[ArtIcle] Urban Farming: Opportunities and Challenges
Traditionally, urban societies employed a variety of methods to cultivate food crops in their yards. Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) and the Department Of Agriculture (DOA)'s introduction of innovative technology has enticed urban residents to adopt and utilize them in their home gardens or community farms. Aquaponics, aeroponics, hydroponics, and vertical farming are Malaysian communities' four most prevalent urban gardening technologies. Aquaponics is a technique that combines traditional aquaculture (raising fish and crayfish in tanks) and hydroponics (growing plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. Hydroponics and fertigation use nearly identical techniques to ensure that nutrients or fertilizers are delivered directly to the roots of the plants, hence preventing root infections. Hydroponics is one of the most popular techniques for quick and simple farming. Crops planted vertically are referred to as vertical farming. More crops can be grown on a smaller amount of land with this strategy. This means that more food can be produced with less land at the same time it opens many windows for urban citizens.
First, the reduction of greenhouse gases. Urban farming can help significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging more local food production. Indeed, a major portion of the fruits and vegetables we consume must travel extensive distances before reaching our plates, causing significant pollution. Growing vegetables directly in cities minimizes the distance between production and consumption, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from food transportation. Furthermore, vegetable plants, like their green counterparts, operate as air filters and trap carbon and other harmful pollutants, contributing to the improvement of urban air quality.
Figure 1: Greenhouse effect
Furthermore, the mitigation of heat island effects. On a hot summer day, the last place people want to be is in the city center, surrounded by buildings, automobiles, and miserable sidewalks. The rationale is simple: metropolitan cities have an average temperature that is 5 to 10 degrees Celsius higher than outlying locations. For instance, in Southeast Asia, El Nino usually occurs from March and can stretch until September, and Malaysia is not exceptional. A "heat island" is a phenomenon created by the high concentration of built-up areas in cities, such as rooftops and parking lots, which absorb and re-emit the sun's heat. Natural bodies, such as forests and gardens, provide freshness while increasing the air quality in contrast to metropolitan areas. Planting vegetables on rooftops is an effective strategy to reduce heat islands, absorb carbon dioxide, and make cities greener.
Figure 2: Heat island
Next, urban farming can increase awareness of healthy eating habits. People are connected to nature and their food through urban agriculture programs. Vegetable gardens serve as educational platforms, raising community awareness about the significance of adopting good eating practices. With many populations living in food-insecure conditions, urban farm programs help to mitigate this phenomenon by giving access to fresh, wholesome, locally farmed food. Furthermore, participating in the process of cultivating their food reconnects people with the reality of food production. Communities become more conscious of the energy put into growing food and, as a result, the need of limiting food waste by fully realizing the time and effort that goes into each grown vegetable.
Figure 3: Food pyramid
On the other hand, urban farming can create job opportunities. More and more urban food producers are focusing not only on delivering fresh, healthy, and sustainable food to city dwellers but also on creating jobs for people who have traditionally faced employment difficulties. Adults with autism produce vegetables, homeless individuals become agropreneurs, and immigrants reduce food waste. The Anjung Kelana transformation center in Kuala Lumpur nurtures hope for the destitute. The 'Hijrah Warrior' urban farm project teaches homeless people how to grow and harvest vegetables including cucumbers, water spinach, okra, and corn. Following successful training, the new agropreneurs are given land to grow so that they can become self-sufficient, earn a living, and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
Figure 4: Urban farming provides job opportunities
While urban farming shows promise in terms of sustainability and community cohesiveness, unfortunately, there are always positives and cons, much like the two sides of a coin. There are a few challenges farmers need to face for urban farming. First, a huge city has no more available building sites; they even sometimes lack open green space. Even when there are still undeveloped public or private lands available, the prices are exorbitant. While urban agricultural practices frequently put idle land to productive use, in other cases, farmers take over land that was planned or set aside for other purposes, usually economic ones. The government typically feels that where land use is not managed and economic rent is not paid, urban farming is an economically or environmentally unproductive use of the property. When a government does not pay enough attention to regulating land use to encourage farming, these land rent difficulties might become the most significant impediment to urban agriculture.
Also, serious health issues toxic chemicals such as lead, zinc, copper, tin, mercury, and arsenic are extremely susceptible to contamination in urban farming regions. Metals in urban soils are mostly derived from emissions from factories, cars, and sewage. The high concentration of heavy metal compounds may cause major health issues for people. The problem of contaminated food is exacerbated if there is an outbreak of food-borne parasite disease induced by inadequate hygiene in an urban area. The traditional usage of pesticides is still an issue in any agricultural practices which may cause the air pollution. It gets worse for urban agriculture since toxic chemicals used in the middle of the city flow into the atmosphere of the dense and crowded urban environment, potentially hurting a large population. Allergies, cancer, birth deformities, male sterility, breast milk contamination, genetic alterations, respiratory ailments, behavioral changes, and a range of intestinal issues could all contribute to the city's problems if the pesticide issue is not addressed effectively.
In addition, the declining interest of the youth in agriculture has almost put agricultural practices to an end. In today's world, society is very vital. People's behavior and decisions are now influenced by societal thinking. For example, youth might think urban farming does not give money easily. Without a doubt, everyone wants more money in less time. Younger generations lack the patience to wait a long time for a profit. Investment is regarded as a waste of money, and they are unwilling to take chances in larger ventures. However, farming is all about patience and investment. Profit is gained after harvesting and sailing after planting and all other procedures are completed. Youths do not believe this since having seen people earn regularly, they find it easier and more comfortable. Another reason for this thinking is apprehension about profit volatility. Farming is largely dependent on climate and weather; when an uncommon scenario occurs, the profit ranges from high to low depending on the situation. As a result, it becomes a dangerous factor for young people.
To sum up, DOA is the primary government body in Malaysia responsible for monitoring the movement of urban agriculture activities and collecting statistics and information. The DOA's function is largely focused on technical aspects of agriculture, such as assessing the optimum soil pH, planting procedures, and participant training. The training programs cover a variety of topics, including agronomic practices, farm management, marketing, post-harvest handling processing, and agribusiness, while extension services include new agricultural techniques and technologies to encourage more urban communities to use new and modern technologies to boost productivity. Meanwhile, the Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (FAMA) advises farmers on high-demand crops and marketing agricultural products. Environmentally friendly Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that are actively dealing with social and environmental issues also assist the urban agriculture program. The government expects that the urban farming program will assist urban dwellers, particularly the urban poor, lower their cooking expenses by producing some of the required vegetables. Integrating agriculture into urban planning and development is critical for long-term development in many areas of urban life and requirements, such as food supply, environmental greening, water and waste management, education, and recreation.
- Putera Muhammad Hazwan Hakim Bin Hamzah (UniSZA)