The value of peri-urban agriculture: beyond productivity

This blog post was originally published in Spanish on the web platform LA. NetworkEste artículo fue publicado en castillano en la plataforma LA.Network.

A study in Sogamoso (Colombia) reveals the importance of peri-urban agriculture for local communities’ sense of purpose, social fabric, and resilience.

Peri-urban agriculture can contribute to food security and nutrition, income generation, and environmental management, for example through the reuse of urban organic waste, the creation of green belts, and the provision of ecosystem services.

However, in many cities in Latin America the imperatives of development are highly pressing and urban agriculture is often seen as a barrier to development. When development is defined in terms of technological and infrastructural ‘progress’, productivity, economic growth, and ‘modern’ and global cultural connections, peri-urban agriculture is often represented as a backwards, localized, low-tech and economically poorly performing activity—a legacy of past underdevelopment that should be abandoned in order to make space (land) for the expansion of a more ‘productive’ economy.

It is especially difficult to measure peri-urban agriculture’s less tangible effects on local communities and cultural identities. Thus, both those who oppose and defend urban agriculture often measure its impacts solely in terms of material or economic productivity, and assessments limited to monetary values have clashed with less easily quantifiable contributions such as the symbolic importance of food self-provisioning and its attachment to and reinvention of new peasant heritages and identities. In turn, challenges in measuring urban agriculture have contributed to its invisibility in planning documents and in the policy-making arena, particularly from a social and cultural perspective.

A study that we recently conducted in the Colombian city of Sogamoso reveals the importance of non-monetary contributions of peri-urban agriculture for local communities’ sense of purpose, social fabric, and resilience. In the city of Sogamoso, the contrast between the urban and rural worlds can be observed in all its contradictions in the peri-urban space. In Sogamoso, peri-urban agriculture has been explicitly framed by planners, developers, and local authorities as a barrier to economic progress.

This study finds a diversity of peri-urban agriculture in the city of Sogamoso. Peri-urban households involved in agriculture depended on this activity for their subsistence to different degrees. Alongside farm households that produced mainly for the market, there was a majority of households for which agriculture was neither the primary occupation nor the main source of income. Therefore, peri-urban agriculture in Sogamoso, as in other cities in the region, is by no means a homogeneous phenomenon. Furthermore, many household engaged with peri-urban agriculture as a widespread ‘normal’ practice in local communities, not because peri-urban agriculture was promoted by policy interventions, or development projects.

This study also found that many peri-urban households produce food for self-consumption (self-provisioning) and exchange food with other households outside of the market. Although not all peri-urban farmers engaged in food self-provisioning and exchange to the same extent and in identical forms, such practices were very widespread and involved vegetables, fruit, and herbs more than livestock or animal products. Food exchange was less widespread than self-provisioning; however, it was practiced by approximately a quarter of this study’s participants.

Peri-urban farmers had an overall strongly positive perception of the role of peri-urban agriculture in Sogamoso. Participants noted its positive contribution as a source of income as well as a source of healthy, clean food, which contributed to their food security. In summary, this study indicates the existence of a lively social network of food exchange and an even stronger practice of growing at least part of one own’s food supply in Sogamoso’s peri-urban space.

Why does this study matters for urban planning and the governance of sustainable development?

Firstly, this research provides evidence that contrasts with the dominant urban development discourses in Sogamoso, which have tended to overlook such diversity in their attempt to portray the urban fringe as an ‘empty’ space in waiting for more productive urban use.

Secondly this study also provides novel arguments for the protection and promotion of peri-urban agriculture in Colombia and across Latin America. Although urban agriculture is often measured in terms of productivity both by those who oppose and defend it, this study provides evidence in support of crucial non-economic and less easily quantifiable impacts of peri-urban agriculture on building local communities’ sense of purpose, social fabric, and resilience.

Thirdly and finally, while peri-urban agriculture is an already existing and widespread ‘normal’ practice that requires no set-up, or steering, local authorities and citizens can provide support to protect peri-urban agriculture against those seeking to eradicate such practices to promote other, more monetary forms of development.

The study cited in this article is a collaboration between the Department of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Reading (United Kingdom), the Copernicus institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University (the Netherlands), and the Fundación Jischana Huitaca (Colombia). The study was funded by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) through the Environment and Sustainability Research Grant 2017/1. The study (in English) can be requested to Dr Giuseppe Feola via email at: or freely downloaded at this URL:

New publication/Nueva publicación: Sustainability Assessment of Urban Agriculture


Feola, G., Sahakian, M. Binder, C. R. 2020. Sustainability Assessment of Urban Agriculture. In: Binder, C.R., Wyss, R., and Massaro, E. (Eds.) Sustainability Assessment of Urban Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 417-437.

The pre-print version of this book chapter is freely available here.

Abstract. This chapter engages with the existing literature on urban agriculture and with concrete case studies to examine current challenges and ways forward for the sustainability assessment of urban agriculture. The chapter identifies current conceptualizations of urban agriculture, and sustainability assessment methods, and discusses them in the light of normative, systemic, and procedural dimensions of sustainability assessment. The chapter addresses the following questions:

  • How can urban agriculture be conceptualized? In particular, are there important conceptual differences between urban agriculture in the Global North and South, or between distinct forms of urban agriculture?
  • How can the sustainability of urban agriculture be assessed? What methodological differences, if any, should be taken into consideration in assessing different forms of urban agriculture in distinct urban contexts?
  • What are the current challenges and what are the opportunities for improving the sustainability assessment of urban agriculture?

The study finds that there is a paucity of assessment methods that have been developed specifically for urban agriculture and are flexible enough to be immediately applicable for different forms of urban agriculture in different contexts. This chapter suggests some opportunities to move the practice of sustainability assessment of urban agriculture forward. These include the adoption of inter- and transdisciplinary research strategies, and a critical approach to urban agriculture practices, power relations, social norms, and institutional conditions that have developed over time in specific contexts. A reflexive research approach and “dedicated investigation strategies” may also go a long way in supporting the sustainability assessment of urban agriculture.

Peri-urban land grabbing in Colombia

Blog post published on the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development’s website (available here) on our publication: Feola, G., Suzunaga, J., Soler, J., Goodman M.K. (In press). Ordinary land grabbing in peri-urban spaces: land conflicts and governance in a small Colombian cityGeoforum, DOI:


New article/Nuevo artículo: Ordinary land grabbing in peri-urban spaces: land conflicts and governance in a small Colombian city

Feola, G., Suzunaga, J., Soler, J., Goodman M.K. (In press). Ordinary land grabbing in peri-urban spaces: land conflicts and governance in a small Colombian cityGeoforum, DOI:


Emerging scholarship on urban land grabbing has urged researchers to take more nuanced perspectives on land appropriation. There is the need to understand the actions of and interactions amongst a multiplicity of local actors—beyond large-scale investors and global cities—when considering land grabs in the spaces of urban development. Therefore, this paper analyses what we conceptualise as the more ‘gradual’ and ‘ordinary’ dynamics of land dispossession in the peri-urban spaces of the small-scale city of Sogamoso, Colombia. Based on 38 semi-structured key-informant interviews, we explore everyday actions, actors and power relations involved in urban expansionism, mining, farming and ecosystems conservation as these activities seek to coexist and compete for the same, relatively sparse amount of peri-urban space. We find that land appropriation is facilitated by multi-level policy incoherence and the failures of municipal governance. Policy incoherence results in normative uncertainty and weak environmental governance, while a lack of coordinated municipal governance in peri-urban spaces leads to further small scale, ‘ordinary’ and therefore ‘invisible’ conflicts, to the detriment of citizens’ livelihoods. This paper contributes to understanding spatially differentiated urban land appropriation, and its articulation with local, gradual, subtle and more hidden land use conflicts, governance regimes and power relations at the scales of the everyday. Our findings suggest the need to theorize urban land grab also as a result of ordinary, place-based, quotidian dynamics that emerge from governance problematics, including policy incoherence, and land use conflicts, and from the intersection of a more diverse set of drivers, mechanisms and actors than discussed in the extant literature with focus on large urban centres.

Nuevo articulo/new article: Contra la indiferencia: un llamado para la participación civil en el posconflicto en Colombia

Feola, G. 2018. Contra la indiferencia: un llamado para la participación  civil en el posconflicto en ColombiaRevista Ciudad Paz-ando, 11(1): 51-61. (English translation here).


El acuerdo de paz del 2016 fue recibido con indiferencia por gran parte de la población colombiana. Este articulo sugiere que la indiferencia tiene que ver con fracturas estructurales en la sociedad colombiana. Se presentan cuatro tesis contra la indiferencia: (i) las limitaciones del acuerdo de paz no eliminan su potencial de generar cambio; (ii) la presión de la sociedad civil puede responsabilizar a los que están en poder por la realización del acuerdo de paz; iii) la sociedad civil puede apropiarse del proceso de paz e influir en su construcción; (iv) la construcción de la paz es una oportunidad no sólo para construir paz, sino para dar forma a un país más diverso, inclusivo, democrático, digno, y ambientalmente consciente.


The peace accord of 2016 was received with substantial indifference by a large part of the Colombian population. This article suggests that indifference relates to fractures in Colombian Society. Four theses against indifference are put forward: (i) the limitations of the peace accord do not eliminate its potential for change; (ii) pressure from the civil society and the public can hold those in power accountable for the realisation of the peace accord; (iii) the civil society and the public can appropriate the peace process and influence peacebuilding; (iv) peacebuilding is the opportunity not only to build peace, but to newly shape a more diverse, inclusive, democratic, dignifying and environmentally-conscious Colombia.