On 24 June 2016, students in the UNU-IAS postgraduate programme visited Nerima City, Tokyo to understand how urban agriculture is practised in the city, and exchange ideas with practitioners and city officials about the future of urban agriculture. The activity was coordinated and supported by the Nerima City Office.
The students, led by Dr. Osamu Saito (Academic Director, UNU-IAS) and Prof. Gordana Kranjac-Berisavljevic (University for Development Studies, Ghana), first stopped at an experimental farm to observe a farmers’ training session conducted by Mr. Yoshimatsu Kato, an agricultural technician/expert and head owner of the farm. Following the session, the students asked Mr. Kato about farm management systems and operations, farm inputs and produce, types of vegetables planted, and challenges that farmer-members encounter.
When asked why they engage in farming through allotment gardens, participating members answered, “it’s an opportunity to get involved in agricultural activities while at the same time, it facilitates conversations and exchanges with neighbors”. They also mentioned that they not only enjoy the supply of fresh vegetables from their allotments, but also the sense of well-being that farming activities provide.
Following the visit to the experimental demonstration farm, the city officials took the students to Takamatsu forest, an urban forest managed by the Nerima City Office. Urban forest ecosystems, although often ignored, play substantial roles in improving ground water supply and quality by means of filtration, as well as in reducing heat-island effect through climate regulation. Urban forests provide shelter to animals and can house a variety of species due to its relatively complex structure. In the case of Takamatsu urban forest, it also offers recreation to the public.
The field visit ended at the Nerima Agricultural College where city officials offer opportunities to its residents to receive training as agricultural technicians. In addition, the city offers short visits and activities tailored for children. These capacity building initiatives are regularly conducted to raise awareness and promote the importance of local production for local consumption in building a sustainable city.
The students, after experiencing various urban agricultural activities, appreciated “how important urban agriculture is on aspects of food security and well-being, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable cities”. They discussed key topics such as current global challenges in urban agriculture — including commercialization, aging farmers, availability of and access to technology, less established tax regulations and finance mechanisms in place — and future directions and growth of urban agriculture in other countries. They also made suggestions for the International Conference on Urban Agriculture, which is envisioned by Nerima City and is set to be held in 2019.