Developing Mechanisms for Safe Food Production in Peri-urban Settings

Dr. Johanna Lindahl

Peri urban areas are characterised by unorganised food production systems that cater to food security needs of urban areas. Growing population and urbanisation are creating new problems that are more pronounced in developing countries and in neglected areas like peri-urban agglomerations.

According to Johanna Lindahl, Veterinary Epidemiologist, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), “Livestock production is not something that only goes on in rural areas. It practically goes on all around cities. In many cities, it is urban and more intensified in peri-urban regions. All intensification is not bad but there are risks associated with it. Keeping these risks under check and providing the right infrastructure is critical. We cannot stop producing food in urban cities, so we have to develop mechanisms to control them.” Excerpts from an interaction with Johanna:

Q: Cite few recent trends in food production systems in peri urban areas, especially in the context of developing countries?
Overall, in peri-urban areas there has been an increase in livestock production and also in related perishable products. Both are mainly due to increased demands in urban population. The trend of growth in urban middle class and urban poor show that both are moving in need of more sources of food, pushing the demand for livestock production. In addition, livestock products and other perishable products are the ones that are more valuable and are therefore more likely to be grown and produced closer to consumers.

Q: How important are peri urban areas as contributors to food security of urban areas?
Given the overall picture, especially in developing countries, infrastructure to accommodate large units in remote rural areas is not good enough to produce these products far away. For many countries, with growing urban areas, it is peri-urban production that comes to their rescue, producing enough to feed the urban population.

Q: How do these food production systems impact human/animal health and environmental concerns?
With a range of livestock production, there is a risk of zoonotic disease outbreak, especially when one has a high density of livestock and humans living close together. There is an increase in risk of diseases being transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa. Sometimes, one can face problems, such as getting rid of the waste products from production; inadequate manure disposal and other by-products. If not managed properly with infrastructure, health consequences can be quite severe. From an environmental point of view, if sewage system is not good enough, then antibiotic leakage from animals and from misuse could get out into the ecosystem. Ways have to be found to minimise risk of contaminating water resources for cities.

Q: Do these food production systems pose greater risk than benefit to health of urban areas?
Any research on urban conglomerations must take into account complexities of peri-urban spaces. People are continuing to move to cities which are growing, and which are fed to a large extent by the peri-urban food production system. This aspect cannot be ignored. It is therefore important to consider potential risks, along with building infrastructure, so that they can be properly managed.

Q: Which agencies should be involved and what strategies should they adopt to address health and environment challenges in peri urban settings?
It is important to understand the structure of each agency within its country/city context. Human health, agricultural and veterinary services collaborate because this isn’t just a veterinary/human health/environmental problem. All concerned agencies must get together to see what are the risks and problems and how infrastructure measures must address them. It is difficult to identify which agency should be involved, but the most important thing is to realise that everyone must communicate and see it is not just about pushing the problem to another agency and that everyone must take responsibility.

Q: What is the role of the Indian Government as a nodal agency in promoting responsible food production systems?
Government is key since we cannot put the responsibility on NGOs, local cooperatives or private sector alone. The different government departments, be it Ministry of Agriculture or Health must work together to create greater efficiencies and economies of scale.

Q:. Given your international experience, what have been your key observations of India’s peri-urban zones?
Peri-urban areas are not clearly defined. Sometimes, it is part of urban or rural areas which gradually grow into peri-urban areas; at others it is peri urban areas itself that change their environment and socio-cultural contexts. As compared to other countries, India has a high density owing to sheer number of people and livestock that share spaces. Therefore, with reference to peri-urban settings, there is need to be a little flexible and fluid in our understanding of what comprises peri-urban.

Q: What are some of the international good practices India can learn from?
In a lot of places, where urban and peri-urban agriculture is made illegal, the system gets pushed towards a more black market. This can be avoided when agencies are supportive to good practices.

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