Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) is an NGO that undertakes development initiatives to impact positively the lives of the poor, deprived and marginalized sections of the society through a people-centred approach focusing on their participation, awareness and empowerment for sustainable development.
By 2050, 70% of the world’s population is expected to be urban. Already cities across the globe face an unprecedented influx, for which they are neither prepared nor do they have the capacity to absorb. Ready to burst at their seams, our cities seem to be losing their resilience and adaptive capability.
In this background, the geographical areas near them or at their outskirt become even more significant. This is the peri-urban space or the transition zones, which is neither truly rural nor urban. Located between the outer limits of urban and regional centres and the rural environment, they can offer room for a city to breathe, and up its sustainability.
But for this to happen, it is imperative to understand this space, its limitations and the rapid transitions that occur there.
The rapidly expanding urban centers strain existing natural resources. And the absorption of existing agricultural land on the city periphery leads to decreased green or ‘breathing’ spaces, interrupts supply chains of vital food items to cities, disrupts livelihood patterns of those living in these areas and also increases heat island effects.
Climate change impacts exacerbate this already precarious balance. Floods, rise in temperatures, droughts, water scarcity; All these events adversely affect urban areas. The peri-urban space, therefore, becomes more valuable as it can provide a buffering capacity to the cities and also strengthen their resilience capacities.
Unfortunately, a lack of clear cut conception and related concrete policies at both national and local levels has ensured that peri-urban areas are the most threatened with regards to loss of biodiversity and vegetation, and land use changes (urban expansion, land price increase). However this space can play a key role in better linking rural areas to urban areas, a key strategy for the Sustainable Urban Agenda.
A poster by Nivedita Mani, submitted at this conference, highlights the challenges faced in this fiercely contested space, and brings together all essentials needed to conserve peri-urban agriculture and ecosystems for building urban resilience in the context of the city of Gorakhpur.
And yes, our poster won a prize too!
Such vital spaces around cities are under constant threat due to unclear conceptualizations and appropriate policies. Thus, the need of the hour is to initiate a dialogue on the concept of peri-urban space, the role of peri-urban ecosystems in the context of food and nutritional security, and their contribution in building urban resilience. And more importantly, to ensure that all this information is shared with the stakeholders for a better understanding of the peri-urban space.
Ramrati Devi is a small-landholding farmer, from district Sant Kabir Nagar in Uttar Pradesh. When floods hit her land in 1998, her crops were submerged and there was no food to eat for her family of seven. Since then, she has come a long way.
She had observed how the weather had changed; experiencing it first hand as it directly affected her farming and her food production from her land. The rainfall patterns had shifted, with erratic and heavy surges being a common occurrence. To continue farming the same way that she had been doing for the past so many years, was neither profitable nor practical.
Ramrati associated with Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), joined lessons offered by them and learning from these inputs, she adopted an integrated farming system. This inclusive method is a change in the traditional farming techniques so that maximum production takes place in the cropping pattern and ensures that there is an optimal utilization of all existing resources. She began to follow a judicious mix of poultry & fishery, along with her crop farming, while also ensuring that her farm waste was better recycled and re utilised.
So she build a small pond in where she reared fishes, and also built a poultry house on stilts, right next to it. The excreta and waste feed from poultry thus acts as manure and feed for the fish in the pond, as well as manure for the crops in her farm. She planted banana trees on the pond periphery to avoid soil erosion and planted vegetable creepers on the poultry house, for a steady vegetable supply.
Rather than be a silent spectator, she decided to take on her problems head on. She learned new methods & innovations and then applied these new ideas to her farmland. In 2012, Ramrati began this experiment with a small investment, and today her profits have increased to more than 300%. She has ensured that there is total utilization of land and water resources in her farm, resulting in a large, diversified farm output, with minimum financial and labour costs.
Now, she has a threefold income- from selling meat, eggs, vegetables and farm products in the market. . The use of bio-manure and bio-pesticides which she prepares herself has further reduced her dependency on the market. Wastewater from the house & the pond water are utilised in the kitchen garden, and even the mud of the fish pond used for her house construction. Not only has she a stable income today, but her farm is better strengthened to face adverse weather events.
Today she stands taller & prouder. After all she has just been felicitated with the HT Woman 2016 award, by the Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, in a glittering ceremony. Chosen by a panel of eminent judges, her work and her farming methods are seen as an inspiration and she as a role model. She tells happily,”The Chief Minister asked me questions about my methods and how I adapted them in my fields. I explained to him in detail about the integrated farming that I have learnt in detail and how it has helped me stand on my feet today.”
She holds her trophy and citation proudly, happy to be a part of a celebration that felicitates women, and someone as varied as her. Someone who is wise enough to learn new ideas, strong enough to implement them, and proud to be a woman of positive influence, an inspiration to many more.
The conference was an outcome of the project “Enhancing Climate Resilience of Gorakhpur City through Climate Resilient PeriUrban Agriculture”. The event was attended by Sumetee Pahwa Gajjar and Kavya Michael from the ASSAR consortium, IIHS Bangalore. This conference was a first of its kind in the country bringing together researchers grappling with various methodological and practical challenges of studying and understanding peri-urban areas, and the role they play in sustaining city functions.
The conference was also attended by peri-urban farmers, policy makers, as well as practitioners from the fields of urban affairs, water management, engineering and ecosystem revival among others. The conference was bilingual and the inclusion of peri-urban farmers Ramrajya Yadav and Chanda Devi added a new dimension to the debate by balancing theoretical frameworks with lived experiences. This also showcased the fact that GEAG’s four yearlong project involved action based research and the results were owned as much by the farmers as they were by the researchers.
What emanated from the conference?
The deliberations in the conference emphasised the need for a comprehensive understanding around peri-urban areas using a sociopolitical and ecological framework.
Following are some of the key points around which the discussions revolved:
1) Multiple conceptualisations of the peri-urban: There is a significant gap in literature with regards to the conceptualisation of peri-urban areas. Dr. Aditya Bahadur from Overseas Development Institute (ODI), put forth peri-urban areas as inherently dynamic spaces experiencing significant changes to landscapes and livelihoods. Dr. K.S. Murali from International Development Research Centre (IDRC), described them as the interface between town and country where urban and rural uses mix and sometimes clash. Amit Mitra, an independent researcher from Delhi, defined peri-urban areas as “the unwanted child of rural and urban”. Prof. Usha Raghupati, NIUA described them as transitional zones with significant governance ambiguity. She reminded us that these areas lay beyond municipal jurisdiction where public services such as water, sanitation, and waste disposal are not provided by rural or urban authorities.
Dr. Sumetee Pahwa Gajjar interrogated per-iurban areas from a vulnerability and social differentiation lens. She stressed the need to identify peri-urban areas as zones of contestation that display a dense overlap between geographical, socioeconomic, political and environmental dimensions of marginality.
2) The future of peri–urban areas: Panelists debated how cities will expand into peri-urban areas and whether this expansion will be consistent across various dimensions of urbanity. For example Dr. Bahadur noted that 70% of the urban infrastructure required by 2030 is yet to be built and is most likely to be built in peri-urban areas. Dr.Shiraz Wajih, President GEAG, argued that by 2050, 3/4 th of world population will live in cities. In the Indian context, the 2011 Census reportedthat for the first time in last 69 years, urban population recorded a higher absolute increase than the rural population. As part of PM Modi’s Smart City Mission, 20 cities of the 100 planned have already been identified. New development for these secondary cities will be an additional driver of change on the land between satellite towns and the most proximate primary city. Researchers agreed that this indicates further transformation of the rural hinterland across the country, with differential patterns of periurbanisation.
3) Peri-urban areas as critical for the city’s resilience: Researchers questioned the persistent and limited perception of peri-urban areas as providers of ecosystem services to the city. Peri-urban areas most certainly render carbon sequestration and climate regulation, water and air purification, and pest and disease control services; in addition to agriculture. However, in the context of climate change, the resilience of peri-urban areas to local change and environmental degradation should be fore fronted. For example, Dileep Singh from ISET International argued that a 15% increase in open spaces in peri-urban areas of Gorakhpur city can lead to more than 12% reduction in damages due to floods. Talullah D Silva, an architect from Goa, used the case of Panjim city to outline the role of social entrepreneurship to revive peri-urban areas by empowering and mobilising communities. An integrated conceptualisation of peri-urban areas will generate local solutions that allow them to thrive despite an increasing environmental burden imposed by urbanisation.
4) Peri-urban areas for urban food and nutritional security:Various speakers engaged with the revival of peri-urban agriculture as critical for nutritional and food security of urban residents. This begs the consideration of the nutritional security of peri-urban residents, many among whom are socioeconomically marginalised.
Veteran scientist Dr. M.S. Swaminathan put forth the idea of peri-urban areas as Special Agricultural Zones (SAZ’s), utilizing for instance, genetically fortified plants such as legumes, as opposed to Special Economic Zones (SEZ’s). Chanda Devi, a periurban farmer from Gorakhpur District, narrated how she successfully practiced mixed vegetable farming techniques and produced enough food for the table as well as surplus to be sold in urban markets.
The “garden man” from Bangalore Dr. B N Vishwanath reiterated that urban home garden habits should be promoted to ensure chemical free food on tables.Mr. K.V.S Prasad from Agriculture Man Ecology (AME) Foundation spoke about their practical experience of promoting organic terrace gardening in Magadi, a village near Bangalore. He emphasized that strong peri-urban systems are necessary for sustainable and healthy cities.
What emerged for us?
Our knowledge of issues and challenges encountered in research and practice in peri-urban areas was much enhanced at this conference. These lessons will extend into our research work along the rural, urban continuum in the Bangalore subregion,within the social differentiation and gender stream of the ASSAR research programme. We are exploring how migrants from rural Karnataka often enter cities through transition zones and peri-urban spaces, and how their vulnerability to climate change impacts shifts as a result of migration. We were also pushed to think about arriving at functional definitions for the peri-urban in Bangalore as our understanding from the conference outlines that t here is no unified definition for the peri-urban, which tends to be highly contextual and specific to the political economy of urbanisation in a city.
This article has been authored by Kavya Michael, Post-doctoral fellow at IIHS, Bangalore. It has been republished here in partnership with them.