical Report of the Green Surge Project. 

Lohrberg, F., L. Lička, L. Scazzosi, A. Timpe, (eds.) (2015). Urban Agriculture Europe. 

Wagstaff, R. K., and S. E. Wortman, (2013). Crop physiological response across the Chicago metropolitan region: Developing recommendations for urban and peri-urban farmers in the North Central US. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 30(x), 1–7. 

Published in Climate-ADAPT Jun 07 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT May 17 2024

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