SYSTEMATIC REVIEW article
Sec. Urban Greening
Volume 3 - 2021 | https://doi.org/10.3389/frsc.2021.792616
Urban Agriculture in Latin America: A Green Culture Beyond Growing and Feeding
- Instituto Argentino de Investigaciones de Zonas Áridas, Centro Científico Tecnológico CONICET, Mendoza, Argentina
Over the coming decades, the level of urbanization in Latin America (LA) is expected to increase nearly 90%, with unwanted consequences such as accentuated socio-economic inequalities, food insecurity, violence, and environmental and health crises. In LA countries, urban agriculture (UA) has been adopted as one of the major strategies to address urban poverty and food insecurity, which have increased for different drivers, such as population growth, economic crises, or forced migration. Nevertheless, experience in these countries has demonstrated that urban agriculture is a complex activity that involves multiple benefits, risks, actors, processes, scales, and interactions. In this review, I analyse urban agriculture in LA countries using the ecosystems services framework as a tool to integrate UA functionalities and the four sustainability dimensions. I considered five issues derived from plant production: (1) ecosystem services, benefits, assets, drivers, and stakeholders in UA; (2) ecosystem services bundles; (3) economic and socio-cultural factors associated with the ecosystem services bundles; (4) research progress in LA countries; (5) issues and possible strategic directions in decision-making of UA in the LA region. Using proxy variables, a total of 17 ecosystem services, six benefits, six assets, and six indirect drivers were recognized. Projections of the 17 variables over the four dimensions of sustainable development showed that the environmental dimension was most studied than the social, economic, and governance dimensions. Most of strengths of UA in LA were related to ecosystem services, benefits, and beneficiaries; main weaknesses were related to the misuse of inputs, and human and environmental health; threats were related to regulation, governance and land tenure issues, and opportunities to several topics related to the four dimensions of sustainability. The concepts, frameworks, and methods used in this study may be effective tools to make scientific information available to managers and decision makers.
Urban agriculture (UA) is an activity with a long tradition in the Latin American (LA) region, which, by the end of the twentieth century, exhibited a mix of farming systems shaped by pre-Columbian practices combined with European and Asian models (Smit et al., 2001). Over the past four decades, cities in LA have experienced accelerated population growth rates, and it is expected that by 2050, about 90% of LA's inhabitants will be living in urban areas (United Nations, 2019). Although cities have traditionally been seen as places for social progress and economic growth, the fast urbanization in LA countries has brought unwanted consequences, such as accentuated socio-economic inequalities, food insecurity, violence, and environmental and health crises (Orsini et al., 2013). Facing these contexts, to achieve greener, healthier, and more equitable cities, global agencies, such as the FAO, RUAF, IDRC, UNDESA, or UN-Habitat/UNDP, urged the inclusion of UA in the public policy agendas (Mougeot, 2005; van Veenhuizen, 2006; Hearn et al., 2020). In line with these appeals and to face crises shaped by regional drivers, such as natural events (e.g., hurricanes and earthquakes), economic crises, political contexts, or forced migration due to armed conflicts, LA's governments, NGOs, private institutions, and civil society organizations consolidated existing UA programs and launched new actions to promote the activity (FAO, 2014).
In a broad sense, UA may be defined as food production in urban areas (Opitz et al., 2016). It implies growing plants and animals for food and other uses within and around cities. It is characteristically an integral part of the urban economic, social, ecological, and governance systems. It uses urban resources, produced for urban citizens; it is strongly influenced by urban conditions and impacts the urban socioecosystem (Mougeot, 2005; van Veenhuizen, 2006).
UA in the LA region, classified as among the developing countries or Global South (GS), has been characterized by a productivist perspective, in which the focus has been on production and on economic growth to solve hunger and poverty in the short term, rather than to deal with the spatial, environmental, social, political, and other economical dynamics on which it is strongly dependent (Orsini et al., 2013; Gray et al., 2020; Follmann et al., 2021). For example, urban farmers may produce foods in their own household, renting private spaces, squatting sleeping lands or in community spaces (Sanyé-Mengual, 2015). UA relies environmental conditions with good water, soil, and air quality to produce healthy products. It may improve access to foods, as well as household incomes by reducing expenses, and may generate employment or income if the production is sold (De Zeeuw et al., 2011). From the household to the final consumers, it can comprise a variety of activities to deliver products for the local market (van Veenhuizen, 2006). Other urban dwellers may participate in the value chain as laborers, producing agricultural inputs (e.g., compost), processing and conserving products, or delivering the products to different parts of the city (Abu Hatab et al., 2019). UA may also become an activity for socially vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, youths, women, people with disabilities, migrants, or people in social rehabilitation (Pudup, 2008; United Nations Development Programme, 2013). It may also generate unwanted effects, such as the pollution of water, soil, or air; health degradation; social conflicts over land tenure; or the emergence of pests and diseases and (Temple and Moustier, 2004; De Bon et al., 2009; Dumat et al., 2019). Therefore, to support, promote, and regulate the UA as an umbrella concept in time and space, all these dimensions need to be taken into account, with citizen participation, research support, legal frameworks, and political willingness.
To better understand the progress of research into the different dimensions and components of UA in LA countries, the aims of this study were (1) to identify urban ecosystem services (UES) derived from UA, with their benefits, drivers, assets, and stakeholders; (2) to identify UES bundles; (3) to identify the economic and sociocultural factors associated with UES bundles; (4) to compare the research progress on UES bundles, benefits, assets, and drivers; (5) to identify issues and possible strategic directions in decision-making on UA in LA countries. Although UA also includes the raising of animals, only the green dimension was considered in this study.
Materials and Methods
A systematic search and review of the literature was conducted through three complementary electronic search databases, Scopus, Redalyc, and SciELO (Miguel, 2011), from 2000 to April 2021. Dates were chosen in a window of 21 years to search for ecosystem service studies which were mainly promoted from 2001 to 2005 by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA, 2003, 2005). The search considered articles, reviews, and book chapters published in all sovereign states of LA, both continental and islandic, with Spanish, Portuguese, or French as official languages: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The search was run using a combination of keywords with the name of each country through Boolean operators, e.g., (“urban agriculture” OR “urban farm” OR “urban horticulture”) AND “Argentina.” The keywords were in English and their equivalent in Spanish and Portuguese.
To extract and organize the information, a combination of concepts and frameworks was used. Ecosystem services provided by UA were identified using the ecosystem service cascade model (Potschin-Young et al., 2018) and the TEEB Manual for Cities Typology (TEEB–The Economics of Ecosystems Biodiversity, 2011). Stakeholders involved in the UA activity were identified, adapting the proposal of Romero-Duque et al. (2020); benefits following the concepts proposed by Daw et al. (2011) and King et al. (2014); and assets and drivers of changes identified using concepts from the MA and IPBES frameworks (MA, 2003, 2005; Díaz et al., 2015). All information was stored in a binary database. Definitions and database structure are shown in Appendix 1.
Ecosystem service bundles, defined as a set of ecosystem services that are studied together in the papers reviewed, were identified through a cluster analysis. The distance matrix for binary data was obtained using the algorithm , with S14 as the phi of the Pearson similarity index (Gower and Legendre, 1986). In the S14 index, (1, 1) matches indicate positive associations, (0, 1) or (1, 0) negative associations, and (0,0) no associations. Ward's linkage was used to build the groups and the kgs function to prune the hierarchical tree. The latter function enables finding the optimal number of clusters to maximize differences between groups and cohesiveness within groups (Kelley et al., 1996). The analysis was made using R functions of the ade4 package (Chessel et al., 2004), maptree package (White and Gramacy, 2012), and hclust function (R Development Core Team, 2020).
Economic and sociocultural factors that best explain the ecosystem service bundles were analyzed using a distance-based redundancy analysis (db-RDA, Legendre and Andersson, 1999). This approach seeks the combinations of each variable in the explanatory matrix (stakeholder, benefit, and land tenure variables) that best explain the variation of the response matrix (ecosystem service bundles). This method is similar to RDA, but it allows dissimilarity measures for binary data. In this analysis, the distance matrix was obtained using the S14 similarity index of Gower and Legendre (1986). To determine the significance of explanatory variables in the relative importance of ecosystem service bundles a Monte Carlo permutation test (999 permutations) was run. The dependence between variables was also checked using the variance inflation factor (VIF) (Borcard et al., 2011), which measures to what extent each variable in the explanatory matrix is collinear with the others. Values over 10 indicate variables that are functionally related to one another. In that case, a method is justified to reduce the number of explanatory variables (Borcard et al., 2011). Analyses were performed by computing the distance binary matrix with the R ade4 package (Chessel et al., 2004), followed by the db-RDA of the vegan package (Oksanen et al., 2019).
To visualize the research progress of UA in LA, projections of all variables over the four sustainability domains (James, 2015) were made through wind rose diagrams built with the ggplot2 package (Wickham, 2017).
To identify issues and possible strategic directions in decision-making, information was organized considering the four basic components of a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) in the environmental, societal, economic, and governance dimensions. Strengths were the achievements of UA; weaknesses were the problems or negative effects of the activity itself; opportunities were actions that enable the activity to be improved, transformed, or adapted in the urban socioecosystem; and threats were the external problems that could undermine the activity. Results and statements of authors in their studies were used, instead of the interviews by topics or to focus groups of stakeholders usually used in this methodology.
This search yielded a total of 182 reports. After removing duplicates and reports in which it was not possible to use proxy variables, a total of 147 were eligible among which 60 were written in English, 55 in Spanish, and 32 in Portuguese (Appendix 2). Since some of these included study cases from different countries, the final database gathered a total of 205 study cases of UA belonging to 18 LA countries. The search showed no results for El Salvador or for Panama. Most of the studies were primary research (59%) with both quantitative and qualitative data (71%). Information was collected mainly through interviews, documentary reviews, observations, surveys, workshops, and experimentation. Concepts and frameworks of ecosystem service assessment per se were not considered in the reviewed documents, but for this study, they were identified or deduced through proxy variables.
A total of 17 ecosystem services of UA were recognized: six benefits, six assets, and six indirect drivers (Table 1 and Appendix 1). Earthquakes and tsunami were the only direct natural drivers identified in two studies. Political context, economic crisis, armed conflicts, and both international and rural migrations were identified as the main indirect drivers at country scale. This study focused on the variables listed in Table 1.
Cluster analysis identified four ecosystem service bundles (Figure 1). The first, the cultural bundle, included all cultural ecosystem services and one supporting service (maintenance of genetic biodiversity). The second, the productive bundle, gathered the provisioning services and one regulating service (waste recycling). The third, the biological bundle, included two regulating services (carbon sequestration and storage and pollination) and one supporting service (habitat for species). Finally, the biophysical bundle included only regulating services (soil fertility and erosion, extreme events, climate and air, and water treatment).
The db-RDA showed significant associations between the ecosystem service bundles and stakeholders, benefits, and land tenure variables (p = 0.001, from 999 permutations). This analysis explained 15% of total inertia, with 5% explained by the first axis (CAP1), and 4% by the second axis (CAP2, Figure 2). All variables showed VIF <2; it was therefore not necessary to apply a reduction method. The first axis (CAP1) revealed, on the one hand, that the studies focused on the association between urban farmers and the productive bundle, especially those that are part of their feeding, and that they benefit from an increase in their incomes due by reducing expenses. Policy makers and temporary land tenure were also associated with this group. On the other hand, most of the cultural bundle and the production of flowers and ornamental plants were associated with employment generation, social cohesion, and health benefits. The second axis (CAP2) revealed that the studies reviewed focused on the associations between urban farmers, policy makers, and both productive and cultural bundles. All the benefits obtained from these two bundles were in lands with either temporary or permanent tenure. Education and training support was the only cultural service associated with other institutions (academy, civil organizations, NGOs, or international agencies). All biophysical and biological bundles, as well as the intermediate stakeholders, were in the center of the figure, indicating their poor contribution to the explained inertia.
Figure 2. db-RDA of ecosystem service bundles (response variables) and stakeholders, benefits, and land tenure (explanatory variables). CAP is the name of the R function (capscale) used to carry out the analysis with binary data.
Projections of ecosystem service bundles, benefits, and drivers over the four dimensions of sustainable development were possible for 17 countries (Figure 3). In the case of Paraguay, the only record was part of a general review about hydroponics in LA. The environmental dimension showed a higher proportion of studies than the social, economic, and governance dimensions. Studies on the cultural and productive bundles were carried out most frequently in all countries, while studies on biophysical and biological bundles were absent or poorly studied in most countries. In the social dimension, urban farmers in most of the countries received some kind of training and technical support, and academic engagement was present in more than 70% of the countries. Health was the benefit most mentioned in the articles reviewed, followed by food security and social cohesion. Nevertheless, the relative frequency of their occurrence in studies within the countries was equal to or lower than 50%. In the economic dimension, income improvement by reducing expenses and direct sales to final consumers, were the most frequent benefits mentioned by urban farmers, while incentive payments and credits were the least frequent. In the governance dimension, studies mentioning the involvement of the government (local, regional, or national) and other institutions were the most frequent in most countries, while the existence of legal regulations, the monitoring of UA activities, and self-based organization were poorly mentioned or studied.
Figure 3. Projections of ecosystem service bundles, benefits, stakeholders, and drivers over the four dimensions of sustainable development.
UA in LA countries showed most of its strengths related to the variety of ecosystem services as well as the benefits and beneficiaries involved in the different activities (Table 2). The main weaknesses were related to the misuse of inputs (e.g., water, fertilizers, and pesticides) and negative effects on human and environmental health due to exposure to physical and biological agents. Gender inequality was both a strength and a weakness, depending on the cultural context in which UA is carried out. Regarding externalities, the studies showed that UA in LA countries was a field full of opportunities related to the four dimensions of sustainability considered in this study. Most of the threats were related to regulation and governance and to land tenure and use. Real estate businesses were both opportunities and threats.
The production of fresh green foods to improve food security and the health conditions of the poorest urban dwellers has been regarded as a primary objective in the GS (Orsini et al., 2013; Gray et al., 2020). In agreement with this, the results of this study showed that most of the Research Topics in LA countries focused on the production of urban green foods within the productive bundle. Nevertheless, the cultural bundle was seen to be of similar importance. Urban farmers recognized UA as an activity with important services that enabled vulnerable people to improve their lives and well-being (Cantor, 2010; Costa et al., 2015; Batitucci et al., 2019), and allow sharing popular and traditional knowledge (Montes and Gómez, 2011; Gold, 2014; Fernández et al., 2020), enjoying aesthetic or scenic beauty (Lattuca and Terrile, 2014; Urbana et al., 2019), promoting tourism (Losada et al., 2000; Lattuca and Terrile, 2014), to organizing fairs (Niederle et al., 2018; Peralta-González et al., 2019), and educational and recreational activities (Urbana et al., 2019; Nagib and Nakamura, 2020), or recognizing that UA promotes the maintenance of urban biodiversity (Pino et al., 2007; do Amaral and Guarim Neto, 2008; Alomía-Lucero et al., 2020).
This multifunctional nature of UA and the places where it is carried out are opportunities to integrate the activity within planning perspectives consistent with urban sustainability (Delpino-Chamy et al., 2019; Gomes et al., 2019). As a counterpart of the focus laid on the productive and cultural bundles, the biophysical and biological bundles have been neglected in most of the LA countries. Even though they underlie all the expressions of UA and can reduce the risks associated with contamination, degradation, or waste, there are few studies of UA related to water shortage and quality (Lugo-Morin, 2010; Ebel et al., 2020), soil fertility (Alban et al., 2017; Ebel, 2020), air quality (Vega Castro and Salamanca Rivera, 2015), carbon emissions and shortage (Cerón-Palma et al., 2013), or the emergence of pests and diseases (Paviotti-Fischer et al., 2019; Ebel, 2020). The focus of policy makers and institutions on the productive bundle in most research in LA countries supports the interpretation that the GS has made efforts to solve desperate conditions in the short term (Gray et al., 2020), apparently unaware that the biophysical, biological, and cultural bundles have key roles in maintaining UA in the middle and long terms, as well as in reducing the environmental, social, and economic risks.
In the social dimension, academic and other institutions together with governments have also played an important role in supporting UA, through training courses and educational activities in most LA countries. Nevertheless, it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of UA in improving the health, food security, and social cohesion of low-income residents. Some studies, for example, have reported on dietary changes and infant mortality reductions in the city (FAO, 2014), on the nutritional contribution of UA (Orsini et al., 2010; Pescio, 2020), or on the risks associated with exposure to agrochemicals (Olivares Reumont, 2013; Eandi et al., 2021). But in most of the studies, health topics have been dealt with in terms of the qualitative perception of urban dwellers or other social actors (Ribeiro et al., 2015) rather than quantitatively assessed; food security has been used discursively (Muñoz-Rodríguez et al., 2020); and social cohesion has not been systematized or has been poorly studied even though it is closely related to the cultural bundle. Demographic information is a very important asset for managers and decision-makers, but in most of the studies, it was an infrequent Research Topic and most of the data have been limited to information on age and gender.
Within the economic dimension, consistently with other studies from the GS (De Bon et al., 2009; Zezza and Tasciotti, 2010), the contribution of UA production to the livelihoods of urban farmers and their reduction of expenses were the main benefits assessed by urban farmers. Even though employment generation appears in second place, there are gaps in the value chain because; most of the activities still take place in the informal sector, and the dynamics of local economies are poorly known. Thus, employment generation is a benefit that may have been underestimated and is a topic that should be part of future research agendas. Incentive payments and credits have also been neglected, but some successful cases, such as the use of private sleeping lands for urban farmers in return for tax reductions to the land owners, and material and technical support to urban farmers from the local government and other institutions (Bellenda et al., 2018; Oliveira et al., 2019; Oliveira and de Santos, 2020), or implementation of micro-credit programs for poorer families and communities to carry out UA activities (Yagüe et al., 2013; Dieleman, 2017), are useful tools for increasing their, and particularly women's, economic wellbeing and empowerment (Hishigsuren, 2007).
In relation to the governance dimension, the results of this study indicate that the efforts made by some of the LA governments with national and international institutions to improve the nutritional status of the poorest urban dwellers suffered from the lack of legal frameworks to support the UA activities as well as a lack of monitoring for making adjustments to the different programs. These findings challenge the efficacy, usefulness, and prevalence of UA in LA countries, reinforcing the idea that UA should be incorporated into public policies, promoted, and regulated by adequate legal frameworks in all its dimensions, and understood by decision-makers, who should be informed of the functioning of existing programs through formal and informal feedback (Avila-Sanchez, 2019; Muñoz-Rodríguez et al., 2020). The governance of UA should also incorporate the community-based organizations of urban farmers who are the practitioners of the activity and the final decision-makers.
The SWOT matrix showed that UA in LA provides many opportunities to offset weaknesses, build strengths, and convert threats into opportunities. Its multifunctional strengths are the additional ecosystem services, benefits, and assets beyond food production, which have been under-researched academically or scarcely integrated into policy and planning. Similarly, most of the weaknesses have derived from a lack of studies on the misuse, degradation, loss of ES, or poor knowledge of ecosystem dis-services. UA in LA has promoted the emergence of opportunities (Gianquinto et al., 2007; Schiavo, 2009; Rodríguez-Delfín, 2012; Pérez Fernández et al., 2018; Alomía-Lucero et al., 2020; Fuzinatto et al., 2021) to integrate popular knowledge and to develop new products, technologies, careers, jobs, and businesses, often supported by the urban farmers themselves, by international agencies, and sometimes by universities and scientific institutions. Despite the threats and difficulties that UA experiences in LA, there are also cases in the region (FAO, 2014; Lattuca and Terrile, 2014; Amato-Lourenço et al., 2021) that are examples of how local governments, through public policies in urban planning and legal frameworks, together with civil organizations and other institutions, have managed to incorporate UA into the urban dynamics, improving the wellbeing of the participants, and sustaining the programs over time.
UA in LA is not a new issue; what has changed is its significance in the global and regional arenas. Although UA literature in the region is abundant, it is mainly found in non-scientific sources, such as technical reports, bulletins, or projects (Wadumestrige Dona et al., 2021), thus being in the public domain but effectively unavailable to the broader community. This study synthesized the scientific information on UA in the LA region over the past 21 years, using one global and two regional bibliographic search platforms. The use of concepts and frameworks from ecosystem services and SWOT analysis revealed the state of the art of UA in the LA region, its gaps, and factors affecting the activity in cities. Both approaches may be effective tools for making scientific information available to managers and formulating strategies for decision makers. The results highlight UA in the LA as a multifunctional activity that needs to be assessed from a multidimensional approach and that indirect drivers, summarized in the governance, other institutions, and land tenure, and the urban farmers themselves may play a central role in sustaining this green urban activity.
Data Availability Statement
The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/Supplementary Material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.
The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and has approved it for publication.
Conflict of Interest
The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.
The author would like to thank the two reviewers for their valuable comments in order to improve this article and also C. Marty for reviewing the text, the editorial, and the Frontiers Fee Support Program for the publication of this article.
The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frsc.2021.792616/full#supplementary-material
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Keywords: urban agriculture, Global South, ecosystem services, urban greening, poverty, public policies, sustainability
Citation: Castellarini F (2022) Urban Agriculture in Latin America: A Green Culture Beyond Growing and Feeding. Front. Sustain. Cities 3:792616. doi: 10.3389/frsc.2021.792616
Received: 10 October 2021; Accepted: 28 December 2021;
Published: 17 February 2022.
Edited by:Cynnamon Dobbs, Universidad Mayor, Chile
Reviewed by:Tenley M. Conway, University of Toronto Mississauga, Canada
Lorenzo De Vidovich, University of Trieste, Italy
Copyright © 2022 Castellarini. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
*Correspondence: Fabiana Castellarini, firstname.lastname@example.org