Urban agriculture can transform our cities, bring social benefits to communities and contribute to food production around the world. Here, former Youth Ag Summit delegate Diana Pamela Rico Campos shares why she believes the future of agriculture lies in urban farming — and how having limited space at home is no longer an excuse.
I am a food engineer by profession, and a farmer by conviction. In my first years as a professional, I worked for a multinational company in food product research, development and innovation, and in parallel, I started doing my first experiments with crops at home. I soon realized that I was passionate about being in touch with the earth and sharing the new experiences and knowledge I was coming across, so I changed my work to devote more time to agriculture and see how it could benefit more people.
Today, I am spreading the message that it is not necessary to have a large expanse of land to grow your own food. If you have a wall at home, it can be used for a vertical garden; if you have a balcony, you can create your own mini orchard. Having little space is no longer an excuse. I firmly believe that we can take great advantage of the spaces we consider "dead" in our homes, or in the neighborhood or the city we live in. Even a space of just one square meter can produce up to twenty kilos of food in a year! And that square meter, without a doubt, can make a significant difference in the supply of agricultural products in the community.
According to the Worldwatch Institute (WWI), 800 million people grow fruits and vegetables in urban environments around the world. This accounts for 20 percent of the total food produced. Within this system, we have a great opportunity to not only reduce the gap between where food is grown and where it is bought, but to create our own productive space where we live, taking advantage of all available resources.
Urban agriculture also offers benefits such as lowering prices for consumers (since the food is grown closer to the buyers), promoting local economic development and, of course, the environmental benefits of creating more green spaces within cities. As a result, we see a positive impact on the life and health of the people involved; and if it is cultivated in a family or a community, agriculture helps to generate a sense of social cohesion.
Local actions are essential in expanding urban agriculture. In Latin America, for example, we have the world’s largest vertical garden in Bogotá, Colombia – home to 85,000 plants! This garden is located throughout the facade of a residential building and for the local population, it works like a lung in a large urban center with few green areas. This building is a sign that the city and the countryside can be mixed. Now the challenge is: let's make living spaces, green spaces, spaces with nature… but let’s produce food in them. Let's achieve food security from where we live. This challenge can be taken back to your home, to your workplace or to your community.
After my participation in the last edition of the Youth AgVocate Summit (YAS), which took place in Brussels, Belgium in 2017, I came back to El Salvador with new ideas and an impetus to create more impact in my own community. That’s how I started with the "She Grows" project, which aims to bring the countryside closer to the city, seeking to empower women already working in agriculture, as well as encouraging others to reactivate local spaces to produce food, starting within their own homes. We want to enable them to feed themselves better, guarantee food security for their families and at the same time develop the skills to create their own sustainable business. To date, we have reached approximately 65 people directly, but impacted many more besides.
Events such as the Youth Ag Summit undoubtedly offer tools and specialized knowledge to young people like me, as well as the opportunity to learn about international projects which can be adopted elsewhere. These kinds of events are excellent channels where we can exchange information and grow as individuals and as professionals. Participating in the YAS allowed me to expand my mind, and I now count myself as part of a community of committed young people, willing to act to build a better future.
I am convinced of the importance of bringing more young people to agriculture, because ingenuity, creativity and the desire to change the world are the keys and I strongly believe that we will be the transforming agents that will see a new agricultural revolution become reality in the world.