About Han Wiskerke

Chair and Professor of Rural Sociology at Wageningen University (The Netherlands) Research domains: rural and regional development, agro-food studies

Participants needed for online survey about sustainable urban and peri-urban food provision!


SUPURBFOOD is an international research project carried out by a consortium of ten research and ten SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) partners, in which novel solutions to urban and peri-urban food provision have been examined in three thematic areas. These thematic areas are: (i) nutrient, water and waste cycles, (ii) short food supply chains, and (iii) multi-functional land use. While positive developments are found in all of these, additional steps are needed to make full use of the potential of these innovations. Hence, the project team formulated a set of recommendations and would like to ask relevant stakeholders (e.g. policymakers, entrepreneurs, civil society organisations) for their opinion about their effectiveness. For that purpose an online survey has been launched, which takes 10-15 minutes to complete. If you considers yourself to be a relevant stakeholder, you are kindly requested to complete the online questionnaire, which is available in seven languages: English, Dutch, German, Italian, Latvian, French and Galician.

Business models in urban agriculture – MSc thesis by Shuang Liu

Urban Agriculture (Shuang Liu)

By Shuang Liu (MSc student in Organic Agriculture)

Urban agriculture is thriving across the world along with rapid urbanization. It is usually valued as a public-good generating activity for its social and ecological benefits. Recently, however, there is a growing trend of urban farmers becoming commercial and they seem to be extremely diversified in practice. Yet, little is known about the business approaches developed by entrepreneurial urban farmers.

In this research, I took urban agriculture as a revenue generating and job creation activity by focusing on more market-oriented projects. I tried to describe individual urban agriculture business operations under the framework of the business model. An online questionnaire was distributed worldwide followed with statistical analysis. The questionnaire was designed using nine business building blocks from Business Model Canvas. Based on the reported business characteristics, a cluster analysis was performed in order to find patterns underlying the diversity of their businesses. In total 46 respondents from 18 countries across 6 continents completed the questionnaire and as sucht contributed to the results of my thesis.

Great diversity in their business operations was found among the 46 projects. Various projects produce a wide range of products and conduct activities for diverse functions. They also manage different relationship with their customers and clients. Distinctions were also found between continents and projects with different purposes. All this heterogeneity brings challenges to describe and understand urban agriculture business. Thus an exploratory cluster analysis was adopted in order to simplify the diversity.

Drawing on the business characteristics, cluster analysis has generated five types of business model: Diversification, Primary Food Production, Value Differentiation, Service Provision and Innovative Operation. For more information about the diversity encountered and for the characteristics of the five business models, please have a look at my MSc thesis

This study provides a rough picture of how initiatives across the world are operating their projects. Classification of business models could be a precursor for future studies on topics such as the relationship between business model and performances, innovation of urban agriculture business models, and economic performance of urban agriculture etc.

For more information you can also contact me: lsabab@163.com

Exploring Dar es Salaam’s foodscape: spatial design meets rural sociology


Seeing Dar” is the first of a series of publications resulting from my Foodscapes professorship at the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture in which I have involved Master students in Landscape Architecture, Architecture and Urbanism in research projects of the Rural Sociology Group. This publication is the result of a 12 week design studio, which commenced with a 10 day field visit of Academy of Architecture students to Dar es Salaam, linked to Marc Wegerif’s PhD project and the work of Daniel Mbisso on markets at the School of Architecture and Design of Ardhi University. The publication is a collection of individual design projects and essays focussing on different aspects of Dar es Salaam’s foodscape: food markets, food and food-related waste, climate change adaptation, gender, public space and distribution infrastructure. For the students the 10 day exploration of Dar es Salaam’s foodscape was crucial to come up with spatial designs that aligned well with the everyday life and cultures of people living, working, travelling and eating in Dar es Salaam. For me it was an interesting experience to link spatial design to sociological research. More publications in which spatial design meets rural sociology will follow later this year and next year.

Urban agriculture does not always result in better neighbourhoods

Esther Veen - Community gardens in urban areasWhile urban agriculture is often used as a tool for increasing social cohesion in neighbourhoods, Esther Veen believes that it does not always lead to better relationships between residents. This is the subject of her doctoral thesis, which she successfully  defended at Wageningen University on Monday 15 June 2015.

For her doctoral research, Esther Veen observed various community gardens where people from the same neighbourhood came together. She noted that not everyone participates in these gardens and how there is a tendency for groups to form.

“It is often assumed that community gardens benefit the neighbourhood, but the gardens are also a ‘real world’ in which issues arise,” Veen explains. “Municipalities, initiators of urban agriculture projects and other stakeholders should adjust their often high expectations. A neighbourhood community garden does not break through existing social structures just like that, and it is hard to bring people from different socio-economic backgrounds into contact with each other.” Veen’s research does show that neighbourhood community gardens allow people to get to know each other better and ask each other for help more easily.

Interchangeable conversations

In addition to studying neighbourhood community gardens, Veen also observed community gardens where residents are mainly interested in growing fruits and vegetables but do not necessarily come from the same area. It showed that people like chatting to each other in a community garden, but that these contacts are easily exchangeable for conversations with others. Moreover, these chats rarely lead to contacts or friendships outside the community garden.

Not against ‘the system’

Scientific literature often assumes that people who actively use community gardens have a certain resistance against the current food system, and that for them the community garden functions as an alternative food network. Veen’s studies showed that these assumptions were erroneous in the community gardens she researched. People mainly like to garden because they enjoy the act of gardening, not because they want to change the world or oppose the conventional food system. Veen: “Food from neighbourhood community gardens may fit into a lifestyle in which organic or local products play a major role for some people, but this is a personal consideration to them. They don’t see themselves as part of an alternative food network.”

Participative observation

By means of interviews and surveys, Veen studied seven community gardens in Almere (two), Amsterdam, Assen, Leeuwarden, Rotterdam and Zutphen. She also observed four of the seven community gardens via ‘participative observation’ – taking part and helping in activities organised by the community gardens, such as an Easter brunch and a harvest market. “This method allowed me to experience personally what it’s like in the community garden,” she says. “Interviewing people helped me learn much more about the social relationships that develop.”

This blog is a copy of a Wageningen UR press release and a follow-up of a previous blog announcing the public defence.

Urban Food Forum at ICLEI Resilient Cities Conference

Resilient Cities 2015 At the upcoming Resilient Cities conference of ICLEI (the international network of local governments for sustainability) a special Urban Food Forum will be organized by ICLEI and RUAF in collaboration with the SUPURBFOOD program. The Resilient Cities conference will take place from 8 – 10 June in Bonn (Germany): for more information about the program, click on this link. The Urban Food Forum will take place on Wednesday 10 June 2015.

The Forum will feature a Panel with city leaders on good practices for managing resilient city-region food systems. Participants will include representatives from cities such as Cape Town, Nairobi, Ghent, Amman, Medellin, and Walvis Bay. A SUPURBFOOD supported policy brief and the Urban Agriculture Magazine special issue on city region food systems will be presented.

Following the opening session, two technical sessions will be held.  The first, organized in cooperation with GIZ, will focus on Planning resilient food systems at an urban and metropolitan scale with speakers from UNEP, GIZ, and START with a discussion on how to  operationalize the water-urban-food energy nexus. The second will examine the role of small and medium enterprises in urban food system development and will feature innovative SMEs working in the field of city region food systems from the cities of Rotterdam (The Netherlands), Riga (Latvia), Vigo (Spain) and Bristol (UK).


Urban Agriculture Magazine no. 29 – special issue on City region food systems

Today the 29th issue of the Urban Agriculture Magazine has been published online, featuring a special issue on city region food systems.

UAM29 coverThis issue addresses the growing attention for policy and practice approaches that focus on food issues in urban areas from a city-regional perspective, taking into account possible contributions from urban and periurban agriculture and a strengthening of urban-rural relations. It is largely based on our EC funded research programme SUPURBFOOD but also features articles from other projects and initiatives.

The Magazine will be officially launched in hardcopy at the ICLEI Resilient Cities Congress on 10 June 2015 in Bonn, Germany, during which event three Urban Food Forum sessions are held in collaboration with the SUPURBFOOD consortium together with policymakers and SMEs from the SUPURBFOOD city regions.

Localizing Urban Food Strategies – Farming cities and performing rurality: call for abstracts for the 7th AESOP Sustainable Food Planning Conference

The 7th Aesop Sustainable Food Planning (SFP) Conference entitled “Localizing Urban Food Strategies: Farming cities and performing rurality” will take place in Torino (Italiy) from 7 to 9 October 2015.

Localizing urban food strategies refers to embedding sustainable food planning issues in place and in time within each specific local context. Moreover, by targeting planners, agronomists, designers, geographers, administrators, activists etc. engaged in the urban food debate, Farming cities and performing rurality aims at representing a platform for the development of fruitful perspectives for sustainable food planning policies and practices.

On the one hand, Farming cities refers to the development of innovative roles for agricultural production in and around the city, approaching in a structural manner the way agricultural issues are dealt (or should be dealt) with in contemporary urban policies. On the other hand, Performing rurality considers urban food strategies as a tool to define a cooperating relationship between the urban and the rural, reversing in terms of equality the traditional ideological subordination of the countryside to the city.

The activities of the Conference will be articulated around the following tracks: (i) Spatial planning and urban design, (ii) Governance and private entrepreneurship, (iii) Relevant experiences and practices, (iv) Training and jobs, (v) Flows and networks. There will be a specific activity for PhD students and young scholars.

Abstracts for one of the aforementioned tracks can be submitted until the 31st of May via the submission form on the conference website.

MSc course Sociology of Food Provisioning and Place-based Development

On the 16th of March 2015 the MSc course ‘Sociology of Food Provisioning and Place-based Development’ (RSO-31806) starts. Students that want to participate in this course can contact the course coordinator Han Wiskerke (han.wiskerke@wur.nl) as the deadline for online registration has passed.


The course aims to provide a theoretical, empirical and methodological understanding of place-based development processes, with an emphasis on food provisioning and rural and territorial dynamics in urbanizing societies. The course is based upon recently completed and ongoing research activities within two of the main research domains of the Rural Sociology Group:

  1. The sociology of food provisioning;
  2. The sociology of place-based development.

Being based on recently completed and ongoing research projects implies that this course provides an up-to-date  insight into current theoretical debates and research findings. These are mainly derived from international collaborative research programmes (see ‘our projects’), carried out by multi-disciplinary research teams in different countries inside and outside Europe. Within and linked to these programmes the Rural Sociology Group has approximately 30 ongoing PhD projects. Some of these projects will also feature during this course.

The course is divided into four main themes: Continue reading

Global dynamics and empowerment of the local street food network: a case study on the Ghana Traditional Caterers Association

By Hilde-Marije Dorresteijn, MSc International Development Studies at Wageningen University

For my MSc thesis within the RSO chair group I did research on street food in Ghana. During the master programme I became more and more interested in food issues and its possibilities for local development. These possibilities are beautifully illustrated by the following quotation with which I started my thesis:

“Food provides an answer. Our landscapes and cities were shaped by food. Our daily routine revolves around it, our politics and economies are driven by it, our identities are inseparable from it, and our survival depends on it. What better tool, then, with which to shape the world.” (Steel, 2012 in Viljoen & Wiskerke, 2012:36).

HM Dorresteijn blog picture 1

Despite its importance I found little scientific research on street food, a phenomenon that is particularly relevant in developing countries. Street food can be defined as: ‘ready to eat food or beverages prepared and/or sold in the street and other public places for immediate consumption or at a later time without further processing or preparation’ (FAO, 2012). I decided to look into this topic within the context of Ghana’s capital Accra. An estimated 85% of the urban population in Ghana patronize it, cutting across socio-economic boundaries and thus also designating the important cultural role of street food In Accra, from early morning till late at night all sorts of food are being sold on the streets. Also, there is a great variety in the professionalism of microenterprises. There are many hawkers walking around trying to sell their products, well established enterprises that have fixed stands and seating facilities, and the informal eating houses called ‘chop bars’. Street food make an essential contribution to nutrition of the urban population by providing easily accessible and affordable food, as well as they provide a good livelihood strategy by creating employment and increasing incomes for a large number of urban dwellers. Hereby street food thus makes a great contribution to the local economy. This informal sector requires low start-up capital and low levels of education are needed, making it a good business opportunity for especially women.

The cheapest way to make money, is to cook food. You are a secretary, or you have a shop, and the shop collapses. You can buy a pot, buy silver, cooking utensils, buy water, the pepper, yam and you cook and you’ll get people to buy. Very, very cheap. So day in day out people have been coming into the system. That is why they are plenty. And automatically when you cook, you will get people to buy.” (Mr. Ansong, PRO GTCA, 13 Jan. 2014) Continue reading

Call for abstracts Agriculture in an Urbanizing Society Conference

The programme committee of the Agriculture in an Urbanizing Society Conference, which will take place in Rome (Italy) from 14-17 September 2015, has opened the call for abstracts. Abstracts can be submitted through the conference system EasyChair until 31 March 2015 for one of the following 23 working groups (click on the working group for description and convenors or download pdf (500 KB)):

  1. WG1 – Connecting local and global food systems and reducing footprint in food provisioning and use
  2. WG2 – Short food supply chains (regional products; farmers’ markets; collective farmers’ marketing initiatives; alternative food networks; CSA)
  3. WG3 – Economic impact at the farm level
  4. WG4 – New business models for multiple value creation
  5. WG5 – Entrepreneurial skills and competences, knowledge and innovation systems and new learning arrangements
  6. WG6 – Transition approaches
  7. WG7 – Regional branding and local agrifood systems: strategies, governance, and impacts
  8. WG8 – Food systems and spatial planning. Towards a reconnection?
  9. WG9 – Land-use transformations
  10. WG10 – Urban agriculture I. Urban agriculture and Urban Food Strategies: Processes, Planning, Policies and Potential to Reconnect Society and Food
  11. WG11 – Urban agriculture II. Grass-root initiatives and community gardens
  12. WG12 – Urban agriculture III: Effects of UA. Urban agriculture: a potential tool for local and global food security, economic, social and environmental resilience, and community health and wellness
  13. WG13 – Care Farming/Social Farming in more resilient societies
  14. WG14 – Rural tourism (agri-tourism) and changing urban demands
  15. WG15 – Local arrangements for agricultural ecosystem services: connecting urban populations to their peri-urban landscapes through the ecosystem services of agriculture
  16. WG16 – Gender aspects of multifunctional agriculture
  17. WG17 – Civic agriculture for an urbanizing society: production models, consumption practices and forms of governance
  18. WG18 – Society Oriented Farming – working on the balance between market and societal demands
  19. WG19 – Food Security: Meanings, Practices and Policies
  20. WG20 – Revolutionary solutions for local food systems
  21. WG21 – Urban forestry, Green infrastructure
  22. WG22 – Food System Transitions: Cities and the Strategic Management of Food Practices
  23. WG23 – Conceptualising and Assessing City Region Food Systems

After a positive evaluation of the abstract the author will be asked to upload a paper of max 10 pages which will be published online on the website of the conference. There will also be the possibility to submit a short paper of max 2 pages enabling the authors to still publish their results in peer reviewed journals after the conference. Short papers will be published in a book of proceedings. The procedures for the papers will be published on the conference website soon.