Over the last few decades, we have witnessed more and more people migrating to urban centres. The growth of urban population has put cities under pressure. Consequently, cities have expanded their range. The process of urbanisation and industrialisation has resulted in the encroachment of peri-urban areas adjacent to the city. At the same time, the rural areas which were previously distant to the cities are now falling within the cities’ sphere of influence. This has resulted in new forms of interactions between the two, where access to city’s markets, and flows of capital, labour, goods and services, and waste have resulted in the transformation of rural to peri-urban (Marshall et al., 2001).
The characteristics of the peri-urban interface are different from that of rural because of its proximity to the city. For instance, agriculture in the peri-urban interface is greatly affected by the process of urbanization. The growing population of the city means that the agricultural land in the peri-urban is often transformed into commercial or residential land. The growing population also means an increase in the city’s food demand. In cases where the agricultural land remains, the practice of cultivation changes to meet this demand. Easy access to urban markets creates a possibility for farmers to cultivate high-value, perishable crops such as leafy vegetables.
The process of urbanization puts tremendous pressure on peri-urban resources. Changing land-use and industrialisation results in the loss of CPRs, and pollution of water and air. The inability of the city to effectively deal with its waste means that a large amount of urban waste is subsumed by the peri-urban interface. This inefficiency in the formal waste management system provides an opportunity for many peri-urban farmers who otherwise face problems of natural resource degradation. These farmers have been using urban waste1 as input into their farming.
Peri-urban dwellers whose plots are in proximity to sewage streams use the wastewater to irrigate vegetables and other crops. The relatively cheap and accessible sewage and solid waste prove to be a valuable resource for poor farmers and allow them to keep engaging in agricultural production. To better understand this practice of urban waste reuse, let us look at a couple of examples from the Indian subcontinent.
Located in the north of the southern Indian state of Karnataka, the twin-city of Hubli-Dharwad is one of the most studied urban agglomerations in India. The agricultural activities undertaken within the peri-urban areas of Hubli-Dharwad include horticulture, farming, poultry, sheep and goat herding, and dairying. The lack of irrigation facilities is a major constraint to cultivation. Nunan (2000) reports that this constraint is overcome by the use of sewage water which flows out of the urban areas and feeds into streams. The sewage is used by the farmers to irrigate their fields for horticulture, vegetables and other crops. Solid waste on the other hand is accessed informally from the municipal dumpsite and is used mainly on cash crops. The use of urban waste is a valuable practice for poor farmers in particular as it provides them with a greater security by not having to rely on erratic rainfall and expensive borewells. Other than being financially viable, the use of waste water yields 25-50% more than crops yielded by the use of borewell (Hunshal et al., 1998, as cited in Nunan, 2000).
East Kolkata Wetlands
The use of urban waste for peri-urban production in East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) is a traditional practice. Earlier, the peri-urban agriculture in EKW was confined to the production of wheat, paddy and vegetables. With the construction of roads and railway lines, new opportunities emerged. Farmers could now transport their produce to the urban market. Pisciculture, vegetable, and paddy culture emerged as major forms of production (Konar et al., 2001, as cited in Narain et al., 2013). Farmers started using urban wastewater as a resource in aquacultures to cultivate fish. The water hyacinths in these aquacultures perform natural sewage treatment (by absorbing pollutatnts) and the waste water is then utilised for the cultivation of vegetable and rice. Various studies have estimated that the EKW region provides more than 20% of the city’s demand for fish and vegetables (Hoffman, 2013). ‘Garbage farming’, therefore, has been an important means of livelihood for peri-urban dwellers.
From the examples presented in this article, it is clear that the practice of reusing urban waste for production activities supports the livelihood of many periurban farmers, especially the poor, as it provides them with a relatively cheap, accessible, and reliable source to irrigate and fertilise plots, which helps minimise risks associated with dry season and erratic rainfall. In addition to providing thousands of jobs (e.g., in EKW), the reuse practices also contribute to the management of urban waste. Reusing urban waste not only reduces the environmental impacts of waste disposal sites, but the waste treatment costs and carbon emissions are also reduced (in case of EKW, for instance) (Hoffman, 2013). Despite these benefits, the use of waste for production can prove to be detrimental for farmers and consumers alike. In my next article, I’ll explore the detriments of urban waste reuse, and the challenges and issues associated with access to urban waste.
- The urban waste that I’m referring to consists of biodegradable solid and liquid waste flowing from the urban centre. The solid waste comprises mostly of biodegradable matter generated from households and markets, and the liquid waste comprises of sewage streams and night soil.
Hofmann, P. (2013). Wasted waste-Disappearing reuse at the peri-urban interface. Environmental Science & Policy. 31. 13–22. 10.1016/j.envsci.2013.03.011.
Marshall, F., Te Lintelo, D., and Bhupal, D.S. (2001). Periurban Agriculture. The Food and Agriculture Organization.
Nunan, F. (2000). Waste recycling through urban farming in Hubli-Dharwad.
Narain, V., Anand, P. and Banerjee, P. (2013). Periurbanization in India: A review of the literature and evidence. Report for the project – Rural to Urban Transitions and the Peri-urban Interface. SaciWATERs. India.
A special thanks to Aditi Bhande for providing the photos for this article.
All stills belong to her documentary film “Did you Do It?“