You are on page 1of 8

1-4 December 2015

URBAN AGRICULTURE AND THE PRODUCTION OF WATER IN


THE METROPOLITAN REGION OF BELO HORIZONTE (RMBH),
BRAZIL.
Heloisa Costa1, Daniela Almeida2, Luisa Melgao3, Elisa Lara4, Igor Tupy 5

INTRODUCTION

In the context of urbanization and metropolization of towns, urban agriculture presents


itself as possibility of building differentiated space, supported on values of environmental and
social justice. Despite the pressures of real estate valuation, and urban expansion over the
territory, agricultural practices in the peripheral areas of the Metropolitan Region of Belo
Horizonte (MRBH) are significant and varied. The region has experienced recently an extended
and innovative process of metropolitan planning, in which the authors were engaged, with
important participation of local stakeholders. Within such process, several agricultural areas
were identified amidst urbanized territories, and emerged as important environmental and social
assets. They represent important sources of production and maintenance of water in the city,
and as such contribute to achieve the constitutional principle by which landed property must
fulfill its social function.
The MRBH is composed of thirty-four municipalities which have very unequal territorial,
economic and social characteristics, and a spatial structure highly concentrated in the city of
Belo Horizonte. There are conflicting regional interests that impose challenges for the
improvement of the quality of life and of the environment, but even in the most industrialized
municipalities it is possible to find a significant number of agricultural practices.
The inadequacy of information, studies and specific systematized data on urban
agriculture creates a few challenges for the affirmation and support for that practice in Brazilian
cities. Nevertheless, the paper argues that such fragility contrasts with the wide realm of
possibilities related to the plurality of actors engaged in a variety of agricultural spaces, and
reinforces the resilience of the activity, in a context of quasi absence of encouragement on the
part of planning and public policies.
Preliminary data collected by AU - Urban Agriculture Study Group formed in our
university (UFMG) reinforces the diverse character of agricultural experiments in the MRBH.
There are groups of conventional family farming of small and medium-sized properties,
communal rural areas; producing herbs, vegetables, fruit, medicinal plants and animal
husbandry; some experiences organic, agro-ecological, biodynamic and transition agriculture;
experiences of production for self-consumption in small home gardens, community spaces of
the informal groups and solidarity economics entrepreneurs. All these experiences contribute to
maintain water and, at the same time, they rely on the availability of water for their activities. On
the other hand there is also a significant conventional agricultural activity, based on a different

1
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil
2
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil
3
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil
4
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil
5
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil
1-4 December 2015

conception of land and resources use, which may pose a real threat to the populations food
security and to the protection and maintenance of adequate and good quality water sources.
Those competing land uses are a permanent challenge to planning and public policies.
The paper is organized as follows: the next section contains a brief discussion of the
main concepts related to urban agriculture and its practitionners. The following section
discusses the metropolitan planning experience of the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte, in
which the protection of catchments and water sources, associated to the productive (mainly
agricultural) uses of land are seen as important elements for achieving social and environmental
sustainability. The next evaluates the extent to which conventional agricultural practices can
pose a real threat to the availability of good quality water sources and for food security. After
that the paper highlights some of research results related to the identification and
characterization of non-conventional agricultural practices in the metropolitan region. Finally
some final remarks constitute an attempt to sum up the discussion and point out new research
possibilities.

URBAN AGRICULTURE: MULTIFUNCTIONALITY, DIVERSITY OF ACTORS,


DIVERSITY OF EXPERIENCES

Multifunctionality is a concept usually used to characterize the plural, hybrid and


multifaceted character of agriculture, highlighting its social, cultural and environmental functions,
in addition to the productive and economic aspects of this activity. In that sense the
multifunctionality of metropolitan agricultural practices refers to several dimensions, such as
those related to the environmental (use of natural resources, territorialities); to work (temporary
or permanent; formal or informal; more or less professionalized); to everyday life, such as food
production for self-consumption, access to local resources for health, occupational therapy,
improvement of family income directly or indirectly, and the insertion in community and
organizational dynamics.
In the Brazilian context, there is a dispute between food production and consumption
models. The agroecological model proposes a new platform for rural development based on
traditional knowledge and territories of peasant families, quilombolas, indigenous people,
collectors, traditional communities, artisanal fishermen, among other. The production of
knowledge and political action of the agroecological field relies on the principle of constructing a
new approach for production, in which the reproduction of life and the common interest is
opposed to the reproduction of capital. Therefore they are in opposition to the agribusiness
model, which represents a process of commodification and imposition of an industrial rationality
to the contemporary agriculture and food production system. In Brazil, this model, known as the
"green revolution", dates back to the decades of 1960 and 1970 when it promoted a
conservative modernisation of the countryside with the diffusion of technologies imported from
the central countries.
In the metropolitan context, there are conflicts between the different models of
agricultural production, as well as conflicts between the agricultural and other hegemonic
regional land uses, such as real estate, mining or industrial activities, particularly in the urban
expansion areas. But there are also recent convergences with other urban land use such as
urban waste disposal, food supply, recovery of degraded areas and protection of watersheds.
However, the agricultural use of urban land cannot always be considered as a virtue.
The agroecological approach requires some understanding of the contradictions and
1-4 December 2015

possibilities of urban agriculture practices, their maintenance, transformation and (re)


emergence in the contemporary metropolis.
The recognition of knowledges of subjects and groups in the metropolitan region is still
quite limited but the encounter of agroecological practices with the diversity of other urban
practices represent a huge potential for the dissemination and reproduction of ecological and
cultural values related to agroecosystems, quality of life, or values attached to the use of land in
the metropolitan territory.
Although usually associated to low-income residents, agricultural activities are also
practiced by population in different income levels within the municipalities of the Metropolitan
Region of Belo Horizonte. Productive spaces found in the built areas of the city and on its
edges, represent different life experiences of individuals, families or collectives that make the
agricultural practice an important survival strategy; an occupation and source of income; or a
possibility of collective organization, as an experience able to promote change and
appropriation of their life spaces. The commercial-scale production, driven by the industrial logic
and integrated with large networks of production-distribution-marketing occurs in the fields of
horticulture, poultry and swine farms, dairy farms and certified organic food producers.
In the metropolitan region there are social groups, such as farmers, family producers,
peasants, quilombolas and traditional communities which exercise their own symbolic and
material practices of appropriation of nature. In the urban borders there are farms and ranches
of urban dwellers of different income levels, weekend producers, whose output can be directed
to the market, for consumption, or for donation. There is also the emergence of innovations in
the traditional productive activities or in the movement of new producers seeking in agriculture a
new job or way of life. These innovations (or revaluations), such as organic and agroecological
production and small-scale food production, add value to the product and establish new forms
of integration with the city, as the producers and consumers market networks and local fairs
(ALMEIDA, 2015).

METROPOLITAN PLANNING AND DISPUTES OVER LAND USES


Since 2009 there is a significant effort to include the debate on urban agriculture, family
farming and small scale production in the metropolitan planning process, triggered by the
production, in the context of the our university, of the Integrated Development Plan of the
Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte PDDI-RMBH (UFMG, 2011). The plan constituted a
vigorous and rich collective learning experience, involving in its making the university (UFMG),
some sectors of the state and large sectors of the metropolitan civil society. After several public
workshops, technical meetings, seminars and extensive fieldwork, the plan proposed around 28
policies in different areas, including, for the sake of our argument, policies related to social and
small scale production, environmental and water sources protection, water supply and
sanitation, land use control, selective occupation of vacant land and contention of urban
expansion, among other policies. All of them where articulated around a proposition of
metropolitan territorial restructuring, which had some of its elements eventually developed
through a new project, also carried out by the same team and methodological approach, from
2013 onwards, which is the Metropolitan Macrozoning (MZ) recently concluded (UFMG, 2015).
During the process of making the MZ several areas related to rural life and agricultural
practices were identified within the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte. They were identified
as Areas of Metropolitan Interest (AIM) motivated by their potential rurality. Several areas were
defined as being of metropolitan interest, a category formally established by metropolitan
1-4 December 2015

legislation. The establishment of the AIMs and of the Metropolitan Interest Zones (ZIM) were
motivated by some specific feature of the areas, whenever they were recognized as a
metropolitan asset, that is, whenever their metropolitan value or function encompassed a larger
area or population, which meant that the metropolitan interest surpassed the strictly local value
or interest. The Macrozonig established several ZIMs related to important metropolitan water
sources, clearly an asset of metropolitan importance, and their catchment areas. The map in the
following pages illustrates the location of the AIMs related to the development and incentive of
rural/agricultural activities, and the ZIMs associated to water sources.
The identification of areas of rural/agricultural interest through the MZ process was
complemented by a second important source: a work-in-process project carried out by AU
Urban Agriculture Studies Group, formed in UFMG, and to which the authors also belong: the
mapping and characterization of agricultural practices and experiences in the municipalities of
the RMBH, also shown in the above mentioned map. Two distinct and complementary
perspectives could be highlighted from those studies.
The first one refers to food security. Sectoral studies carried out for the PDDI-RMBH
emphasized the conditions of food insecurity present in RMBH, expressed by the huge budget
commitment of low-income families with food; overweight and obesity; and the lack of policies to
support family farming food production. Therefore the maintenance and encouragement of agri-
food production spaces performed on a sustainable basis were acknowledged by the
metropolitan plan as a public function of common interest aiming at ensuring food security for
the population (UFMG, 2011).
The second perspective refers to the containment of urban sprawl and sustainable use
of the land. In general, public discussion at the workshops reinforced a need for maintenance of
rural areas and of vacant landed property for food production. Extensive mining and urban
expansion through new land developments were perceived as a real threat to the maintenance
of water protection areas and of rural activities therefore should be contained in the
Macrozoning proposal. Another related threat is the tendency of some municipalities to extend
their urban boundaries (urban perimeter) thus allowing larger areas for urban expansion. On the
other hand agricultural land use in the region was often associated with the preservation of
green areas and unbuilt spaces, both in rural and in urban areas.
From the viewpoint of environmental protection and development, ecological agriculture
was defined as one of the activities or land uses considered of great importance for the gradual
construction of a Trama Verde e Azul (TVA - Green-Blue Network), a new element in the
territorial restructuring of the MRBH, which proposes to connect a network of green areas, water
courses, road system, cultural and leisure activities in different scales. Agricultural land use
improves soil permeability, protects water sources and river banks through the cultivation and
management of local flora species; reduces runoff volumes through infiltration of rainwater. In
that sense agriculture helps to maintain and produce water.
The final results of the Metropolitan Macrozoning point to advances in the
understanding of the multiple ways in which agroecology and urban agriculture are related to
the metropolitan territorial restructuring. The ecological proposal principles indicated that the
common view that agricultural activities necessarily cause negative environmental impacts,
does not take into account the contrast between different paradigms of agriculture production
currently in dispute in Brazil. Agroecological practices present in the MRBH and the research
trajectory and social organization of the ecological field in Brazil offers the possibility of
incorporating ecological and socio-cultural perspective on food production, such as the
integration with nature cycles and environmental protection; achieving decent and fair work
conditions in the production process; adopting cooperative relationships with consumers; and
1-4 December 2015

making the local/regional economy more dynamic. On the other hand, the preliminary results of
the mapping of agricultural practices and experiences carried out by AU showed that there is
huge heterogeneity of old and new agricultural practices in the metropolitan municipalities.
Despite the richness of the debates during the planning process, the agricultural land
use and the protection of rural areas was not the main justification for any of the 19 ZIMs
proposed in the MZ. However, the maintenance of rurality was an important concern to guide
the delimitation of perimeters and zoning of most ZIMs. These results reaffirm that agricultural
activity in metropolitan areas occurs in different scales; extrapolates the administrative
definitions of both rural and urban areas; and can coexist with land uses often seen as
antagonic.

CONVENTIONAL AGRICULTURE AND WATER PRODUCTION AT


METROPOLITAN LEVEL

Despite agriculture has been overlooked as an irrelevant economic activity in the


context of the MRBH by several analysts, planners and policy makers, it can be seen as an
important source of production and employment in many peripheral municipalities of the region.
This production represents also the main metropolitan supply source of several crops, mainly
greeneries, vegetables and fruit. A large proportion of this agricultural output is produced in rural
areas located next to water courses and water sources used for metropolitan water supply. In
this context, several conflicts emerge related to the needs of water production and the
implications of large scale agriculture based on monoculture production with intensive use of
pesticides.
In two metropolitan areas this concern appears with more intensity, where food and
water supply share the same spaces. Serra Azul and Rio Manso are two of the most important
dams used metropolitan water supply. They are both located in areas with relevant agricultural
activities, focused on conventional pesticide-intensive agriculture but, at the same time, highly
necessary to the regions food supply.
The Serra Azul water basin contains several rural areas in the municipalities of Mateus
Leme, Juatuba and Igarap formed by a large number of agricultural properties responsible for
significant portion of the regional food production. Mateus Leme presents the second biggest
agriculture added value of the RMBH, commercializing more than 17000 tons of foods with
CEASA, the most important food distributor in the region. The Rio Manso water basin covers
parts of the municipalities of Itatiaiuu and Itaguara and the whole territory of Rio Manso, and
has an important agricultural activity directed to food provision to CEASA. The area presents
the higher proportion of the metropolitan family producers focusing on vegetables.
Besides the above mentioned areas of conflicts between food production and water
production, there is a tendency that the same conflict remains in the areas containing new water
sources, as the future dams to be explored as sources of metropolitan water production are also
located on agricultural areas in the municipalities of Taquarau and Jaboticatubas. The
Taquarau river basin belongs to the municipalities of Nova Unio and Taquarau de Minas.
The former is the main responsible in absolute terms for food supply for CEASA, highly
concentrated in the production of bananas. In Nova Unio agriculture has the higher relative
participation on the aggregate municipal GDP and the second higher relative participation on
total employment. Similar features can be found in Jaboticatubas where a planned dam will be
built near traditional food producer communities.
1-4 December 2015

From those brief examples, it seems clear that the current pattern of food production in
the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte in several areas has many potential impacts on the
sustainability of water production to the whole region. Since the major part of this agricultural
production is conventional with intensive use of pesticides its relationships with the most
important water sources require careful thought.

DIVERSITY OF AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES AND EXPERIENCES IN THE


MRBH

Based on an ongoing research by AU, the urban agriculture study group of UFMG,
several non-conventional experiences and practices are being registered and analysed as far
as some variables are concerned, such as number of participants, location, size of property,
land ownership relation, type of work, type of space used, technology, level of organization of
producers, destination of production among other. The map that follows presents the location of
the experiences and practices, pointing so far to areas of concentration of them.
In the northern region, for example, there are several communities of agroecological
family farmers commercializing their products in local markets, as the Feira Razes do Campo in
Jaboticatuba. In other municipalities, as mentioned previously, farmers produce the
conventional way using chemicals and commercializing through distribution centres, such as in
Baldim. In the Northwest the municipality of Capim Branco is reference in the production on
organic food, now known as "the organic city". In the South the municipalities of Rio Acima,
Nova Lima and Raposos became important for honey production, small-scale fruit production,
and family and agroecological backgardens.
The municipalities of Ibirit, Betim, Sarzedo, Mario Campos, So Joaquim de Bicas,
Igarap and Brumadinho integrate a southwestern metropolitan greenbelt, producing fruits and
vegetables distributed by supply centers. Those are conventional agricultural production and the
consequences for the contamination of the water sources and reservoirs require huge
investments in terms an ecological transition.
1-4 December 2015

Source: UFMG (2015) and AU


Municipalities of the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte:
1- Belo Horizonte; 2- Brumadinho; 3- Caet; 4- Baldim; 5- Betim; 6- Capim Branco; 7- Confins; 8-
Contagem; 9- Esmeraldas; 10- Floresta; 11- Ibirit; 12- Igarap; 13- Itaguara; 14- Itatiaiuu; 15-
Jaboticatubas; 16- Nova Unio; 17- Juatuba; 18- Lagoa Santa; 19- Mrio Campos; 20- Mateus Leme; 21-
1-4 December 2015

Matozinhos; 22- Nova Lima; 23- Pedro Leopoldo; 24- Raposos; 25- Ribeiro das Neves; 26- Rio Acima;
27- Rio Manso; 28- Sabar; 29- Santa Luzia; 30- So Joaquim de Bicas; 31- So Jos da Lapa; 32-
Sarzedo; 33- Taquarau de Minas; 34- Vespasiano.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

The paper attempted to establish some links between planning and the dispute over
metropolitan land for different uses, particularly emphasizing the protection of water sources as
a common environmental asset and for metropolitan supply. It reinforces the role of planning
tools at metropolitan level to encourage solidarity among local interests instead of competition.
The arguments highlighted the importance of economic, social, and cultural use of
urban land for the improvement of the environmental quality of cities and the maintenance of
urban biodiversity related to urban agriculture and the production and maintenance of water.
Such approach contributes to surpass the dichotomist views that oppose the natural
environment and the metropolis, aiming towards new convergent approaches of sustainability
and urbanity. Metropolitan planning proposals developed by the group, tend to reinforce
alternative uses of land and water, as an attempt to bring nature to urbanization, and people
and social, economic and cultural activities to high environmental quality areas.

REFERENCES

ALMEIDA, D.A.O. Agricultura urbana: isto e aquilo. In: COSTA, G.M.; COSTA, H.S.M.;
MONTE-MR, R.L.M. (orgs.). Teorias e prticas urbanas: condies para a sociedade urbana.
Belo Horizonte: C/Arte, 2015.
ALMEIDA, D.A.O.; MELGAO, L. Agroecologia, agricultura urbana e planejamento
metropolitano: conexes possveis para uma reestruturao territorial da RMBH. Cadernos de
Agroecologia, v. 10, n. 3, Out 2015.
LEFEBVRE, H. A revoluo urbana. Belo Horizonte: Ed. UFMG, 2008.
MOUGEOT, L.J.A. Urban agriculture: Definition, presence, potential and risks. In:
BAKKER, N. et al (eds). Growing cities, growing food: Urban agriculture on the policy agenda. A
reader on urban agriculture. Feldafing: German Foundation for International Development,
2000.
SANTANDREU, A.; LOVO, I. Panorama da agricultura urbana e periurbana no Brasil e
diretrizes polticas para sua promoo: identificao e caracterizao de iniciativas de
agricultura urbana e periurbana em regies metropolitanas brasileiras. 2007.
SMIT, J.; RATTA, A.; NASR, J. Urban agriculture: food, jobs and sustainable cities.
Publication Series for Habitat II, Vol. I. Nova York: PNUD, 1996.
TUPY, I. S.; ALMEIDA, D.A.O.; MELGAO, L. Notas sobre a produo agrcola na
Regio Metropolitana de Belo Horizonte: para alm da irrelevncia, inviabilidade e
incompatibilidade Cadernos de Agroecologia, v. 10, n. 3, Out 2015.
UFMG. Plano Metropolitano. Macrozoneamento RMBH. Belo Horizonte: UFMG, 2015.
UFMG/Pucminas/UEMG. Plano Diretor de Desenvolvimento Integrado da Regio
Metropolitana de Belo Horizonte. Belo Horizonte: UFMG, 2011.