Good Food for Cities

Urban farming: safeguarding a healthy diet and preparing for a self-sufficient future

September 19, 2019
Maria Serenade Sinurat
Communication Coordinator

Indonesia will soon be one of the most urbanised countries worldwide. From 2010 to 2012, the urban population increased from 49.8% to 54% of the total population (237.6 million). With this growing trend, it is predicted that 65% of Indonesians will live in cities by 2025. One of the major questions in response to this growth is how will cities fulfil these people’s right to food? To answer this, we need to fix the problem in our current food system, in other words, the lack of food.

There are many challenges in ensuring access to safe, healthy and affordable food for all Indonesians. Indonesian statistics (2019) show that paddy field areas have decreased by 9% in the past five years because of land conversion. The impact of climate change has also affected crop production and farmers’ livelihoods. Even if we manage to stimulate food production to outpace population growth, there are still problems such as unequal food distribution, unsustainable food production and consumption practices, and the enormous amount of edible food wasted, creating problems.

The severity of these problems has inspired some of the world’s cities to create and foster more sustainable practices. Several practices are already underway, such as growing and producing healthy food, minimising food loss and making use of edible food waste and composting waste, leading to the development of the Food Smart City initiative.

In Indonesia, the Food Smart City initiative is a collective effort by Rikolto, Gita Pertiwi Foundation, Perkumpulan Indonesia Berseru, and the Indonesian Consumers Group (YLKI). To document current sustainable practices in Solo, one of the food smart pilot cities, Rikolto carried out a Communication Learning Cycle, from 9th – 12th July 2019. Here are some stories from the field.

Urban farming: safeguarding a healthy diet and preparing for a self-sufficient future

“This house had been empty for years and people used to call it a ghost house. But it has a spacious front garden that we can use to grow vegetables. So, we use the space for our vegetable garden and have held regular meetings here since 2018,” says Roesdiah (68), entering a big, faded green door. There is a block-letter paper notice taped to the front door. It reads “Sumber Rezeki Waste Bank Vegetable Garden”.

“We created this space as a demonstration garden where public can learn about growing food and replicate the methods in their garden at home” Roesdiah, Urban farmer

Roesdiah is one of the advisory members of the urban women farmers group in the Kemlayan Village of Solo. Urban farming is integrated with a waste bank and health centre for elderly people, one of the Solo City Government’s programmes.

For the past year, Roesdiah and her friends have transformed the so-called ghost house into a vibrant green space where women in the neighbourhood come to learn how to grow and compost. The harvest season is over, but in the garden we can see newly planted lettuces and chillies. A group of 30 women is also there today to make a liquid fertiliser using fruit and vegetable waste.

Urban farming, as seen in Kemlayan, is more than a favourite pastime, but rather one of the sustainable strategies to help residents with low incomes save money on food purchases by growing and harvesting fresh vegetables and fruit in their own gardens.

Throughout 2018, the Solo City Government, Rikolto and Gita Pertiwi have helped establish ten demonstration pilots in Solo, inspiring 50 households to start their own gardens, growing in total around 80 types of herb, vegetable and fruit. The stakeholders are paying greater attention to urban farming at household level due to several challenges that Solo is still facing, such as food and nutrition security.

Learning to make liquid fertiliser from fruits and vegetables waste
Fruits waste for liquid fertiliser
Ready to use liquid fertiliser

Low vegetable consumption

Our recent survey — carried out by our partner the Indonesian Consumers Foundation/YLKI - found that people in Solo spent around 60 percent of their expenditure on food. Around 11 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, earning less than Rp 1 million per month, which means that low-income households only have around Rp 13,000 (less than 2 Euros) to buy food. As food security is dependent on household purchasing power, it is fair to say that low-income residents are food insecure and they struggle to meet basic food needs. Food insecurity is also associated with under-nutrition. Households with low food security are more likely to consume food with reduced quality, variety and desirability of diet, which can cause under-nutrition. In the long term, under-nutrition can lead to the development of non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Based on a report by the World Health Organisation (2018), NCDs are estimated to account for 71 percent of total deaths in Indonesia.

Another key factor contributing to nutrition insecurity is food literacy. A survey by YLKI further discovered that Solo residents’ understanding of a balanced diet stood at below 60 percent. Consequently, people consumed food that was high in carbohydrates and sugar, yet low in protein and fibre. The majority of respondents opted for white rice and instant noodles as their main food, instead of choosing a healthier, alternative option such as red rice. Vegetable consumption was also reported as low, with less than 43 percent of households serving vegetables with their meals every day. The issue of low vegetable consumption is one that Indonesia is trying to combat on a national scale. Indonesia’s fruit and vegetable consumption is 180 grams per capita per day, which is below the WHO’s standard of 400 grams per capita per day. With the aforementioned figures and findings, urban farming can offer a sustainable solution to these pressing problems.

Self-sufficient household

For city residents, urban farming helps them prepare for a self-sufficient future while promoting vegetable consumption.

One of the residents is Putri Handayani (62), who grows vegetables in her garden. Urban farming has improved her vegetable intake.

“I only have 50 square metres of land, but it is enough to grow spinach, watercress and tomatoes. I’ve just started planting fruit in pots. I enjoy harvesting from my own garden and I have never bought vegetables since I have been able to produce them on my own. I always serve vegetables with my meals and I have managed to inspire my grandson to eat more vegetables. He really likes vegetables now.”

Putri Handayani

Urban farmer

Putri tries to promote urban farming, partly through a WhatsApp women’s neighbourhood group in her village. She regularly shares photos of her vegetable garden, especially during harvest seasons. She regularly shares photos of her vegetable garden, especially during harvest seasons. This method has proven to be successful in attracting more women to start growing their own food.

Rini Pujiastuti (53), a member of Kerten Village urban farming group, started her vegetable garden because she is inspired by Putri.

“I saw photos of her garden then I visited her house in person; I was inspired to do the same. Now I grow mostly green vegetables for my family’s consumption. I like to cook using the vegetables that I grow, take a picture of the dish, and then share it to the WhatsApp group. I say ‘this is my harvest, what is yours?’ Other people then share their menu. It is fun." Rini Pujiastuti, Urban farmer

Creating a fertile ground for collaboration

Widdi Srihanto, the Head of the Community & Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Agency in Solo, says that urban farming is a good example of a collaborative model between stakeholders to manage food sustainably at city level.

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“We focus on empowering local communities, as part of our strategies to alleviate poverty. Community-level food management such as urban farming is a strategic programme to encourage participation from communities, especially women. In fact we can see that local government, communities and NGOs work together in Solo to promote urban farming.”

Widdi Srihanto

Head of Community & Women Empowerment and Child Protection Agency in Solo

Indeed, urban farming in Solo works because all stakeholders are willing to work together. On many occasions, the Mayor of Solo FX Hadi Rudyatmo has stated that the city has a vision to ensure good health and wellbeing (waras), good education (wasis), food sufficiency (wareg), employment (mapan), and habitable homes (papan) for all people.

The government agencies translate this vision into a set of programmes. The Community & Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Agency, for example, runs a food programme within the context of women’s and community empowerment. The agency has agreed to incorporate the Food Smart City initiative within its Gender Responsive Village Programme targeting women groups and women-headed households. These women will receive donated leftover food and food waste that they can use to make compost for their vegetable gardens.

“We raise people’s awareness of food quality and safety through outreach and monitoring activities. We also promote urban farming to women to help them produce fresh vegetables from their garden at home while receiving additional income through the sale of vegetables.” Wisnu Dwi Endro Utomo, Food Diversity & Safety Department Head at the Solo Agriculture Agency

Wisnu Dwi Endro Utomo, the Food Diversity & Safety Department Head at the Solo Agriculture Agency says that the main goal of the food programmes is “to protect consumers by ensuring safe, healthy, undamaged and halal food.” If integrated well with city programmes and policies, urban farming will have ample economic and environment benefits. Hence, the city government is on the lookout for more villages to be involved in the food smart city initiative. The initiative, Mr Srihanto says, has to be linked with and complement the government’s programmes, to ensure its sustainability and wide-scale adoption.

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