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In Home Gardens, Income and Food for Urban Poor
Flowers burst out of old tires and rows of pepper plants fill recycled plastic tubs as herbs pop out of old pipes. As utilitarian as it is cheery, this rooftop array is one of several urban agriculture projects that are significantly improving livelihoods for the urban poor in this sprawling city [Amman, Jordan].
A slowly but steadily growing phenomenon in Jordan, urban agriculture has vast potential for reducing poverty and improving food security, and it has the added benefit of greening and cleaning up more rundown sections of cities.
But the success of urban agriculture depends on key components that are increasingly difficult to secure: land and water. Space for planting is growing ever slimmer in Jordan, and the country suffers from a perpetual shortage of water. While such problems are major, they have also forced those involved in urban agriculture in Amman to devise innovative and efficient ways to work around them.
The more successful they are, the more valuable urban agriculture becomes in Jordan, where two-thirds of the 160,000 people who are food insecure live in cities and 13 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. For them, urban agriculture is not a complete solution, but it does alleviate poverty, and in the long term, its indirect benefits can be even more widespread.
An ideal environment
Unchecked population growth and relatively unplanned development transformed Amman from a village in the 1940s to a vast, 1,000-square-kilometre metropolis in the 21st century. With a population of 2.3 million, the capital has 312 people per square kilometre, more than four times the national population density.
While willy-nilly urbanization has not created the most functional of cities, the resulting urban sprawl actually jibes quite nicely with the concept of urban agriculture — using empty spaces between houses and on windowsills, balconies, and roofs to plant vegetables, herbs and other plants that families can consume or sell to boost their income.
Amman started its official urban farming programme in 2006, according to Hesham al Omari, the engineer who heads the urban agriculture office at the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM), as part of an initiative by the Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food Security (RUAF), an international network of resource centres.