Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 115, Issue 2, pp 143–158 | Cite as

Trends and gaps in scholarly literature on urban and peri-urban agriculture

  • Sophie Graefe
  • Andreas BuerkertEmail author
  • Eva Schlecht
Review Article


In recent years urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) has gained increasing attention, while a comprehensive synthesis and identification of research gaps is lacking. The present review indicates that with a share of 27% of scholarly publications sub-Saharan Africa is the geographical region most often reported in scientific literature. Middle East and North Africa (MENA, 1.9%) and Oceania (2.8%) in contrast appeared underrepresented. Megacities (> 5 million inhabitants) received less scientific attention than smaller agglomerations. 3.6% of UPA publications addressed heavy metals, of which 82% detected a contamination in plants, soil or irrigation water above recommended thresholds, but the thereby bioavailability of heavy metals remains unclear. Organic pollutants in contrast seem to be understudied. 1.7% of the studies focused on microbial contamination in UPA and 9.7% addressed socio-economic aspects of urban agriculture. The latter are very context specific and span from supplementation of food in poor households to market-oriented production. Only 2% of studies explicitly dealt with animal husbandry in UPA. This topic should receive more scientific attention, since the integration of urban animal husbandry with cropping systems has large potential for recycling of nutrients. Similarly, only 2.4% of studies examined urban foodsheds and food supply, despite the challenge of ongoing urbanization, which requires increasing source areas for feeding cities. Maintaining ecosystems services in an urban environment that is highly competitive for scarce resources such as space, water, labour and capital requires an efficient resource management at different spatial scales. This calls for interdisciplinary research approaches in a social-ecological systems framework.


Heavy metals Microbial contamination Nutrient flow Social-ecological systems approach Urban sustainability Wastewater use 



This study was based on and inspired by interdisciplinary research conducted in the framework of the Research Unit FOR2432 “Social-Ecological Systems in the Indian Rural–Urban Interface: Functions, Scales, and Dynamics of Transition” funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG, BU 1308_13-2/14-1) and the UrbanFoodPlus Project ( funded within the GlobE-Research initiative for the Global Food Supply (FKZ: 031A242-A) by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). We thank Pay Drechsel for valuable discussions on the manuscript and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.


  1. Abdu N, Agbenin J, Buerkert A (2011a) Phytoavailability, human risk assessment and transfer characteristics of cadmium and zinc contamination from urban gardens in Kano, Nigeria. J Sci Food Agric 91:2722–2730PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Abdu N, Abdulkadir A, Agbenin JO, Buerkert A (2011b) Vertical distribution of heavy metals in wastewater-irrigated vegetable garden soils of three West African cities. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 89:387–397Google Scholar
  3. Akoto-Danso E, Karg H, Drechsel P, Nyarko G, Buerkert A (2019) Virtual water flow in food trade systems of two West African cities. Agric Water Manage 213:760–772Google Scholar
  4. Alfaro MR, Araújo do Nascimento CW, Muñiz Ugarte O, Montero Àlvarez A, de Aguiar Accioly AM, Calero Martín B, Limeres Jiménez T, Ginebra Aguilar M (2017) First national-wide survey of trace elements in Cuban urban agriculture. Agron Sustain Dev 37:27Google Scholar
  5. Al-Ismaili AM, Ahmed M, Al-Busaidi A, Al-Adawi S, Tandlich R, Al-Amri M (2017) Extended use of grey water for irrigating home gardens in an arid environment. Environ Sci Pollut Res 24:13650–13658Google Scholar
  6. Amadou H, Konaté L, Nantoumé H, Buerkert A, Schlecht E (2015) Nutrient use efficiency in peri-urban dairy cattle and sheep holdings in southern Mali. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 102:65–78Google Scholar
  7. Antisari LV, Orsini F, Marchetti L, Vianello G, Gianquinto G (2015) Heavy metal accumulation in vegetables grown in urban gardens. Agron Sustain Dev 35:1139–1147Google Scholar
  8. Antwi-Agyei P, Peasey A, Biran A, Bruce J, Ensink J (2016) Risk perceptions of wastewater use for urban agriculture in Accra, Ghana. PLoS ONE 11(3):e0150603PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  9. Ashebir D, Pasquini M, Bihon W (2007) Urban agriculture in Mekelle, Tigray state, Ethiopia: principal characteristics, opportunities and constraints for further research and development. Cities 24:218–228Google Scholar
  10. Ayerakwa HM (2017) Urban households’ engagement in agriculture: implications for household food security in Ghana’s medium sized cities. Geogr Res 5:217–230Google Scholar
  11. Bellwood-Howard I, Shakya M, Korbeogo G, Schlesinger J (2018) The role of backyard farms in two West African urban landscapes. Landsc Urban Plan 170:34–47Google Scholar
  12. Bhatia A, Singh SD, Kumar A (2015) Heavy metal contamination of soil, irrigation water and vegetables in peri-urban agricultural areas and markets of Delhi. Water Environ Res 87:2027–2034PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Blecha J (2015) Regulating backyard slaughter: strategies and gaps in municipal livestock ordinances. J Agric Food Syst Community Dev 6:33–48Google Scholar
  14. Blecha J, Leitner H (2014) Reimagining the food system, the economy, and urban life: new urban chicken-keepers in US cities. Urban Geogr 35:86–108Google Scholar
  15. Boente C, Matanzas N, García-González N, Rodríguez-Valdés E, Gallego JR (2017) Trace elements of concern affecting urban agriculture in industrialized areas: a multivariate approach. Chemosphere 183:546–556PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Bren d’Amour C, Reitsma F, Baiocchi G, Barthel S, Güneralp B, Erb K-H, Haberl H, Creutzig F, Seto KC (2017) Future urban land expansion and implications for global croplands. PNAS 114(34):8939–8944PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Cheng Z, Paltseva A, Li I, Morin T, Huot H, Egendorf S, Su Z, Yolanda R, Singh K, Lee L, Grinshtein M, Liu Y, Green K, Wai W, Wazed B, Shaw R (2015) Trace metal contamination in New York city garden soils. Soil Sci 180(4/5):167–174Google Scholar
  18. Codex Alimentarius Commission (1984) Contaminants, vol XVII, 1st edn. Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Program. Food and Health Organization of the United Nations (FAO), RomeGoogle Scholar
  19. Cofie O, Van Rooijen D, Nikiema J (2014) Challenges and opportunities for recycling excreta for peri-urban agriculture in urbanising countries. In: Maheshwari B, Purohit R, Malano H, Singh VP, Amerasinghe P (eds) The security of water, food, energy and liveability of cities: challenges and opportunities for peri-urban futures. Water science and technology library, vol 71. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 301–310Google Scholar
  20. Crush J, Hovorka A, Tevera D (2011) Food security in Southern African cities: the place of urban agriculture. Prog Dev Stud 11:285–305Google Scholar
  21. Danso G, Drechsel P, Wiafe-Antwi T, Gyiele L (2002) Income of farming systems around Kumasi, Ghana. Urban Agric Mag 7:5–6Google Scholar
  22. Dao J, Stenchly K, Traoré O, Amoah P, Buerkert A (2018) Effects of water quality and post-harvest handling on microbial contamination of lettuce at urban and peri-urban locations of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Foods 7:206PubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  23. DeBon H, Parrot L, Moustier P (2010) Sustainable urban agriculture in developing countries. A review. Agron Sustain Dev 30:21–32Google Scholar
  24. Dieleman H (2017) Urban agriculture in Mexico City; balancing between ecological, economic, social and symbolic value. J Clean Prod 163:S156–S163Google Scholar
  25. Diogo RVC, Buerkert A, Schlecht E (2010a) Horizontal nutrient fluxes and food safety in urban and peri-urban vegetable and millet cultivation of Niamey, Niger. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 87:81–102Google Scholar
  26. Diogo RVA, Buerkert A, Schlecht E (2010b) Resource use efficiency in urban and peri-urban livestock enterprises of Niamey, Niger. Animal 4:1725–1738PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Diogo RVC, Schlecht E, Buerkert A, Rufino MC, van Wijk MT (2013) Increasing nutrient use efficiency through improved feeding and manure management in urban and peri-urban livestock units of a West African city: a scenario analysis. Agric Syst 114:64–72Google Scholar
  28. Dossa LH, Buerkert A, Schlecht E (2011) Cross-location analysis of the impact of households’ socioeconomic status on their participation in urban and peri-urban agriculture in West Africa. Hum Ecol 39:569–581Google Scholar
  29. Drechsel P, Graefe S, Sonou M, Cofie OO (2006) Informal irrigation in urban West Africa: an overview. IWMI research report 102. International Water Management Institute, ColomboGoogle Scholar
  30. Drechsel P, Graefe S, Fink M (2007) Rural-urban food, nutrient and virtual water flows in selected West African cities. IWMI research report 115. International Water Management Institute, ColomboGoogle Scholar
  31. Drechsel P, Scott CA, Raschid-Sally L, Redwood M, Bahri A (2010) Wastewater irrigation and health: assessing and mitigating risk in low-income countries. IWMI, Earthscan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  32. Egwu GN, Agbenin JO (2013) Field assessment of cadmium, lead and zinc contamination of soils and leaf vegetables under urban and peri-urban agriculture in northern Nigeria. Arch Agron Soil Sci 59(6):875–887Google Scholar
  33. Faruqui N, Al-Jayyousi O (2009) Greywater reuse in urban agriculture for poverty alleviation. A case study in Jordan. Water Int 27:387–394Google Scholar
  34. Foeken DWJ, Owuor SO (2008) Farming as a livelihood source for the urban poor of Nakuru, Kenya. Geoforum 39:1978–1990Google Scholar
  35. Frayne B (2004) Migration and urban survival strategies in Windhoek, Namibia. Geoforum 35:489–505Google Scholar
  36. Gallaher CM, Mwaniki D, Njenga M, Karanja NK, WinklerPrins AMGA (2013) Real or perceived: the environmental health risks of urban sack gardening in Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya. EcoHealth 10:9–20PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Gardiner MM, Harwood JD (2017) Influence of heavy metal contamination on urban natural enemies and biological control. Curr Opin Insect Sci 20:45–53PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Gororo E, Kashangura MT (2016) Broiler production in an urban and peri-urban area of Zimbabwe. Dev South Afr 33:99–112Google Scholar
  39. Grace D, Kang’ethe E, Waltner-Toews D (2012) Participatory and integrative approaches to food safety in developing countries. Trop Anim Health Prod 44(Suppl 1):S1–S2PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Grard BJ-P, Bel N, Marchal N, Madre F, Castell J-F, Cambier P, Houot S, Manouchehri N, Besancon S, Michel J-C, Chenu C, Frascaria-Lacoste N, Aubry C (2015) Recycling urban waste as possible use for rooftop vegetable garden. Future Food J Food Agric Soc 3:21–34Google Scholar
  41. Kaiser ML, Williams ML, Basta N, Hand M, Huber S (2015) When vacant lots become urban gardens: characterizing the perceived and actual food safety concerns of urban agriculture in Ohio. J Food Prot 78:2070–2080PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Kapungwe EM (2011) Industrial land use and heavy metal contaminated wastewater used for irrigation in periurban Zambia. Singap J Trop Geo 32:71–84Google Scholar
  43. Karg H, Drechsel P, Akoto-Danso EK, Glaser R, Nyarko G, Buerkert A (2016) Foodsheds and city region food systems in two West-African cities. Sustainability 8(12):1175Google Scholar
  44. Kaur R, Rani R (2006) Spatial characterization and prioritization of heavy metal contaminated soil-water resources in peri-urban areas of National Capital Territory (NCT), Delhi. Environ Monit Assess 123:233–247PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Keraita B, Konradsen F, Drechsel P, Abaidoo RC (2007a) Effect of low-cost irrigation methods on microbial contamination of lettuce irrigated with untreated wastewater. Trop Med Intern Health 12(Suppl 2):15–22Google Scholar
  46. Keraita B, Konradsen F, Drechsel P, Abaidoo RC (2007b) Reducing microbial contamination on wastewater-irrigated lettuce by cessation of irrigation before harvesting. Trop Med Intern Health 12(Suppl 2):8–14Google Scholar
  47. Keraita B, Drechsel P, Konradsen F, Vreugdenhil RC (2008a) Potential of simple filters to improve microbial quality of irrigation water used in urban vegetable farming in Ghana. J Envrion Sci Health Part A 43:749–755Google Scholar
  48. Keraita B, Drechsel P, Konradsen F (2008b) Using on-farm sedimentation ponds to improve microbial quality of irrigation water in urban vegetable farming in Ghana. Water Sci Technol 57:519–525PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Keraita B, Drechsel P, Konradsen F (2008c) Perceptions of farmers on health risks and risk reduction measures in wastewater-irrigated urban vegetable farming in Ghana. J Risk Res 11:1047–1061Google Scholar
  50. Khan F, Khan MJ, Samad A, Noor Y, Rashid M, Jan B (2015) In-situ stabilization of heavy metals in agriculture soil irrigated with untreated wastewater. J Geochem Explor 159:1–7Google Scholar
  51. Kiba DI, Zongo NA, Lompo F, Jansa J, Compaore E, Sedogo PM, Frossard E (2012) The diversity of fertilization practices affects soil and crop quality in urban vegetable sites of Burkina Faso. Eur J Agron 38:12–21Google Scholar
  52. Kohrman H, Chamberlain CP (2014) Heavy metals in produce from urban farms in the San Francisco Bay Area. Food Addit Contam B 7(2):127–134Google Scholar
  53. Komakech AJ, Banadda NE, Gebresenbet G, Vinnerås B (2014) Maps of animal urban agriculture in Kampala City. Agron Sustain Dev 34:493–500Google Scholar
  54. Losada-Custardoy H, López-González MA, Cortés-Zorrilla J, Luna-Rodríguez L, Vieyra-Durán JE, Vargas-Romero JM (2016) Effect of feeding with organic waste on the production and reproduction of dairy cows. Agric Soc Desarro 13(3):401–409Google Scholar
  55. Luilo GB, Othman OC (2003) Heavy metal levels of pasture grasses in metropolitan area. J Phys IV Fr 107:797–800Google Scholar
  56. Mackay H (2018) Mapping and characterizing the urban agricultural landscape of two intermediate-sized Ghanaian cities. Land Use Policy 70:182–197Google Scholar
  57. Mancarella S, Pennisi G, Gasperi D, Marchetti L, Loges V, Orsini F, Gianquinto G, Vianello G, Antisari LV (2016) Antimony accumulation risk in lettuce grown in Brazilian urban gardens. Int J Environ Qual 20:35–47Google Scholar
  58. Manka’abusi D, Steiner C, Akoto-Danso EK, Lompo DJP, Haering V, Werner S, Marschner B, Buerkert A (2019) Biochar application and wastewater irrigation in urban vegetable production of Ouagadougou. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst, Burkina Faso. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Mariwah S, Drangert J-O (2011) Community perceptions of human excreta as fertilizer in peri-urban agriculture in Ghana. Waste Manage Res 29(8):815–822Google Scholar
  60. Masvaure S (2015) Coping with food poverty in cities: the case of urban agriculture in Glen Norah Township in Harare. Renew Agr Food Syst 31(3):202–213Google Scholar
  61. McClintock N, Pallana E, Wooten H (2014) Urban livestock ownership, management, and regulation in the United States: an exploratory survey and research agenda. Land Use Policy 38:426–440Google Scholar
  62. Minca KK, Basta NT (2013) Comparison of plant nutrient and environmental soil tests to predict Pb in urban soils. Sci Total Environ 445–446:57–63PubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. Mkwambisi DD, Fraser EDG, Dougill AJ (2011) Urban agriculture and poverty reduction: evaluating how food production in cities contributes to food security, employment and income in Malawi. J Int Dev 23:181–203Google Scholar
  64. Nabulo G, Oryem-Origa H, Diamond M (2006) Assessment of lead, cadmium, and zinc contamination of roadside soils, surface films, and vegetables in Kampala City, Uganda. Environ Res 101:42–52PubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Nchanji EB, Bellwood-Howard I, Schareika N, Chagomoka T, Schlesinger J, Drescher A, Glaser R (2017) Assessing the sustainability of vegetable production practices in northern Ghana. Int J Agric Sustain 15(3):321–337Google Scholar
  66. Ndaye ML, Niang S, Pfeifer H-R, Reduzzi R, Tonolla M, Dieng Y (2010) Effect of irrigation water and processing on the microbial quality of lettuces produced and sold on markets in Dakar (Senegal). Irrig Drain 60:509–517Google Scholar
  67. Niaz A, Sial RA, Iqbal MM, Naz T, Ghafoor A, Murtaza G (2015) Growth, tissue concentration and bioaccumulation of cadmium by different mungbean cultivars in a hydroponic study. Pak J Agric Sci 52:931–936Google Scholar
  68. Paez A (2017) Gray literature: an important resource in systematic reviews. J Evid Based Med 10:233–240PubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. Pasquini MW (2006) The use of town refuse ash in urban agriculture around Jos, Nigeria: health and environmental risks. Sci Total Environ 354:43–59PubMedGoogle Scholar
  70. Pasquini MW, Alexander MJ (2004) Chemical properties of urban waste ash produced by open burning on the Jos Plateau: implications for agriculture. Sci Total Environ 319:225–240PubMedGoogle Scholar
  71. Polder A, Müller MB, Brynildsrud OB, de Boer J, Hamers T, Kamstra JH, Lie E, Mdegela RH, Moberg H, Nonga HE, Sandvik M, Skaare JU, Lyche JL (2016) Dioxins, PCBs, chlorinated pesticides and brominated flame retardants in free-range chicken eggs from peri urban areas in Arusha, Tanzania: levels and implications for human health. Sci Total Environ 551–552:656–667PubMedGoogle Scholar
  72. Pollock SL, Stephen C, Skuridina N, Kosatsky T (2012) Raising chickens in city backyards: the public health role. J Commun Health 37:734–742Google Scholar
  73. Porter JR, Dyball R, Dumaresq D, Deutsch L, Matsuda H (2014) Feeding capitals: urban food security and self-provisioning in Canberra, Copenhagen and Tokyo. Glob Food Secur 3:1–7Google Scholar
  74. Raja S, Cheema HMN, Babar S, Khan AA, Murtaza G, Aslam U (2015) Socio-economic background of wastewater irrigation and bioaccumulation of heavy metals in crops and vegetables. Agric Water Manage 158:26–34Google Scholar
  75. Richards PJ, Farrell C, Tom M, Williams NSG, Fletcher TD (2015) Vegetable raingardens can produce food and reduce stormwater runoff. Urban Urban Green 14:646–654Google Scholar
  76. Rizo OD, Echeverría Castilli F, Arado López JO, Hernández Merlo M (2011) Assessment of heavy metal pollution in urban soils of Havana city, Cuba. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 87:414–419PubMedGoogle Scholar
  77. Rossignoli CM, Di Iacovo F, Moruzzo R, Scarpellini P (2015) Dairy cattle, livelihoods and resilience in Gaza Strip: a case study. New Medit 1:24–33Google Scholar
  78. Safi Z, Buerkert A (2011) Heavy metal and microbial loads in sewage irrigated vegetables of Kabul, Afghanistan. J Agric Rural Dev Trop Subtrop 112:29–36Google Scholar
  79. Sato T, Yamamoto S, Qadir M, Endo T, Masunaga T, Ahmad Z (2014) Long-term effects of wastewater irrigation on soil heavy metal contamination in peri-urban areas of Aleppo, Syria. Int J Agric Biol 16:1153–1158Google Scholar
  80. Schlecht E, Plagemann J, Mpouam SE, Sanon HO, Sangaré M, Roessler R (2019) Nutrient and energy flows in urban and peri-urban livestock systems of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Nutr Cycl AgroecosystGoogle Scholar
  81. Sharma K, Cheng Z, Grewal PS (2015) Relationship between soil heavy metal contamination and soil food web health in vacant lots slated for urban agriculture in two post-industrial cities. Urban Ecosyst 18:835–855Google Scholar
  82. Simiyu RR, Foeken DWJ (2014) Urban crop production and poverty alleviation in Eldoret, Kenya: implications for policy and gender planning. Urban Stud 51:2613–2628Google Scholar
  83. Tambwe N, Rudolph M, Greenstein R (2011) “Instead of begging, I farm to feed my children”: urban agriculture—an alternative to copper and cobalt in Lubumbashi. Africa 81(3):391–412Google Scholar
  84. Tembo R, Louw J (2013) Conceptualising and implementing two community gardening projects on the Cape Flats, Cape Town. Dev South Afr 30(2):224–237Google Scholar
  85. Turkson PK (2008) A comparison of the delivery of veterinary services to small-scale and medium to large-scale poultry keepers in peri-urban Ghana. Rev Sci Tech Off Int Epiz 27:719–730Google Scholar
  86. UN (2016) The world’s cities in 2016—data booklet (ST/ESA/SER.A/392). United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  87. Weindorf DC, Zhu Y, Chakraborty S, Bakr N, Huang B (2012) Use of portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry for environmental quality assessment of peri-urban agriculture. Environ Monit Assess 184:217–227PubMedGoogle Scholar
  88. Zhao X, Monnell JD, Niblick B, Rovensky CD, Landis AE (2014) The viability of biofuel production on urban marginal land: an analysis of metal contaminants and energy balance for Pittsburgh’s sunflower gardens. Landsc Urban Plan 124:22–33Google Scholar
  89. Zhou D, Matsuda H, Hara Y, Takeuchi K (2012) Potential and observed food flows in a Chinese city: a case study of Tianjin. Agric Hum Values 29:481–492Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Organic Plant Production and Agroecosystems Research in the Tropics and SubtropicsUniversity of KasselWitzenhausenGermany
  2. 2.Animal Husbandry in the Tropics and SubtropicsUniversity of Kassel and University of GoettingenWitzenhausenGermany

Personalised recommendations