Women in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of this city 40 km north of Rio de Janeiro no longer have to spend money on vegetables, because they have learned to grow their own, as organic urban gardening takes off in Brazil.
The Urban Agriculture Programme, which now provides the women with technical assistance, was created in 1999, and was expanded into peri-urban areas in 2011 by AS-PTA, a non-governmental organisation that promotes urban family gardening and agroecology.
The majority of the food consumed in the city comes from far away, which means prices are driven up by transport costs, Marcio Mattos de Mendonça, the coordinator of the Urban Agriculture Programme, told IPS. “The people who live in these communities need food from nearby areas,” he said.
In line with the global demographic trend, Brazil’s population of more than 192 million people is increasingly urban.
In 2000, 81 percent of Brazilians lived in urban areas, and 10 years later the proportion has risen to over 84 percent, according to the 2010 census.
In many poor urban areas like the favelas or shantytowns lining the hills of Rio de Janeiro, people have kept alive the custom of growing vegetables and medicinal herbs, and raising small animals like pigs, goats or barnyard fowl.
Of the more than 50 plots of land available for urban farming in Nova Iguaçu, only 22 are currently in use, said one of the visitors from the congress, Angélica Siqueira, a student in her final year of coursework for a degree in nutrition at the alternative economy centre of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul.
“There is still a prejudice that the countryside is poor,” Siqueira told IPS. Her team is attempting to apply urban and peri-urban farming techniques in poor neighbourhoods in her state, in southern Brazil, through the Technological Incubator of Popular Cooperatives.
“Before, we didn’t even know how to run a company, and now we administer our own cooperative,” said Fausto, a true convert to urban gardening.