Urban agriculture is the cultivation of vegetables and plants, and the raising of livestock, within and around city limits to provide fresh food, create employment, recycle waste, and strengthen cities’ resilience to climate change.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries imposed lockdowns, resulting in food supply chain disruptions, shortages and panic buying. Consequently, some, including Saudi Arabia, strengthened their food security. Readily available fresh food within city limits has been seen as one of the solutions to these possible problems, and many governments have encouraged people to harness urban agriculture. Some countries have distributed seeds to enable people to grow vegetables in their community, while Singapore allotted $30 million to projects like vertical farming. Saudi Arabia is no exception: The leadership has allocated SR100 million ($27 million) to develop and localize vertical-farming technologies.
The message about the importance of urban agriculture was spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudi leadership launched a development strategy to transform the city of Riyadh into one of the top 10 urban economies in the world; currently, Riyadh ranks 40th. Leading the strategy is the Royal Commission for Riyadh, monitoring and measuring more than 50 performance indicators, based on benchmarks from the world’s leading cities. The paradigm shift encompasses the pillars of Saudi Vision 2030: A vibrant society, thriving economy and ambitious nation, to achieve a sustainable economic, social and environmental society.
Urban agriculture could improve the availability of a sustainable supply of fresh and healthy food within a city’s limits, and it creates opportunities for employment, enhances food security and subsequently national security.
Dr. Turki Faisal Al-Rasheed
Under the strategy, by 2030 the anticipated population of Riyadh will double from the current 7.6 million inhabitants, and there is expected to be an increase in the number of visitors to 40 million people annually. Riyadh’s competitive edge is helped by well-built infrastructure, ranging from advanced information technology to modern roads, an educated young population with a literacy rate of 97.59 percent, and its position as a key contributor to Saudi Arabia’s economy.
Regionally, the Middle East and North Africa is already 64 percent urbanized. Much of the region’s future urban growth in absolute terms is projected to occur in the region’s primary cities, although faster growth in relative terms is projected to occur in its secondary cities. Conflict and climate-driven migration, as well as cross-border movement driven by the search for economic opportunity, are unique considerations in the region, and have overridden some secular urbanization trends in a subset of countries, according to the World Bank.
One of the critical contexts of rapid urbanization is that it tends to increase urban poverty and food insecurity, and the number of people requiring clean water and sanitation.
Urban agriculture could improve the availability of a sustainable supply of fresh and healthy food within a city’s limits, and it creates opportunities for employment, enhances food security and subsequently national security. During times of crisis, it has a significant role in securing emergency food supplies.
The international community is beginning to recognize the important role of urban agriculture in improving the economy, environment and health of cities. Harnessing urban agriculture is potentially beneficial for all key players. There are several types of urban agriculture that can be classified as follows: Vertical farms, hydroponics, aquaponics, aeroponics, backyard and rooftop gardens, animal husbandry, urban beekeeping, and greenhouses.
A research center of knowledge equipped with the technical capabilities to evaluate the appropriate place for urban agriculture for sustainable agricultural and urban food systems is required. The application of technical knowledge with sociological and economic expertise, as well as practical experience, would be an innovative and timely initiative for sustainable urban agriculture to meet the needs of those living within city limits with easy access to fresh food.
Urban agriculture does not just provide food, but entails broader national health and security that will enhance a country more generally.
• Dr. Turki Faisal Al-Rasheed is an adjunct professor of the department of agricultural and biosystems engineering at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona. He is also chair and the founder of Golden Grass Incorporated in Riyadh.