Food and livelihood security in urban-rural hinterlands

Peri-urban areas are not ‘waiting rooms’ for entry into urban areas. A fundamental change in mindsets is needed, to prevent further land-use changes and unregulated construction activities. The situation can be better managed by promoting and maintaining multifunctional green spaces and also peri-urban agriculture. The initiative of co creation of science and technology solutions over the green spaces in peri-urban areas of Gorakhpur city has paved an effective way to improve food security of people, maintaining green spaces around the city and enhancing livelihoods for rural poor in urban –rural hinterland areas.

Peri-urban agriculture in Gorakhpur city of India represents a practical mechanism for diversifying urban livelihoods, particularly those of poor and marginalized communities, ensuring the availability of local food supplies, particularly vegetables and fruits and maintaining open areas that can serve as flood buffers. The land use pattern and ecosystem services in these areas are maintained to promote climate resilient peri-urban agriculture with innovative methods. This has resulted in securing livelihoods of small and marginal farmers, enhancing agricultural productivity and ensuring urban food security.

Unplanned urbanization and climate variability are two major impediments for sustainable development of cities. The shrinking open space in urban areas and growing demand for shelter is creating pressure on the existing agricultural land, it is jeopardizing green spaces, interrupted the supply chain of vital food items to cities and affecting the traditional livelihood pattern of rural areas.

The present paper is an attempt to disseminate the innovative initiatives taken by the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) under the project supported by the Core Support Project of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. In this project, GEAG seeks to mitigate flood and water logging risk of Gorakhpur city through maintaining green by strengthening peri-urban agriculture. The process also demonstrates the importance of ecosystem services through resilient agriculture practice for addressing climate change impacts on the city.

Peri urban areas of Gorakhpur are densely populated. Intensive smallholder agriculture is the dominant norm.  Marginal local farmers and poor city dwellers as well as,rural migrants live side by side and are engaged in agriculture. The peri-urban areas are important   food production centres . That play a crucial role in supplying fresh and affordable food for growing urban populations. For poor peri-urban communities, agriculture is a key livelihood strategy meeting basic food produce and income requirements,  as  a source of employment e.g. as farm labourers. However, the challenges for producing safe and affordable food that preserves environmental integrity are immense.

Gorakhpur is considered the largest commercial centre in Trans Saryu region, with both retail and wholesale markets of commodities ranging from agricultural products to home based cottage industries. Historically, the whole region new to experience low levels of flooding each year, during the summer monsoon (June–September). But during last few decades the haphazard urbanisation process and climatic variability (more rainfall in fewer days) has added new challenge to the existing vulnerabilities, in and around the city. The recent extreme events have raised the intensity and duration of floods and water logging in certain parts of the city.

The initiative has reduced migration by desperate farmers and has generated hope in farming

The Initiative

GEAG is promoting innovative climate resilient agriculture practices in two villages of Jungle Kodiya Block, Gorakhpur, across 170 hectares of land in the peri urban parts of Jungle kodiya town, especially with small, marginal and woman farmers. The intervention under the Strengthening, Upscaling & Nurturing Innovations for Livelihood (SUNIL) programme, supported by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India has co-created a process of enhancing net gains in farming for small and marginal farmers by evolving customised technologies in specific contexts of waterlogged area, silted area, upland area (with drought uncertainties), flood plains – catchment area, and peri urban areas.

Box 1: Diversification: a less risky option

50 year old Sugreev Prasad, a farmer from Jindapur village, Block- Jungle Kaudia, Distt.- Gorakhpur, who traditionally grew only few types of crops on his one acre land. In 2019, he attended a training program on various agriculture related soft technologies and decided to change his approach to farming.

Today, Sugreev has moved beyond those few crops. His winter crop vegetables include peas, cauliflower, cabbage, radish, carrot, coriander, garlic, onion, spinach, potato, wheat, tomato, while the monsoon palette has beans, gourd, lady’s finger and paddy. He prepared C.P.P and vermi compost, which combined with cattle manure gives him his own supply of organic manure. Besides this he makes chemical free pesticides for his crops and has developed a system for irrigation; all of which makes him self-sufficient. Sugreev is happy to experiment now and uses innovative techniques.

He explains, ‘More income means, lesser loans taken. There is more to eat for the family.” Again he says, “With these efforts and linkages with technologies, I reduce the 42% market costs due to minimal external inputs. Before the linkages with project, we got net annual profit Rs. 10000-12000, but now our net annual profit is Rs. 65000. Today, his experience has enabled many others to adopt multiple vegetable farming techniques and almost 25% farmers in the vicinity have embraced these techniques on their own farms.

Under the SUNIL Programme, GEAG  has been promoting resilient agriculture in the peri urban areas  since last three years (2018-2021). The initiative started with 2 small and marginal model farmers – Sugriv (Box 1) and Ramchandar (Box 2). It has now spread to 117 farmers who are following the model farmers.

The initiative represents  a practical way of  diversifying livelihoods for poor and marginalised communities, ensuring local food supplies, particularly vegetables and fruits and conserving open areas that serve as flood buffers. The process has helped the farming communities to become more robust and flood-resilient by minimizing the chances of losses. The farmers have also adopted recycling processes in farm sub systems, reducing the need for external inputs. Farmers use a range of practices including reducing external bio-inputs, growing appropriate crop varieties, employing space and time management, seed banking, land shaping and potable nursery systems.

The Initiative is based on the principle of integration of agriculture-horticulture-livestock system to enhance the diversity-complexity and recycling processes in the farming systems (fig.1). This is an established and adapted model of GEAG developed over the last three decades with the people. The unique feature of this model is its sustainability. It is designed on the basis of local conditions. The regions are prone to high floods. Hence, the farmers are regularly updated with short and medium term weather forecast through Mobile SMS.

Along with technical support in farming systems, the strategy is also to create a demand for climate resilient peri urban farming system among the vulnerable groups.  While promoting an environmental policy to preserve the agricultural land of peri urban areas.  In this process, emphasis has also been laid to institutionalize the community through model farmers and agro service centres. Together with jungle kaudia clusters, 16 model farmers and 4 agro service centers have been established.

Key components of peri urban farming

  1. Establishing and disseminating resilient farming systems: The program established and disseminated resilient farming system with the underlying idea of “seeing is believing.”
  1. Institution building The implementation of the bio inputs and climate resilient practices described above were further supported by the farmer field schools, Self help group agro-service centers, and farmer producer groups. The farmer field schools facilitated exchange of information among farmers and increased their confidence in implementing the newly learned practices. The agro-service centers provided agricultural equipment, such as diesel-powered water pumps, irrigation pipes, and materials for preparing nurseries and constructing poly houses, on a rental basis. These organizations have been crucial in supporting and facilitating both model and link farmers in the implementation of the climate-resilient production practices.
  1. Establishment of linkages and networking with knowledge institutions: The project facilitated the establishment of linkages and connections between farmers and experts from different knowledge institutions like KVK, NABARD, IIT Kanpur and start-up companies. These linkages enable farmers to access to information from experts, subsidy schemes from government and line departments. Farmers recognizing the importance of these linkages felt they felt better enable to solve their own problems.

Programme impacts:  Broadly the programme has achieved the following.Conserving agricultural land in peri-urban areas and paved model to enhance flood buffering capacity of the city.

  • Establishing sustainable and climate-resilient models for agriculture-horticulture-livestock systems in marginal land holdings in peri-urban areas by promoting bio input support practices.
  • Ensured food security of poor households and reduced distress migration.
  • Reduced input use and enhanced net gains for smallholder and women farmers.
  • Enhanced livelihood security of vulnerable groups in peri-urban areas and the food security of urban poor.

Box 2: Low Tunnel Poly House technology

Ram Chander, from village Jindapur, was not a farmer in true sense. He did grow wheat on his 0.6 acre field, but got very low returns, since the land was low laying and subject to water logging. His income came from a small shop that served as a means of livelihood for him and his family. He attended the monthly Agro Service Centre committee’s meeting and other awareness meetings, but did not actively participate in its activities nor showed any interest until almost a year after the training.

What caught his interest was the Low Tunnel Poly House technology, particularly beneficial for low-lying area. This is based on a greenhouse technology that lets in light and sun, and prevents heat from escaping. However instead of glass these structures are made from a cheaper alternative, polythene or plastic. He builds such low tunnels on the higher reaches of his fields (bunds), with transparent coverings fixed over vegetable rows to help plant growth. Not only did he raise saplings for out of season vegetables but also reduced plant mortality. Today Ram Chandar has a vegetable nursery and sells seedlings and saplings to neighboring farmers. He has also taught this technology to others farmers and helped twelve farmers set up these structures.

Ram Chandar says proudly, “Farmers come to me for a range of information relating to agriculture.” Improved monetary benefits have enhanced his and his family’s lives. From a very reluctant farmer, Ram Chandar has now become a proponent of LEISA, particularly the low tunnel poly house technology. He further says’ “After linkages with project, our net profit was Rs. 3500.00 per season, but now, we got annual output income is Rs. 6000.00.”  He believes that vegetable cultivation gives him more profit and better nutrition for his family, compared to the wheat he was growing earlier, even though the work now is more intensive. Innovative technology and the resulting benefits have reaffirmed Ram Chandar’s faith in agriculture. He does not want to lose his land to urbanization and hopes that this will not happen at least in his or his children’s lifetime. Now, more than 50 farmers adopted this technology for nursery growing and timely vegetable harvesting.


The Gorakhpur case has been a successful attempt to reduce migration by desperate farmers and has generated new hope in farming. The practices of climate resilient agriculture has helped in reducing input costs and boosting the net gains. It has also contributed in enhanced livelihood security of vulnerable groups and ensured food security for the urban poor. There no doubt that if villagers are helped to improve farming, horticulture and animal husbandry in systematic way, the possibility of selling their valuable lands to builders will reduce open spaces and water bodies will be protected in their area.

Ajay Kumar Singh and Archana Srivastava

Ajay Kumar Singh

Archana Srivastava

Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group

HIG – 1/4, Siddharthpuram

Taramandal Road

Gorakhpur-273 017







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