What are the Impacts of Urban Agriculture Programs on Food Security in Low and Middle-income Countries: a Systematic Review

Publication Details

Korth, M., Stewart, R., Langer, L., Madinga, N., Rebelo Da Silva, N., Zaranyika, H., van Rooyen, C. and de Wet, T. (2014) What are the impacts of urban agriculture programs on food security in low and middle-income countries: a systematic review. Environmental Evidence. 3(21).

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Marcel Korth, Ruth Stewart, Laurenz Langer, Nolizwe Madinga, Natalie Rebelo Da Silva, Hazel Zaranyika, Carina van Rooyen, Thea de Wet
East Asia and Pacific (includes South East Asia), South Asia, Europe and CIS, Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean
Agriculture and Rural Development, Urban Development
Agricultural Reform, Urban Development and Management
Equity Focus
Review Type
Effectiveness review

Main findings

Headline Findings: a summary statement

No studies were found to evaluate the impact of urban agriculture on food security in low- and middle-income countries.

Evidence Base

No studies met the inclusion criteria.

Implications for policy and practice

The authors found no studies to either support or refute the claim that urban agriculture improves food security in low and middle-income countries.

The authors did find a range of studies that examine the association between urban agriculture and aspects of food security. They also found a large number of studies discussing urban agriculture’s potential to contribute to food security or economic standing of households and communities, but these were mostly cross-sectional or qualitative studies. 

Implications for further research

The authors call for funding and research collaborations to produce rigorous impact evaluations that measure the impact of urban agriculture interventions, with food security (for households and communities) as the main outcome measure. Such evaluations should include control groups and measure outcomes over a period of time.

The authors suggest further analysis of qualitative and cross-sectional studies to develop a theory of change about the relationship between urban agriculture and food security; such an analysis would provide the foundation for designing impact evaluations. They also encourage researchers to create a systematic map outlining the characteristics of the available evidence base before developing a full systematic review protocol. This technique assists with defining the inclusion and exclusion criteria for the systematic review.


One of the most pressing problems facing the developing world’s urban populations is urban food insecurity, a result of rapid urban population growth, increasing volatility in food prices and high levels of urban poverty. Urban planners and academics consider urban agriculture to be a promising method to improve urban food security. The term urban agriculture encompasses a variety of intervention types related to urban farming systems, including interventions focused on growing, processing and distributing a diverse range of food and non-food products, mainly within the urban area. Urban agriculture is thought to improve food security and nutrition through two main pathways: direct access and consumption of home-grown food, and income from sales of home-grown food. This review looks at the evidence to support urban agriculture as a method to improve food security in urban areas of low- and middle-income countries.

Research objectives

‘The aim of this review was to collect and analyse available evidence on the impact of urban agriculture in low and middle-income countries.’


The authors included impact evaluation studies assessing the effect of urban agriculture interventions on food security, nutrition and income in urban and peri-urban contexts in low- and middle-income countries. The inclusion criteria defined impact evaluation studies as studies that use a comparison group, measure outcomes at the household, individual and/or community levels and measure change over time using at least two data points. Studies where urban agriculture was a leisure activity, rather than a livelihood strategy, were excluded.

The authors searched online databases and repositories for studies published between 1980 and September 2013; they also searched the reference lists of relevant studies. The search was conducted in English and Spanish, but there were no language restrictions on included studies. All abstracts were screened, but the screening yielded no eligible studies, so no further data were extracted or synthesised.

Quality assessment

This is a high quality review with few limitations. The authors conducted a thorough and comprehensive search, reliably screened studies, and presented a codebook for the audience’s inspection. One very minor limitation is that the review and online appendices lacked specific information on methods that would have been used had the authors identified any studies, for example on effect size calculations and synthesis methods.

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