Risks and responses to urban futures: integrating peri-urban/urban synergies into urban development planning for enhanced ecosystem service benefits
Urbanisation brings the creation of new opportunities for many, while also resulting in a dramatic increase in the concentration of poverty and environmental degradation in peri-urban zones. Peri-urban areas, at the interface between urban and rural, link rural livelihoods with the urban lifestyles that put multiple pressures on peri-urban ecosystems. This poses huge challenges for the health and livelihoods of an increasing number of disenfranchised, poor and marginalised citizens, and for the sustainable urban development.
Urban policies for provision of essential services such as food and water, draw upon ecosystem services from the peri-urban zone and from further afield. At the same time, the export of polluting activities and domestic waste to peri-urban localities degrades ecosystem services, with adverse implications for urban and peri-urban communities.
This research project aimed to explore the intersections between ecosystem services and poverty in peri-urban areas of India, and implications for urban development. Our overarching research hypothesis was that a better understanding of peri-urban ecosystem services and relationships with poverty alleviation will generate knowledge and mobilise people, and in turn generate more effective urban development initiatives.
To better understand the complex interactions of ecosystem services and human wellbeing in highly dynamic peri-urban landscapes, we used spatio-temporal modelling to analyse interactions and trade-offs in space and time. This involved a combination of primary and secondary data sets and the development of new approaches to modelling that could be used to support initiatives to enhance ecosystem services benefits and support urban planning processes.
Empirical case studies were carried out in India in Delhi’s National Capital Territory. Here we worked with peri-urban communities, using a range of participatory methods, to examine the relationship between ecosystem services (with an emphasis for primary data collection on services associated with agriculture and food systems) and multiple dimensions of poverty (with an emphasis on health).
Our findings revealed that changing agricultural practices – linked both to changing access and utilisation of ecosystem services, livelihood options and urban markets – contribute to the reduction of material poverty but also have negative implications for other dimensions of poverty; for example increases in health poverty (through industrial pollution and intensive farming) and time poverty (particularly for women as the main agricultural labourers). Vulnerability is increasing and changing in nature for small holder farmers and tenant farmers as a result of changes in ecosystem services and increasing land prices, changing governance arrangements, power relations and agency.
Re-designation of the area from a rural village to an urban ward and large scale in-migration to the community has meant that pre-existing local modes of governance and management of ecosystem services have become impossible to continue. Indeed, new urban governance arrangements have been imposed. There are no policies that explicitly develop peri-urban residents’ interests in preserving ecosystem services. The new governance arrangements have diverse impacts on the agency of different groups. The collective agency of land-owning farmers is constrained as former institutions for community action have dissolved. New opportunities for action are available to some and not others.
We identified policy entry points, working with diverse stakeholders to examine the potential to integrate an understanding of the interaction between peri-urban ecosystem services and poverty alleviation goals into decision-making processes and implementation. Target policies and programmes included those associated with the national urban horticulture initiative, which aims to support peri-urban producers and ensure a supply of fresh produce to cities, and urban waste management and pollution control plans. The spatial analysis formed the basis of tools to support dialogue with policy actors.
We also actively engaged with initiatives in other south Asian cities, building a network with partners from other Indian cities and in Nepal and Bangladesh through project-linked activities. This network facilitated the joint development of research approaches and tools for policy engagement that can be applied more widely.